SECURITY 15 May, 2018 10:00 am   

EEC 2018: Testing times for Europe. It had already been better

– Ten years ago in Katowice, we were wondering how to solve the biggest challenges for Europe. This topic is endless. Today we know that the European economy must be competitive on the global market – said Jerzy Buzek inaugurating the jubilee 10th European Economic Congress. In the panel opening this even,t visions of the future of Europe were made by European politicians: former Prime Minister and President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Slovakia Iveta Radičová, former President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and former Prime Minister Finland and the current vice president of the European Investment Bank Alexander Stubb.

Matters of life and death

– In 10 years we can say that we have solved Europe’s biggest problems. Repairing the economy can not take place without honest debate. On the one hand, politicians can not “disturb” entrepreneurs, but we are also obliged to demonopolize the economy – said Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek at the start of the panel “Our new Europe”. Its main topic was the current challenges facing Europe – the crisis in relations with the US, Brexit and the rise of eurosceptic attitudes.

– We have survived the existential crisis in the eurozone. It was a matter of life and death for us. We also managed to maintain political stability after the refugee crisis. This gives us hope for the future – Herman Van Rompuy began. He emphasized that relations with Europe’s neighbors, Africa and Asia, where rapid demographic and economic changes occur, would be an important issue in the future. – We need leadership and unity when it comes to talking about the will of Great Britain to leave the European Union, about trade wars or imposing sanctions on Russia – he said.

More public control

Greece’s former prime minister George Papandreou recalled the financial problems of his country from a few years ago. – We need more Europe in Europe if we want to face today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. After the fall of communism, we believed in the market like in god. In the meantime, we need to find a balance between solidarity and the market. Now the biggest challenge for democracy are economic inequalities – said the politician. He pointed out that the threat is too much concentration of power and weakness of control on the part of the society. – We must oppose ‘fake news’, demagogy and xenophobia. In a globalized world, there are no more islands, nor is Great Britain – said Papandreou.

– The greatest threat to contemporary Europe is the contradiction of the interests of global markets and democratic societies. Another challenge is the identity crisis – societies are polarized, searching for public enemies, and the political dispute appeals to emotions. So we are looking for those who have recipes for problems, no matter if they are right. That is why the politics today remind of supporting sport clubs – said former Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová. She recognized “specific people from the banking sector who made irresponsible decisions” guilty of the financial crisis. The hall responded with applause.

What about the euro zone?

The next speaker was the former prime minister of Finland Alexander Stubb. Now as a board member of the European Investment Bank, he focused on creating new opportunities for European entrepreneurs. – When I took office in 2008, everything started to go wrong. War in Georgia, economic crisis, refugee crisis. After my departure from the government in 2016, the Finnish economy began to cope well – a guest from Finland quipped. He said that the crises that Europe is struggling with are a great opportunity to learn.

– The EIB is the largest bank in the world. Now we are focusing on implementing the Juncker plan, but we are rather contractors than the creators of financial policy. We turn by gigantic means, many of which go to Poland – said a guest from Finland. According to him, the European Union is based on liberal democracy, social market economy and globalization. – 2016 was a breakthrough year because of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the president of the USA. After the withdrawal of the United States from Europe, a vacuum on security issues was created, which we must refill as the European Union and I think that we will manage to do that. Let’s end with the divisions and let us think what we can do together for Europe – said Stubb.

Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz referred to the danger of the so-called “Two-speed union”. – The euro zone needs reform, we want its problems to end. The European Union must be competitive so that its importance in the world grows and becomes a model for the rest of the world. It is also necessary to ensure that the free movement of goods, capital, services and people is not disturbed, which unfortunately happens in some Western European countries – said the representative of the Polish government.

– The euro area is a political project whose goal was to build the unity of Europe. We’ve dealt with its crisis. The euro is the second most important, after the US dollar, currency in the world. 75 percent of Europeans use the euro every day. If Poland wants to be in the core of the European Union, it will have to become a member of the eurozone sooner or later – said Van Rompuy later in the debate. – Talking about “young democracies” is not a good explanation of political mistakes for me. Italy was barely a five-year democracy when they co-created the European Community. German democracy was only 12 years old when Germany joined the European structures. All European democracies are young – he added.

It had already been better

Should the goals of European integration be redefined? The former Prime Minister of Slovakia Iveta Radičová tried to answer this question: – After the Second World War, the goals of European integration were more clear than today. At that time, it was mainly about ensuring prosperity and peace. Today we can focus on the citizen, because a happy citizen is a stable European Union – she said. Greece’s former prime minister, George Papandreu, insisted on economic transformation and the fight against corruption. – Democracy must be constantly fought for. We must defend our core values, like a tripartite power – said the politician. Minister Czaputowicz also summed up the conversation: – The union of two speeds is a de facto division of the Union. Therefore, all countries should be treated equally – he said.

– 15 years ago, we also had huge problems in Europe. Regardless of the level of power, we need to create new jobs, fight against global warming and terrorism. For this, we will need to find a new balance. Central and Eastern Europe was a region that suffered especially, but today we should focus on what unites us – the former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy concluded the debate.