It has taken 50 years for the Europeans to create a common area of peace, prosperity and social cohesion. 50 years, during which countries that were former enemies, in some cases occupied, have achieved union in diversity, chosen freely and without divergences. 50 years during which, after centuries of war and generations of hatred, Europe´s peoples have managed to know one another and draw closer together in a way that had never happened before. But today, Europe´s citizens are wondering about this 50 year-old heritage. In this world, which is certainly full of opportunities, but also conceals so many threats, will the European Union succeed in effectively promoting its own interests and protecting its citizens?
Yet Europe is a now a fact of life. Europe"s citizens are in no doubt of it, as they increasingly travel throughout it. More than half of them share the same currency. The free movement of people and the euro are now the foundations of European integration. The older generations still remember all those irritating money changing operations and customs controls, while many of them today are enjoying a subsidised pension in another European country. It is the younger people who travel most of all around Europe, where increasing numbers of them are living. Indeed, for the past 20 years, thanks to the Erasmus programme, ever-increasing numbers of young people have been going to study to another country of the Union – a Union where every citizen can see that their fundamental rights are respected everywhere, just as they are in their home country.
But this patrimony is incomplete. We have to pursue integration, so that Europe can respond to the new demands of its citizens. Despite its undoubted success, the single currency is suffering from a lack of economic and social governance. The models of European society is being pressured by increasingly more fierce international competition. Europe is competitive in every field, and in some it occupies a paramount worldwide position. But innovation is in difficulties, and whole industrial sectors are disappearing without being replaced by new products and new technologies. Europe is becoming increasingly dependent not only on research and development, but its energy needs are also placing it in a delicate position on the world stage, where the EU member states are doing their own thing at sixes and sevens, and only rarely succeed in reconciling national interests with the collective European interest. After trying for 15 years to establish a Diplomatic Corps and a common army, the Union still remains a political dwarf.
What is even more paradoxical is that the rest of the world is far more confident in the European Union"s capacity to act in the world, while it is the Europeans themselves who seem to be doubtful and hesitant.
Europe"s citizens have become vaguely aware that this frustrated ambition for Europe will have dire consequences for their future and their children"s future. They want a united and strong Europe, which is capable of responding to the great global challenges, such as microeconomic policy, sustainable development, the security of energy supplies, research, and countering terrorism and organised crime. Europe"s citizens do not want the Union to run the whole of their economic and social organisation, but they do want it to be able to defend their own social market economy internationally. Europe"s citizens do not want the Union to interfere in their daily lives, yet they want it to bring real weight to bear for the resolution of the great world conflicts, and not only as a financier. In short, Europe"s citizens want a Europe which is looked up to abroad, and which looks up to its member states and is capable of defending and promoting Europe"s commonly shared values.
These expectations were disregarded, however, when two of the founding states, who had been among the first signatories of the Treaty of Rome which was the prelude to it, rejected the draft constitutional Treaty. They saw a Europe without a project, without frontiers, without influence. But they did not realise that it was precisely to react to this European void that they were being offered new institutions for a new Europe. This new institutional distribution of powers is more than ever necessary today, and the time for decisions is closing in. In particular, within a renewed and enhanced institutional architecture, we must introduce greater flexibility. The Eurogroup must immediately begin setting an example of exemplary cooperation, based on the euro, as the example of European integration, and guide the steps of all, as they move ahead at their own pace towards an ever-closer Union between peoples and states.
The Union must resume and complete the constitutional process before any new accessions. If the Union continues to expand without institutional reform, the risk of paralysis and nationalistic inward-lookingness would be too great. This reform must be carried through completely, long before June 2009 so that Europe"s electorate can have their say and send out signals of encouragement and outreach to all the countries aspiring to accede.