Like many other citizens and fellow bloggers, I have watched and read Mr. Barroso's speech in the European Parliament yesterday. The President of the EU Commission gave an inspiring speech, that every sentence sounded like a music to my ears. Many of my fellow bloggers have been discussing everything that Mr. Barroso mentioned in his speech for years now.
The question is: we know what it needs to be done. Will our leaders oblige and follow through? Britain is on the brink of a referendum on their EU membership. The crisis in the eurozone has created a lack of trust between our governments and of course divisions among the European populations. Populist parties have gained access to many countries' parliaments. How easy will it be for the Commission and the European Parliament to implement all that Mr. Barroso mentioned?
Most of the ideas are not new. Many European think tanks, institutions, MEPs, top European and EU politicians and officials and many bloggers have been proposing the same solutions for many years. But I was more than happy to listen to Mr. Barroso presenting the EP with a new road map and committing to push for those necessary reforms in a pan-European level. It has to be done. And it was about time!
A few of his comments that I would like to comment further: In the beginning Mr. Barroso explained very accurately the analysis of the situation in Europe and the reasons we are in this crisis. Particularly he noted the irresponsible practices in the financial sector, the unsustainable public debt and the lack of competitiveness in some Member States. I will stop in one very important thing that he mentioned, the vicious circle of European summits.
In he speech he talks about " very important decisions for our future are taken at European summits. But then, the next day, we see some of those very same people who took those decisions undermining them. Saying that either they go too far, or that they don't go far enough." And he continues by saying that "It is not acceptable to present these European meetings as if they were boxing events, claiming a knockout victory over a rival. We cannot belong to the same Union and behave as if we don't. We cannot put at risk nine good decisions with one action or statement that raises doubts about all we have achieved."
To me the above is clearly a message to our national governments and he speaks about the summits of the Council of the European Union. Personally I often wondered why we never get to see any discussions or debates that are going on in those summits. We do have access to debates and plenary sessions of the E.P. on youtube and other websites affiliated to the EP and the EU in general. But what our elected leaders discuss, compromise or agree on in the EU Council meetings we never get to see.
Who are those politicians that Mr. Barroso is referring to? Would they act like this if they knew that we would be watching? If we had a platform that it would name and shame them, perhaps their behavior would be much different, their discussions more of a substance and they would be forced to commit to what they have agreed. I would like as a Greek to see what our government is saying to our European partners and why if Greece is agreeing in most things that the EU puts forward, we still as a country have one of the worse records of implementing those rules. Perhaps if our leaders knew that we would be watching and we are aware of what they promised to our partners, there would be no way for them to come back and blame their failures on Europe or not feel obliged informing us about the situation.
The same I suppose goes for any other country. Would the British have the same attitude towards the EU if they saw what their politicians discussed in those Council summits? Would the Germans believe everything that their press is telling them about having to pay for other nations? I personally detest this "intergovernmental-ism" and I would love to see the EU Council scrapped for good. I believe that Europe should be governed in three levels, the local, the national and the European one. So give full power to the European Parliament and the EU Commission for all matters European and leave our governments to deal with our national ones. But since this ain't gonna happen, as I do not see any national politician giving up his/her right to boost their ego and attend "boxing matches" on European playground, then I would happily settle for more transparency.
Let us see what our leaders debate and help us make up our own mind. And since their image is more important to them than any real progress in Europe, well then I guess they would not behave like they did until now once they knew that we will be watching!
Mr. Barroso continued by suggesting a "new thinking for Europe." Europe needs a new direction, a more "European" one. He mentions that if Europe is to be able to compete in the future in a globalized world, we need more unity and integration among our members, thus more democracy; a European democracy. "It means embracing the interdependence of our destinies. And it means demanding a true sense of common responsibility and solidarity. Because when you are on a boat in the middle of the storm, absolute loyalty is the minimum you demand from your fellow crew members," Mr. Barroso continued. He mentioned that Europe can not compete giants like the USA and China and all the emerging countries. The world is changing and so should Europe. And unity brings strength.
Later Mr. Barroso put forward his "Decisive Deal" for Europe. This will involve reforms in pan-European level. A genuine economic and political union are necessary, based on growth, confidence and trust among EU's member states. He went on and announced various programs that the Commission is committed to put forward by 2014, both on economic and on political level. And all that he spoke about made so much sense and they were debated for years by many bloggers in Europe's "bloggosphere."
Boosting the Single Market, promoting competitiveness, boosting our renewable energy potential and investing in education, research, innovation and science. Reforming the taxation system of Europe, forming the (much necessary) banking union among the eurozone member states. Reforming CAP, tackling unemployment, battling tax evasion, moving towards a true fiscal union, empowering the European Parliament and promoting pan-European political parties, are some of the reforms proposed by Mr. Barroso.
I am particularly happy that in the space of the next two years we will see all (or at least some) of the above being implemented, if of course our national governments don't blow it again. I hope they have learned their lesson that if they act irresponsibly the consequences are far harder to deal with in the end, than if they have followed the rules that they themselves have agreed on in the first place.
I really look forward the Banking Union because as Mr. Barroso suggested, "the crisis has shown that while banks became transnational, rules and oversight remained national. And when things went wrong, it was the taxpayers who had to pick up the bill." The idea of pan-European political parties is also one of my favorites, as I find such move necessary to break traditional national party politics and agreements under the table. It is the only way to fight corruption on national level and weaken the influence of national politics on European level. And of course my favorite announcement of all was the empowering of the European Parliament. Something that I have always believed and dreamed of. Any parliament is the core of a functioning democracy, either national or international. Because democracy can exist in both national and international levels. But so far the EP did not have the powers that it should have. This is why we had the democratic deficit in Europe. Hope this will change and the Commission and the EP will stick to their promises.
Mr. Barroso also announced a necessary treaty change, so that Europe can become a "Federation of Nation States." Which of course finds me in absolute agreement. I will never cease to be a Greek (and a proud one too) by giving a part of my nation's sovereignty to Europe. All nations will do equally the same. I am already a European by geography, history, culture and even politics. We are not trying to erase our identity and suddenly become "Europeans." We are all already Europeans, but this is only a part of our identity. My identity is also Greek, Thessalonian, a Greek-Macedonian by birth and a Dubliner by choice. Besides, as Mr. Barroso already mentioned, we are not talking about a European "superstate!"
What we are trying to achieve is to create a better, fairer, equal, stable and prosperous European continent that we all going to contribute, benefit and be part of. For all the state members throughout the continent, from tip to tip. And that can happen only through a "Federation of Nation States," of countries that will be willing to share, cooperate and work together to achieve all the above goals. Because together we can deal with pressures coming from multinationals and larger countries better. The governments of small countries are proven to be more prone to succumb to pressures from them, leading to corruption. Because together we can have better security of our borders and for our citizens. Because together we can maximize our potential. Europe has vast resources if put together. From human resources, to energy, land, financial etc.
Mr Barroso also called for "a debate of a truly European dimension." That is also find me in agreement. If we want to make citizens believe in the EU/European project, we need to let them speak. In this way, they will feel that they have a say in it, that this project is theirs because they helped its formation and their voices were heard. And not something that it has been imposed on them. This debate will happen all over Europe and in my opinion is a long delayed one too.
Mr Barroso also defended Europe's social market economy, and the continent's social model and its values. He rejected the claims that Europe's social model is dead, but he did add that if we want to keep it we need to push for the necessary reforms and change the European economies. That is something that I also welcome. There is nothing worse to me than the American model. Besides, we need to safeguard our values and our social model is one of them. That is what makes us Europeans and that is what we can contribute to the rest of the world.
Closing his speech, Mr Barroso was quick to rebuff anyone who would think that all the above were unrealistic. He instead asked: "is it realistic to see what we are seeing today in many European countries? Is it realistic to see taxpayers paying banks and afterwards being forced to give banks back the houses they have paid for because they can not pay their mortgages? Is it realistic to see more than 50% of our young people without jobs in some of our Member States? Is it realistic to think that we can win the confidence of the markets when we show so little confidence in each other? To me, it is this reality that is not realistic. This reality cannot go on."
And he concluded by noting that "the European Union was built to guarantee peace. Today, this means making our Union fit to meet the challenges of globalization. That is why we need a new thinking for Europe, a decisive deal for Europe." To me this last sentence says it all. That is why we have to keep getting involved, all of us in our country's and in European politics. That is why we need to start having a vision and not be afraid to demand it from our politicians. We need to start believing again in the European project.
But I only hope that all countries are equal in it. There will be nothing worse if we again see the old European powers trying to dominate the smaller and weaker countries and have their interests put above Europe's. All countries should be equal in this new "Federation of Nation States," and the sensitivities, needs and wishes of every nation taken in consideration. I would love to see the EP protecting its citizens and break the old corrosive patterns of nationalism, protectionism, conservatism and xenophobia.
I also hope that all that Mr Barroso has promised do not stay on paper...again! It is not the first time we hear a speech like this, and the ideas are not new. But can we get on with it and implement them please? The more we waste time, the more the populist parties will gain the upper hand in our countries. And once they do, even if we would wish to reverse the situation and return to our European values and ambitions, it will be much harder when their bile has poisoned the minds of the majority of the Europeans.