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IEP Lunch Debate with Jo Leinen: “Necessity and range of European Union reform: efficiency, democracy, cohesion”

Jo Leinen, MEP and President of the European Movement Inter­na­tional discussed the “Necessity and range of European Union reform: efficiency, democracy, cohesion” on 28 May at the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Berlin. Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, director of the Institut für Europäische Politik, moderated the event.

Jo Leinen began his presen­tation with an overview of the background to the current crisis situation in Europe. The EU wasn’t prepared for the external and internal shock of the financial markets’ “attack” on the euro. The banking crisis mutated into a sovereign debt crisis because the EU-system lacked the necessary compe­tences and instru­ments. Thus, the debt- and financial crisis clearly exposed the EU-system’s weaknesses and collapsed the ideal of a monetary union enter­tained in the 1990s. This ideal consisted of the three elements 1) Europeani­sation of monetary but not economic policy, 2) self-respon­si­bility of each member state for its finances and prohi­bition of mutual budgetary support, and 3) an independent central bank committed primarily to price stability and prohibited from bailing out member states.

With the Fiscal Compact, the strategy of debt reduction through austerity packages has reached a temporary peak. However, the track record of this policy is sobering. Thanks to its strong export sector, Germany is in a comfortable position, but many eurozone countries are faced with economic stagnation or even recession accom­panied by high youth unemployment. The recent years have been marked by the economic decline of Europe. Since 2009, Europe has lost a third of its economic power, and its global compet­i­tiveness has suffered severely. The disap­proval of EU citizens manifests itself in a loss of confi­dence in the European Parliament (EP) and the European insti­tu­tions. Leinen expressed great concern that the disap­pointment among currently 16 and 17 year olds, who are taking to the streets in several European countries, could become entrenched. Undoubtedly, the upcoming European election campaign will be the most difficult so far.

Europe is currently at a cross­roads, and a re-launch of the European project is necessary. Leinen criti­cized demands for a division of the eurozone into north and south, which would have dramatic economic and social conse­quences not least for Germany. Rather, one must draw the lessons from the crisis, which means to dare more Europe and establish an economic and financial union alongside monetary union. The Van Rompuy Report “Towards a genuine economic and monetary union” contains important building blocks for the urgently needed next integration steps, which must reclaim the “primacy of politics” and put an end to the “primacy of speculation”.

Subse­quently, Leinen outlined the points that must be taken into consid­er­ation in this process of stronger integration:

Above all, it is highly problematic that the debate is consis­tently held from a national perspective. Leinen outlined three methods to initiate an urgently needed transna­tional debate at European level: The first two, namely 1) the estab­lishment of a “Council of Elders” or 2) an inter­gov­ern­mental conference, however, are insuf­fi­cient to deal with the current challenges. Rather, the EP for the first time must use its right of initiative to convene a 3) European Convent as was done to work out the Charta of Funda­mental Rights and the Consti­tu­tional Treaty. This time, however, the public and civil society must be involved from the outset. This would contribute to more solidarity, more democracy and not least more efficiency by removing the “too big” obstacle of unanimity.

Finally, Leinen empha­sized the need to develop a new narrative, a new and convincing vision for Europe: Where does Europe stand today? In the 20th-century, Europe stood for peace and freedom. In the 21st-century, it must stand for stability and prosperity in a globalised world.