Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Institutional
relations and communication strategy
Doing the job together?
The EU, the US and the challenges facing us today
Lecture at the John Hopkins University
Washington DC, 26 April 2007
Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Standing here in the capital city of your nation, named after the man who helped draft your Constitution 220 years ago, I am tempted to begin by saying "We the People of the United States of Europe..."
But, of course, I can't!
Today I want to address two related questions:
I have chosen the title “Doing the job together” because it applies not only to the European Union itself but also to the EU-US partnership I believe we need to help us face the challenges of the 21st century.
First, what is the European Union all about?
Trade? A single market? Bureaucracy? Let me begin my answer by showing you a short video clip, courtesy of AMO and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the Netherlands.
That quick journey back through history shows that the European Union arose from the ruins of 1945. Centuries of conflict on the old continent had culminated in the horrors of the Second World War.
The aim of the European Coal and Steel Community – set up in 1951 – was to make another war between European countries impossible, or at least unthinkable.
How? By merging our economies and building prosperity through a single European market and by setting up a supranational system of joint decision-making.
This idea really took off when the European Economic Community was founded just 50 years ago, in 1957.
Did it succeed? You bet!
We have enjoyed a half century of peace in Western Europe. Totally unprecedented in our history! And our standards of living have risen beyond our grandparents’ wildest dreams.
I want to take this opportunity to thank America most sincerely for the part she has played in both these processes.
Having said that, there is no doubt that European integration has been a great success.
Such is the appeal of our success that our family has grown from 6 to 27 member states, with more queuing up to join as soon as they are ready.
But not everything in the European garden is rosy. We face several challenges.
First, economic growth for several years now has been sluggish – and we have over 20 million unemployed, many of them young people.
A second challenge facing EU countries is our ageing population.
A third issue of concern to Europeans is security. A frontier-free Europe with passport-free travel is great for business and tourism. But it also provides opportunities for cross-border criminals and terrorists.
We are tackling this on several fronts:
Rather than the ‘stick’ of military intervention, the European Union prefers to use the ‘carrot’ of economic co-operation to promote reforms and to support moves towards greater democracy in those countries.
In this way we are gradually reducing the poverty and hardship, the injustice and oppression that drive many people to seek a better life in Europe.
In any case, Europe welcomes legal and skilled immigration. We need immigrants and their young families to rejuvenate our population and swell our workforce.
We must, however, do much more to integrate these people into mainstream society and to combat racial discrimination.
Failure to do so condemns many young people of immigrant origin to a ghetto existence of unemployment and hopelessness – and we should not be surprised when their anger boils over onto the streets, as it did in France in 2005.
The fourth challenge I want to mention – in many ways the most fundamental of all – is communication and democracy.
Opinion polls show that seven out of ten people living in the European Union know little or nothing about what it is and what it does.
As Jeremy Fleishman recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, many people see the EU as "an aloof, bureaucratic oddity that prattles on in a maze of buildings in Brussels". People don't see its connection with their daily lives.
Too few EU citizens feel they have a say in EU decision-making: less than half bothered to vote in the last European Parliament elections.
The basic reason for this situation is that, for the past 50 years, European integration has been driven largely by the political elite – ‘top down’ – and not by the grass roots, ‘bottom up’.
At the same time the European Union has become very complex, and the politicians have not been good at explaining it to the people.
To change this situation I believe the EU needs two things.
By "we" I don't just mean the EU institutions. I also mean
- Europe's political parties,
- Civil society
- Government at every level: national, regional and local.
We have to do the communication job together.
By communication I don't mean propaganda. I mean:
- A real dialogue between the people and the policy-makers in Europe.
- and an informed debate about what the EU should and should not be doing.
There has to be a national debate within each country – but we also need a trans-national debate between the peoples of our 27 countries. In the media, on the internet and in physical meeting places across the continent.
You can't run a Union of 27 and more countries using machinery designed for a Community of six. We need a simpler and more efficient way of taking our collective decisions.
Our institutions need to be made more transparent and more democratic.
We need a single voice for foreign policy so that Europe can act effectively on the world stage.
That’s why, in October 2004, EU leaders signed a new “Constitutional” Treaty for the European Union. However:
- Should the Constitution be shortened?
- Should it be amended made to please the French and Dutch?
- Should it simply be abandoned and forgotten?
Consensus among 27 governments will not be easy to reach.
A recent cartoon in a European newspaper sums it up rather neatly in two pictures.
First, 1957. Six prime ministers at a table. "Coffee everyone?" asks the drinks lady. "Yes please!" is the unanimous answer.
Second picture: 2007. Twenty-seven prime ministers around a huge table. What do they want to drink? "Tea! Cappuccino! Hot chocolate! Latte! Espresso! Vodka!"... You get the picture.
However, at the EU's 50th birthday celebrations in Berlin last month, EU leaders issued a two-page Declaration stating their intention of resolving this issue before the European Parliament elections in 2009.
I sincerely hope the settlement will not be reached by the old methods of diplomacy behind closed doors. The EU belongs to its citizens and its future ought to be debated and decided openly and democratically.
In an opera, you can't have the divas do all the singing. You also need to hear the chorus. In the symphonic work we call "European integration", the chorus of ordinary citizens needs to be heard. Indeed, the work will succeed only if they help write the score.
Ladies and gentlemen,
So far I have focused on Europe's internal affairs.
But what about our relations with the rest of the world? In particular, what about our relations with America?
What should the EU and the US be doing together over the next 50 years?
That' is my second question for today.
First, in economic terms, I think it's obvious that Europe and America are vitally important for each other.
Trade and investment between us amounts to trillions of dollars a year and sustain millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
In two days' time, an EU-US summit will begin here in Washington. American and European leaders will be discussing how to achieve closer convergence between our economies.
We shall be trying to remove some of the many barriers between us that hinder investment. Things like different accounting systems, divergent technical standards, differences in the way we protect intellectual property rights.
The OECD has estimated that – if we can do this – the per capita GDP on both sides of the Atlantic could increase by 3.5%.
The EU and US are not only economically interdependent: global challenges make us politically interdependent too. We are natural allies. What we have in common is far more important than our occasional disagreements.
John F. Kennedy, in his famous speech in Philadelphia on Independence Day 1962, looked forward to a time when the US and Europe as equal partners in the world would be able to issue a "Declaration of Interdependence".
Surely the time for that declaration has come. It is time to recognize our joint responsibility to work together to resolve global issues.
1. Global development
The EU is proud to be the world’s biggest donor of official development aid: but we would love to see the US contending with us for that title.
Aid is vital to the developing world: but so is trade. I believe one of the priorities for EU-US cooperation over the next few months should be to save the Doha agenda.
Together the EU and US must work to ensure that world trade benefits the world’s poorest countries.
Repressive regimes anywhere in the world naturally invite the violent opposition of terrorist groups. One of the best ways to eliminate terrorism is therefore to build democracy around the globe.
The European Union is doing so very actively, starting with the regions on its borders: Russia, Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
For example, we monitor elections in these regions. Countries where elections are free and fair are rewarded economically by having greater access to our huge and lucrative single market.
We take a similar approach to the wider world.
This European approach is all about long-term cooperation, construction and reform.
It doesn't grab headlines. But step by step, it slowly reshapes the world.
This ‘soft’ power achieves its effect through the threat of non-intervention – the threat of withdrawing the EU’s hand of friendship.
As the political scientist Mark Leonard puts it: “The worst thing that Europe can do is not to engage with a country but to turn its back on it”.
Clearly there is also a place for 'hard' power – for speaking softly while carrying a big stick, to quote Theodore Roosevelt. As long as we exhaust the possibilities of soft speaking before we use the stick!
I believe the EU and the US have things to learn from each other here, and though we may employ different tactics our action on democracy-building should be complementary.
3. Climate change and energy supply
There is now almost universal agreement among scientists that human activity is significantly contributing to global warming, and that we need to act swiftly to curb our greenhouse gas emissions.
EU leaders recently agreed to cut EU emissions of carbon dioxide by 20% by the year 2020. And we will increase this cut to 30% if the US is prepared to do likewise.
Even if we disagree at present about the figures, the EU and US can surely agree on the principle of setting emission-reduction targets and of using market-based instruments to achieve them.
By using our combined influence, the EU and US can set an agenda that other major players may then follow.
hope that, at the UN conference in Indonesia in December, the EU and US can jointly persuade all major greenhouse gas emitters to agree to a long-term, flexible, fair and effective global framework within which to tackle climate change.
Energy supply is the other side of the same coin – and here again Americans and Europeans can usefully work together.
The good news is that research and development – while costing money – creates jobs and stimulates economic growth.
Smart growth results in sustainable development. That is the only kind of development worth working for – and I believe it is in the interests of both the US and the European Union.
We have within our grasp the win-win prospect of saving the planet while boosting the quality of life of people around the world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europeans and Americans have much in common.
Cooperation between the EU and US at government level can go a long way to delivering those things.
But the most important things of all can only be achieved by people.
And young people like the students here today are the future business leaders, opinion formers, creative minds, political decision-makers.
I hope that young Europeans and Americans will increasingly work together to build inclusive, tolerant, democratic societies on both sides of the Atlantic and to promote those ideals around the world.
Amos Oz, the Israeli Nobel prize-winner, has said that the real battle of our time is not a clash between civilizations. It is not between North and South, or between Islam and the rest of the world. It is between the fanatics and the rest. The trial of strength is between fanaticism and tolerance.
I urge you young people to promote tolerance and fight fanaticism. I encourage you to do it through dialogue: really listening to one another (and to other cultures) and learning to appreciate one another's views.
In the European Union, dialogue among the citizens of 27 different countries is hampered by language barriers – and by the national confines of our media.
But among young people, global dialogue is already a reality: on the internet; in universities; through travel.
Keep up the conversation! Spread it!
This is the way to a more united and peaceful world.
A more tolerant and understanding world.
The kind of world we all surely want.