Carte blanche: The future of the European Union must be a more social Europe where the European citizen sees and understands the advantages of being part of that union, says Carlo Klein.
For most people the Brexit decision was a shock, but I have to admit that the pro-Brexit voters have one point: the EU is too far removed from its citizens, and as a consequence they are not ready for deeper integration at the moment.
What are the major reasons for this situation? There is too large a distance between citizens’ problems and European decisions; there was too fast an enlargement of the union for political reasons; the euro was also introduced for political reasons without considering the economic conditions required to create a currency area.
So, should the EU be cut back to be a kind of free-trade agreement between sovereign states, with reduced power for European institutions? Who really wants a more integrated EU anyway?
Even in the so-called “core countries” there seems to be less and less support for further integration; manifest in the development of populism, nationalism and regionalism in different parts of the union. The refugee crisis has definitely not contributed positively to solving the problem.
Whatever the criticisms directed at the functioning of the EU, we should not forget the initial aim of the union, as recently recalled by J. Lanchester in “The New Yorker” magazine when he quoted Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of European integration: “The European Federation… is indispensable for the maintenance of peace.” Even its most severe critics must admit that this goal has been achieved.
Monnet’s idea of pooling economic resources to avoid fighting for them still makes sense. Therefore, the free circulation of goods, services, capital and people within the union must be maintained. To convince citizens of this necessity, the European institutions have to communicate in a much better way about the achievements of the EU.
Despite all these problems I don’t think that a scaling back of European integration would be the correct decision. A domino effect must be avoided: the risk is too high that member states ask for fewer and fewer common decisions and may even launch their own Brexit. Such a scenario would cast serious doubt over the future of peace in Europe.
Why shouldn’t we try to keep the union more or less as it is? Maintain the four freedoms within the union, but improve the functioning of the euro zone by completing the banking union, the capital market and considering a common fiscal policy. Imbalances have to be tackled, be they deficits or surpluses.
EU citizens should benefit from free markets, which also means that those who lose out under the four freedoms should be helped by improved social policies. Then they will become more aware of the fact that the EU is a union created to improve its citizens’ well-being and to guarantee peace in Europe.