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|EUROPA > The EU at a glance > Europe in 12 lessons > Lesson 12|
What future for Europe?
‘A day will come when all the nations of this continent, without losing their distinct qualities or their glorious individuality, will fuse together in a higher unity and form the European brotherhood. A day will come when the only battlefield will be the marketplace for competing ideas. A day will come when bullets and bombs will be replaced by votes.’
Victor Hugo spoke those prophetic words in 1849, but it took more than a century for his utopian predictions to start coming true. During that time, two world wars and countless other conflicts on European soil caused millions of deaths and there were times when all hope seemed lost. Today, the first decade of the 21st century offers brighter prospects, but it also brings Europe new difficulties and challenges.
A major enlargement of the Union has gone ahead. As a politician from a new member state put it, ‘Europe has finally managed to reconcile its history with its geography’. In future, the European Union will continue to welcome new members. In the meantime, its leaders, listening carefully to public opinion, will have to decide where to draw the Union’s geographical, political and cultural boundaries.
The European Union is a pact between sovereign nations which have resolved to share a common destiny and to pool an increasing share of their sovereignty. It touches on things that Europeans care most deeply about: peace, economic and physical wellbeing, security, participatory democracy, justice and solidarity. This pact is being strengthened and confirmed all across Europe: half a billion people have chosen to live under the rule of law and in accordance with age-old values centred on humanity and human dignity.
The current technological revolution is radically transforming life in the industrialised world, including Europe. It is vital to understand that this creates new challenges that transcend traditional frontiers. Sustainable development, population trends, economic dynamism, social solidarity and an ethical response to progress in the life sciences are issues that can no longer be effectively dealt with at national level. We must also show consideration to future generations.
The process of European integration now affects the whole continent, which, in turn, is part of a rapidly and radically changing world that needs to find new stability. Europe is affected by events on other continents, whether it be relations with the Islamic world, disease and famine in Africa, unilateralist tendencies in the United States, the dynamic economic growth in Asia or the global relocation of industries and jobs. Europe must not only concentrate on its own development but also embrace globalisation.
The EU institutions have proved their worth, but they must be adapted to cope with the enlargement of the Union and the increasing number of tasks for which it is responsible. The bigger the number of members, the greater the centrifugal forces that threaten to tear it apart. Short-term interests can all too easily derail long-term priorities. That is why everyone involved in this unprecedented adventure must shoulder their responsibilities to make sure the EU’s institutional system can continue to work effectively. Any definitive change in the present system must ensure plurality and respect the differences that are the most precious assets of Europe’s nations. Reforms must also concentrate on the decision-making process. Insisting on unanimous agreement in all cases would simply lead to paralysis. The only kind of system that will work is a political and legal system based on majority voting, with checks and balances built in.
The practical changes to adapt the structure of an EU originally meant for six members to one of 27 were incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty, which was agreed in 2007, but will not come into force until it has been ratified by all member states. It will make the EU more democratic and transparent, introduce simplified working methods and voting rules, ensure our fundamental rights through a charter, and allow the EU to speak with one voice on global issues.
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