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20 Apr, 2013

EC Vice President: European Union has “Deep Structural Flaws”, Needs Redesign


19 April 2013 – Text of the speech by Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission at the Bratislava Global Security Forum – GLOSEC/Brussels, “A new vision for redesigning Europe”. As posted on the EC website.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The motto of the European Union, as I am sure you all know, is ‘United in diversity’ – a recognition that Europe’s patchwork of languages, cultures and traditions is underpinned by a common vision and a shared goal of peace and prosperity.

The current crises, both political and economic, have at times stretched European unity to the limit. While the EU has indeed brought 60 years of peace to most of our continent – as recognised by last year’s Nobel Prize – prosperity for all has been a little harder to achieve.

In these times of austerity and economic downturn, that particular goal probably seems further away than ever before to many Europeans.

The unprecedented scale of the crisis has revealed deep structural flaws in the design of the EU. These flaws are not new however; until now there was simply no political will to address them by making the necessary reforms. In this regard, the crisis has had one positive effect: it has forced us to focus our attention on the need to tackle these flaws or risk descending into global chaos.

The decision that we have taken is clear: we will do whatever it takes to save the euro and the Union.

As a result of this commitment, the rate of EU integration has accelerated rapidly, especially in the euro area: indeed, we’ve seen more changes in the last two years than in the entire decade since the launch of the single currency!

But this deeper integration has also highlighted why there was such a lack of political will in the past: these are decisions that are politically difficult, democratically challenging and hard to communicate. These are decisions that are painful but necessary if we want to create a truly competitive and sustainable European economy for the future.

And that is our ultimate goal: to establish new pillars on which to build the future European Union.

Chief among these is a reformed economic and monetary union. The crisis has forced us to accept that our economic destinies in Europe are far more closely intertwined than we had expected; excessive deficits and irresponsible budgeting have repercussions throughout the EU, not just the Eurozone.

The backlash against the austerity measures needed to tackle these often self-inflicted economic disasters shows us more clearly than ever that what we need is much stronger economic governance to prevent them happening again: greater oversight of national budgets and structural reforms to the European level; a genuine banking union; and the world’s biggest firewall, the €500bn ESM.

But these measures imply a significant pooling of national sovereignty, and that is why we must also build a new political union pillar. This is the only way to ensure democratic accountability and common ownership – and makes it easier to communicate.

As Europe moves towards ever more integrated economic, monetary and banking union, then political union also becomes more and more inevitable, including substantially enhanced roles for national parliaments and the European Parliament to give greater democratic oversight and help forge a feeling of common ownership.

Everywhere you look there is criticism of the EU, of the way in which the crisis is being handled. Citizens are struggling to make sense of the decisions that have been taken, and why they are made to suffer for the mistakes of their elected representatives.

It is not surprising therefore that some people see a quite different future for the EU, where the ties are looser and where decision making is more decentralised, giving each Member State the freedom to take its own path. The UK is by no means alone in envisaging this sort of reform.

Yet this approach would for me be a return to the bad old days: it was precisely this ‘every man for himself’ approach that got us into the mess we are in at the moment! The solution to our problems lie not in less Europe but in more: we must act together, not leave countries to pick and choose which rules they wish to follow and which they do not.

When times are good, when there is peace and prosperity for all, it is easy to be ‘United in diversity’. But we need also to be ‘United in adversity’: when times are hard, it is by working together that we can make them better, by creating the new vision that Europe needs.

Thank you