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Celebrating Europe! - 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of RomeSkip language selection bar (shortcut key=2) 01/02/2008
EUROPA > 50th Anniversary > News and media > Interview

Look back with pride, look forward with confidence

Look back with pride, look forward with confidence
Joaquín Almunia, Economic and Monetary Affairs Comissioner


As Europe celebrates its 50th anniversary, Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Joaquín Almunia reflects on past achievements and future prospects.

Children today were born into a Union that exists around them. But this was not the case for their parents and older Europeans who lived through the progressive construction of the EU over the past 50 years. How would you describe to a young European today what daily life in a Europe with borders was like in the past?

In 1957, when the Treaty of Rome was signed, only ten of the current 27 Member States were democracies – the other 17 were not. In the European Union, we take it as given that peace, freedom and democracy are fundamental for each individual to pursue an autonomous life, free from discrimination and intolerance. Moreover, a prosperous economy and a solid welfare state are important if we are to offer equal opportunities for all. Unfortunately, daily life is radically different when these conditions are not met.

When we compare life in Europe today with 50 years ago, it is not only a question of physical borders and the restrictions they bring, it’s also about the limitations on what you can say, think or read or where you can go, it’s about poor job opportunities, about a limited access to culture and knowledge. The Union has eradicated many of these restrictions and presents today’s youth with many more opportunities than were available, or allowed, to earlier generations.

However, although young generations should be aware of Europe’s past and the valuable contribution of European integration to building a better present, the EU must prove to its citizens that it is still relevant to face today’s challenges. The past 50 years have been a time of many changes for the better in Europe, but we cannot sit back and rest on our laurels for a job well done. Change is a fact of life in today’s world and new challenges are arriving all the time. Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow, and they will need the institutions and structures to face these challenges. And indeed, the EU is a powerful instrument to tackle the 21st century challenges of globalisation, climate change, security or the rise of extremism.

Over the past 50 years Member States have had to give up some decision-making powers, sometimes reluctantly, and pass them on to the EU. In doing this, there often seems to be a tension between ‘more Europe’ and ‘less Europe’. Where do you feel the balance lies in these sovereignty issues for Europe in the future?

When talking about sovereignty, one must distinguish between formal and real sovereignty. Whether we like it or not, formal sovereignty of Member States is an illusion in many spheres, such as capital markets, terrorism, organised crime, and consumer protection, which are by their nature transnational, global phenomena. In these global arenas, individual countries do not have the means to effectively bring their formal powers into force.

Even the largest country in the EU, Germany, represents only 1.3% of the world population. And the GDP of France is lower than the amount of money traded in the financial markets in one single day.

In this context, relinquishing a certain amount of national formal sovereignty to share power at EU level and gain real sovereignty provides Europe with the most effective tools to protect its citizens and consumers. In such cases, it is often not about giving up sovereignty, but rather about co-operating with each other to acquire an effective sovereignty for all of us.

In this respect, the euro is a prime example of where the sum is greater than its parts. Recent experience has clearly demonstrated that the euro protects us against financial market turbulence; it has made the euro-area economy more resilient to external shocks. In the not-so-distant past, national currencies were vulnerable to speculation that brought misery and unemployment to many citizens. With the single currency, euro-area Member States have given up some control, but they have gained a host of advantages. Economic resilience is one example, and low and stable interest rates, which support long-term economic growth, are another.

(extract from the interview published in European Economy News)


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