Thursday 23 September 2010

Herman Van Rompuy: Europe’s great challenges and small steps (I)

When the fundamental values and rules of the European Union are defiantly rejected by government ministers, irrelevance is seen as the future prospect for an increasingly intergovernmental and impotent EU, or – alternatively – an undemocratic and oppressive EUSSR is described as a straitjacket for the nations in Europe, what does the president of the European Council make of this?

This week, president Herman Van Rompuy made one of his rare appearances outside the immediate institutional framework, when he spoke about the great challenges for Europe, as the guest of the think-tank Nôtre Europe, at the Sciences-Po in Paris.

Europe is a work in progress. Despite exasperating slowness, Europe is tough.

Instead of the renationalisation of European politics Charles Kupchan sees, Van Rompuy offered the perspective of Europeanisation of national politics.

Europe has become a fact of life, daily weaving ties between our economies, our civil societies, between the various interests and values, covering a space of 500 million Europeans.

The resilience was shown, when the defence of the eurozone and the European Union led to unprecedented decisions last spring to establish a package of €750 billion together with the IMF, and later to conduct bank stress tests.

The Task force on economic governance is not going to make a great leap to budgetary union, but several small steps in the right direction. They concern both the prevention of future crises and the ability to handle potential crises in the future.

Monetary union without budgetary union is a structural handicap, but the euro can survive in spite of this.

If the warnings of the European Central Bank had been heeded, we could have evaded the crisis. What we need now, is to improve budget surveillance, but especially apply the rules.

According to Van Rompuy the role of the European Council did not mean that the EU descended into intergovernmentalism, but that the heads of state or government formed the link between decisions at EU and national level. The decisions concerning the “Special Purpose Vehicle” were taken in a coordinated manner at national level.

Europe needs both transferral of power to the EU level and the participation of all levels.

If the economic turtle has advanced painstakingly, the international challenges often require quicker answers. It is not acceptable for 500 million Europeans, who produce 22 per cent of world GDP, to stay marginalised. Globalisation is not only about the economy, but about politics and power. If we want to defend our interests and values, we have to realise this. If we want to promote our interests, our small internal differences pale into insignificance.

Online media

You can, of course, read Van Rompuy’s speech in full, or watch the video. Another option is to broaden the view by studying outside reports and comments online.

On Sciences-Po, École de jounalisme, Daphnée Denis summarises the sppech of a Van Rompuy much livelier and funnier than rumoured: Herman Van Rompuy, le « charismatique Président du Conseil européen » (including video excerpts).

Starting from Van Rompuy’s speech, Matthew Saltmarsh and Stephen Castle discuss the state of play concerning EU economic governance in The New York Times: Europe Debates How to Avoid Another Debt Crisis.

The report by Clémentine Forissier and Loup Besmond de Senneville offers a good summary of the main points as well as some additional questions of interest: Van Rompuy, les navires et la tortue.

Ralf Grahn

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