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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 > Views and visions

It’s time to act as one

It’s time to act as one
Emma Bonino, Minister for International Trade and European Affairs of Italy – Birthplace: Bra, Italy


Emma Bonino, Minister for International Trade and European Affairs of Italy - To be an effective global player, Europe needs to gain political depth at home and sharpen its foreign policy capabilities.

The European integration process has been fundamentally inward-looking. Peace was something to be secured within Europe. Economic prosperity could be achieved through the progressive establishment of the internal market; that is, without having to pay too much attention to the world outside. Improved living conditions basically meant developing civil and social rights.

In today’s much more globalised world, however, European integration can no longer be pursued without a strong outward-looking approach. European security – the modern version of European peace – requires Europeans to act in the global arena, in areas of potential conflict, in order to reduce overall global instability. Similarly, economic prosperity can hardly be secured without tackling major global concerns such as unfair international trade practices, migration or the environment. Improved living conditions are now very much linked to maintenance and reform of the so-called ‘European social model’, which needs to be adapted for globalisation and thus has implications for a number of issues, ranging from our universities’ ability to attract the most talented researchers worldwide, to the need to ensure that our firms are competitive beyond the domestic market, and create more and better jobs at home.

Still looking for a single European voice

The Europe we need is a union that is stronger, more visible, and able to become a real agent for change and stability on the global stage. To achieve such a Europe we need to press on with enlarging the EU to Turkey and the Western Balkans in order to complete the process of reunification. At the same time, however, we need Europe to speak with a single voice: specifically, it is time we had European leaders to speak for Europe, as opposed to national leaders merely speaking on behalf of Europe. We are still a long way off, and the gap goes beyond the current deadlock over the Constitutional Treaty.

In the short term, the creation of a European minister of foreign affairs, the establishment of a permanent EU president and the setting-up of a fully fledged EU diplomacy would represent progress. But such developments should be seen as further steps towards a stronger EU, rather than as goals in their own right. I believe this holds true for the Constitutional Treaty as a whole.

Political deepening

For the EU to speak with one voice and act within and outside Europe, European integration will have to go beyond institutional reform. What we ultimately need is a genuinely political community, based on a shared, renewed commitment to grow and prosper together. A political community is necessary because we need a legitimate, multinational European government if we want to have a fully empowered European minister of foreign affairs or an EU president who are more than just an EU negotiator or chairman. We need an EU government that is directly accountable to European citizens, not just to citizens of the European member states. The difference here is not purely semantic.

Over time, EU governance has developed a system of checks and balances in which all the main players are involved. But it is a system that does not allow EU citizens to understand ‘who does what’ and who is ultimately responsible for policy outcomes. In the long run, Europe will have to change its system of governance and become more citizen-friendly; that is, it will have to embrace some of the features that characterise large, well-established national democracies worldwide. EU citizens need to be able to choose whom they want to govern them collectively – to govern them as Europeans rather than just as nationals of one EU member state.

This is not something for tomorrow – European leaders these days seem unable to agree a common position even on much less (r)evolutionary issues – but we must make progress.

Institutional reform

An EU capable of acting as a normative power and a major player on the global scene is a basic prerequisite if our goal for the EU is to secure peace, maintain stability, foster economic prosperity and preserve our lifestyle over the next 50 years. It will require both institutional change in the short term and the rise of a genuine political community to be governed by a directly accountable, legitimate European leadership in the medium to long term. To have the former without the latter would be unrealistic. Assuming that any EU-wide political community could simply spring up as the result of institutional reforms would be unrealistic. We need to act on both fronts simultaneously, and act now, otherwise the price could be extremely high and could even be paid in European disintegration. Neither the status quo nor a way out of the current standstill based on, de minimis, an intergovernmental compromise, automatically rule out the possibility of moving backwards. So what does it mean in concrete terms to act now?

I have two specific proposals, one for each of these two complementary objectives: institutional reforms (short term), and the development of an EU-wide social, cultural and political community (longer term). The first is as follows: all provisions in the Constitutional Treaty likely to increase the EU's capability to act internationally should be enacted as soon as possible.

I particularly have in mind the establishment of a genuine EU diplomacy and the posts of EU Minister of Foreign Affairs and EU President, but also all other measures that would significantly enhance the Union’s capability to defend its interests internationally. An example would certainly be the need to equip Europe with a fully fledged common energy policy.

The second refers to Europe's future, and is proposed as a contribution to the development of the EU project over the decades to come. It goes beyond the current constitutional debate, and is put forward with the aim of helping to create the first generation of citizens that are truly ‘Europe-grown’, by developing a sense of identity for, and of belonging to, a pan-European community. The project I am thinking of is Erasmus – the EU programme that has enabled more than 1.2 million European students in the past 20 years to spend a period of their university studies outside their countries of origin. For all these young Europeans, Erasmus has been a real-life experience, providing them with an opportunity to spend time in another European country, to open their minds and develop their sense of belonging to a wider community.

The most solid form of European citizenship is one which is built gradually, from the grassroots up.

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