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President Barroso delivers "Humboldt"-speech on present and future of the European Union in Berlin

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Today, President Barroso delivered a speech at Humboldt University in Berlin entitled “Considerations on the present and the future of the European Union”.

This is his contribution to the debate on the future of Europe, as set out by President Barroso in the State of the Union address in 2013 and based on his experience and key lessons drawn from heading the European Commission over almost 10 years.

 

Extracts:

"I feel that it is my duty, before leaving the office of Commission President, to share my experience and my thinking on how we can build on what we have achieved so far, and go forward in the future.

"[The] combined sovereign debt crisis, [..] economic crisis and [..] social crisis [..] was a momentous stress test for the solidity of the European Union and for the single currency, the euro, in particular. And it required exceptional measures to address it, […]"

"The economic and financial crisis showed […] that the improvement of the governance of the Euro Area was indispensable for the long term sustainability of a single currency. Further institutional steps of a more political nature may become indispensable."

"On top of all that, we are now faced with new challenges as a result of recent developments in Ukraine and Russia - probably the biggest challenge to security and peace in Europe since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall."

"The lessons learnt throughout the last decade will give the debate on the future of the European Union a sharp perspective, which is why I wish to stimulate it."

"In ten years at the head of the European Commission, I have tried to add to the foundations of a pragmatic, coherent and resilient European Union. While the European Union response may not always have stood up to its initial ambition, I believe that the Commission has played and will continue to play an essential role. We have worked to preserve Europe's unity, to keep it open and to make it stronger. Stronger because the economies of the Member States are becoming more competitive to face global competition. And stronger because at the European level, our economic and financial governance has been spectacularly reinforced. There is a lot to build on from here. A unique project. A necessary project. A project that we should be proud of."

 

On the need for further EU integration and joint action:

"It is only through cooperation and adaptation that we will safeguard our social market economy."

"[This] phase [of European integration] is mainly […] about the power and influence required to safeguard Europe's peace and prosperity under the conditions of globalisation."

"The global attractiveness of Europe's economic model was temporarily undercut. And with that, our values and our authority as a global player were put in doubt. Now we need to fight back and regain our role and influence."

"The challenges ahead of us in this […] phase of European integration must be examined from the point of view of first, the politics needed; second, the policies needed, and third, the polity needed to achieve the first two. In that order."

 

On legitimacy, democracy and governance:

"Europe needs legitimation by results, and these can only come from a continued emphasis on innovation and reform: reform of our economic structures, of public administrations, of labour markets, of the internal market, of energy and climate policies, and so on."

"There is a governance gap, since Member States on their own no longer have what it takes to deliver what citizens need while the European institutions still lack part of the equipment to do so. There is a legitimacy gap, because citizens perceive that decisions are taken at a level too distant from them. And there is an expectations gap, because people expect more than the political system can actually deliver. [...] There is a clear need to define the communality we want, on which depends our role in the world."

"We cannot – and should not – force public opinion's hand. But we can try and forge the consensus we need."

"[We need] reform, not revolution. Evolution, not counter-revolution."

"We have been building the much closer union that, before, was only an aspiration. As a result, mere bureaucratic, technocratic and diplomatic deliberation will no longer do. [...] We need a new debate, a new dialogue to take this further – a real sense of ownership of the European project both at the national and transnational level."

"Before we discuss the technical details of yet another treaty, we must answer the question: what kind of communality do we acknowledge as necessary, indispensable, unavoidable between the capitals and Brussels? What do we recognize as things we must decide to do together, no matter what?"

"Now is the time to have a political and societal debate on what communality we want in the EU; on how far and how deep we want integration to go; on who wants to participate in what; and for what purpose."

"[A] stark dilemma [..] is at the heart of the discussion on the future of Europe: when the people do not like a national decision, they usually vote against the decision-maker. If they do not like a European decision, they tend to turn against Europe itself."

 

On euroscepticism and ownership of the European project:

"There is a lack of ownership in European politics, which institutional adjustments by themselves cannot remedy."

"All countries would like to see Europe as a big screen projection of their own aspirations, and are ready to say that 'Europe' has a problem when the others don't follow their initiatives."

"Confronted with the growing voices of euroscepticism and even europhobia, some mainstream political forces have internalized populist arguments rather than countering them. From the centre-left to the centre-right, political forces and actors must leave their comfort zone. […] They have to make the case for a positive agenda for Europe."

"We need leadership, action and ownership for and of the European Union's project, understood as part of the political and societal fabric of its Member States. […] We need to develop a new relationship of cooperation […] between the Union, its institutions and the Member States."

"To move from a competitive to a cooperative approach between the Union's institutions and between the European institutions and the Member States, we need a reinforced role of the political parties at the Union's level […] This is why the electoral dynamics triggered by the nomination of 'Spitzenkandidaten' of the political parties for the office of Commission president can be a step in the right direction."

 

On coherence of the Union:

"Any further development of the Union should be based on the existing treaties and on the Community method, since moving outside this framework would lead to fragmentation, overlapping of structures and ultimately to incoherence and underperformance."

"The European level has only gained in relevance." [..] A multiple-speed reinforced cooperation in Europe may become a necessity. But a Europe of multiple classes has been - and must always be - avoided at all costs. "

"The Union should always aim at evolving as much as possible as a whole, with 28."

"According to the treaties, the single currency is meant for all Member States, except for those who have a permanent opt-out."

"Playing whatever Kerneuropa against whatever periphery will weaken both."

"We can, and should, find ways to cater to the UK's specificity, inasmuch as this does not threaten the Union's overall coherence. But we should not confound this specificity – even if it is shared at some moments by several governments – with an overall situation of the Union."

 

On the need to perfect the Political Union – longer term institutional developments:

"Regarding the need to perfect our political union and enhance the democratic legitimacy that should underpin what I call Europe 3.0, it should be based on the Community method as the system of checks, balances and equity between the institutions and the Member States that offers the best starting point for further supranational democracy."

"[…] Supranational democracy must not be constructed as a multi-level combination of vetoes, but rather as a system of accountability at the level where executive decisions are taken."

"Inasmuch as executive decisions are taken by European executives, notably the Commission, it is the European legislature, hence the European Parliament and – in its legislative functions – the Council that need to ensure democratic legitimacy and accountability. Conversely, it falls to national parliaments to ensure the legitimacy and accountability of decisions taken at the level of the Member States, including the action of the Member States in the Council."

"The relations between national parliaments and the European Parliament should also be a privileged part of the [cooperative relationship] that I have been advocating."

"The future development should go in the direction of constituting a reformed Commission as the Union's executive, including the Union's treasury function. It would be responsible to a bicameral legislature composed of the European Parliament and the Council as the two chambers."

"In the medium term, the office of the Vice-President of the Commission responsible for economic and monetary affairs and the euro could be merged with the office of the President of the Eurogroup. A more radical innovation, such as merging the office of the President of the European Commission with the office of the President of the European Council, would undoubtedly be a question for the longer term."

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Read the full speech here.

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