The following article by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski was published on 17 September 2012 on the website of the New York Times (www.nytimes.com).
Aren’t you weary of reading and hearing news that heralds the blighted state of the European Union and its impending demise? We are. The E.U. will make it through, provided we act now.
Together with other foreign affairs ministers in the Future of Europe Group, we have finalized a report on how to overcome the crisis.
Our proposals are wide-ranging. We must reform the Economic and Monetary Union, tackle structural change and increase our competitiveness. We call for stronger powers at the E.U. level to oversee member states’ budgets, making economic coordination between member states more binding in areas that are key for growth and competitiveness, and establishing an effective supervisory mechanism for banks. We also believe that the European Stability Mechanism should be further developed into a “European Monetary Fund.”
While implementing these steps will mean greater powers at the European level, we can proceed only if they are democratically legitimized. Therefore we also propose to strengthen the European Parliament and the involvement of national parliaments. Creating a permanent joint committee between the European and national parliaments could serve that purpose.
The crisis in the euro zone stems partly from the flawed architecture of the Economic and Monetary Union. The E.U.’s founding father, Jacques Delors, was aware of E.M.U.’s deficiencies, but a compromise beyond a single monetary policy was not feasible at that time. We must now remedy this mistake.
Budgetary discipline is key to strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union. A mechanism to ensure that all member states abide by the rules is essential. Sound fiscal policy and balanced budgets are a must.
Of course, consolidation must not be allowed to stifle growth. The spirit of solidarity, so intrinsic to our European culture, needs to prevail. We are in this together. We have all benefited from the Union, one way or the other. We are the largest donors of development aid in the world. Let’s help ourselves as well.
At the same time, however, we must strike a balance between solidarity and responsibility. It cannot be a one-way street.
While revamping the E.M.U., it is also vital that we keep it open for anyone wishing to participate.
The answer to our current conundrum is more, not less, Europe — one that is more competitive, more resistant to economic crises, and more united in the face of the challenges of globalization. That’s why institutions that work to the advantage of the whole E.U. should be enhanced. More Europe with stronger institutions means a Europe with a truly single market area.
Our priority needs to be the euro, however. Containing the crisis is our responsibility. And we will deliver on it. But beyond that our ambition is to ensure that Europe plays a global role that corresponds to its economic power. We refuse to allow the E.U. to be, in the words of a former Belgian minister of foreign affairs, Mark Eyskens, “a political dwarf and a military worm.”
We have already set up the E.U.’s External Action Service. We must now enhance its coherence and visibility. We have to greatly strengthen the Common Security and Defense Policy as well. Shying away from military capabilities simply sidelines the E.U.
We are also looking at other policy areas. We propose that the Schengen area’s external borders be strengthened and better protected by creating a European border police force. In addition we are seeking wider representation in international organizations. Our main objective is to endow the European Union with the means to wield the political clout it merits.
It will take much to motivate citizens to implement these reforms. What can help is to give them a perspective, a vision. Here is ours: For Europe to be a truly strong actor and global leader it needs a strong institutional setup, a streamlined and efficient system for the separation of powers. It also needs a directly elected European Commission president who personally appoints the members of his “European Government,” a European Parliament with the powers to initiate legislation and a second chamber for member states.
No matter how dismayed the majority of citizens may be with the economic situation, they are proud to be part of this unique project called the E.U., with its free movement of goods, services, labor and capital. We are confident that if it ever came to choosing, they would not let the Union unravel. We still stand by the Berlin Declaration that we signed on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome — “We must always renew the political shape of Europe in keeping with the times. ... Europe is our common future.”