Conference on the future of the European Union

How can we make Europe stronger and more efficient, and give it greater democratic legitimacy? These very questions were debated at a high level conference in Brussels on 28 November, whose hosts included German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Early in the day, Westerwelle noted that “a broad public debate” was needed on the issue of Europe. He also stated that the top priority now, given the present situation, was stabilizing the euro. The measures taken to address the crisis were, he said, already bearing fruit. Competitiveness was increasing, deficits were being reduced, and reforms implemented. However, the reforms must be pushed ahead with vigour, both in the member states and in Brussels. “Competitiveness, growth and European solidarity are the keys to solving our problems,” said Westerwelle.

“Joint and several liability not acceptable in Europe”

The EU Commission has also put forward proposals for the further development of Europe, and especially of the euro area. In Brussels today Westerwelle welcomed these proposals that were aimed at enhanced cooperation in the eurozone. However, eurobonds, eurobills and other forms of joint and several liability for debts in Europe were a step in the wrong direction and were not acceptable to the German Government. “Going down that road would be asking too much of some, and would reduce other countries’ incentives to implement reforms,” Westerwelle said. He stressed that the appetite for reform had to be maintained. Without it, the countries bearing the brunt of the crisis would not regain their strength.

Further building work on the European edifice

Westerwelle at the conference on the future of the EU

Westerwelle at the conference on the future of the EU
© photothek / Hünerfauth

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Westerwelle at the conference on the future of the EU

Westerwelle at the conference on the future of the EU

Westerwelle at the conference on the future of the EU

Above and beyond the present crisis, work is also needed on the European edifice as a whole to make it safe against any future shocks. Our response to the crisis must therefore be ‘more Europe’ – a “better functioning, more transparent Europe, a Europe offering even greater political participation,” in the words of the Foreign Minister.

The purpose of the Conference was to place the debate on the future of Europe on a broader footing. Participants included Herman van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, the EU Commissioners for the Internal Market, Justice, Economic and Monetary Affairs and Health and Consumer Policy, as well as members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, foundation representatives, academics and trade unionists. The event was held at the invitation of Foreign Minister Westerwelle, his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders, the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Belgian Egmont Institute, the King Baudouin Foundation and the Polish think tank demosEuropa.

The debate built on the work of the Future of Europe Group, an informal discussion group of EU foreign ministers, which, at Westerwelle’s behest, drew up joint proposals on the future of Europe and presented them to the public in September 2012.

Building on the work of the Future of Europe Group

The report presented by the Future of Europe Group of EU foreign ministers also included specific proposals for further advancing the European project. Eliminating the structural deficiencies introduced by Maastricht is a priority. Creating a genuine fiscal union is indispensable. Europe must be strengthened as a global player, most immediately by strengthening the High Representative and the European External Action Service. Europe is not a project for the elite. ‘More Europe’ also means more democratic legitimacy.

In the long term, the report envisages a system for the separation of powers in Europe which has full democratic legitimacy. This could include a directly elected Commission President who appoints the members of his ‘European Government’ himself, a European Parliament with the powers to initiate legislation and a second chamber for the member states. ‘More Europe’ is also needed in key areas such as economic policy, financial policy and foreign policy. But the EU does not have to do everything itself. On the contrary, exercising self restraint would reflect the principle of subsidiarity and could even increase acceptance of European policies.

More information on the Future of Europe Group and its proposals

Last updated 28.11.2012

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