On a personal note: from dictatorship to a society of free nations
As a Slovene I am one of the Europeans who have experienced the bright side of European history. I am glad and proud to have cooperated in the project of the democratisation and independence of Slovenia, as well as along its path toward the European Union as a society of free and democratic nations.
When Slovenia legally became part of the European Union, our new state voluntarily renounced as much sovereignty as France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Luxembourg or any other larger or smaller country, at the same time taking co-responsibility for the sovereignty and development of the whole Union.
I did not experience the historical enlargement of the EU, which incorporated the former communist countries, merely as their alignment to the democratic West, I saw it above all as a wish to collaborate on the creation of a truly united Europe.
A united Europe and strong EU is the prerequisite for a common European future. If we were to have a more united Europe, we would be more resilient to crises and other upcoming challenges.
In 1992, the European Community renamed itself the European Union. My impression has been that the Union has somehow lost its sense of community. Without it, however, the EU cannot expect to have a great future.
The responsibility for the present state of the Union does not fall on the enlargements or the external challenges we are facing. It seems important to me to emphasize that the EU is not merely an answer to foreign dangers and challenges. It must be primarily nourished by its internal will for the quality of coexistence and cooperation, which does not want the return of excluding nationalisms, hate, fear or political police.
Only a united Europe will be able to shape political and economic developments in a worldwide context. Upcoming years will be about sustaining our unique European way of life in a globalised world.
The survival of the European project is at stake
The survival of the EU is at stake. I think that, while dealing with actual problems in an activist-like manner, we do not realize enough how serious is the situation in the demographic, cultural, economic, political and security senses.
I am interested in that which enables us to find answers to external challenges when we choose to do so. We will be able to locate the solutions if we answer the questions about ourselves. Our internal problem requires solutions.
Why are the centrifugal political forces, which threaten the future of the European project rising after decades of growth and enlargements? Why are we so often slow and undecided when reacting to challenges?
I am asking all of this because the latest development towards the old concepts and enemies worries me. I have experienced a divided Europe, a time of humiliation of individuals and entire nations, then borders, restrictions, blockades and bans. This is why I know what I am advocating for, and what needs to be defended.
I believe that the generation which has experienced a divided Europe has a moral and political duty to pass its own experience to the new generation. Memory is as necessary as courage.
Identity, soul and demographics
The more crises we experience, the more we talk about identity, values and principles.Europe is the home of multiple identities. We are the ones, or rather the descendants of those who experienced the horror of the twentieth century. We are also the ones who have co-created the new Europe.
We have developed a respectful attitude to diversity, but we know less about what we want to become regarding our identity.
Peace and the concept of coexistence, which is based on the idea of human dignity and the community method, are the core elements of the European political and cultural identity. It is evident that populisms, radicalisms and anti-European nationalisms menace it.
A big game is at stake, a Herculean task at the vast construction site of an unfinished building. The question is whether the EU is to take part in shaping the globalized world or if divided, it satisfies itself with its role of a demographically languishing witness or as an immigration service. Let’s remember the story of the fall of ancient Roman Empire: it fell and broke apart when its core values disintegrated, when all that remained was a game of power.
If an entity renounces the joy of life, why should it wish that someone else would take on its own values and principles?
The critique of the concept of multiculturalism that has prevailed until now has shown that this does not happen.
Speaking of identity, we deal with doctrines and institutions, instead of putting the citizen to the forefront of our interests.
The Treaty of Lisbon recognizes Church’s contribution to building of Europe and even provides a legal basis for a continuous and open dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations.
I believe that, more than in a cultural fight, we should take interest in how to foster the inspiration for the common work for Europe. Everybody who is prepared to build a common Europe should be welcome, regardless of their religion. We can only build Europe together if we feel at home within it.
Peace and security
Peace is a value that is neither self-explanatory nor eternal. It is a value for which it is necessary to work continuously and be ready to come to its defence.
I wish for a European Union that would share the belief that peace remains the first challenge in a globalized world. This should be the first EU export good. What happened after the Second World War within Europe, should, with Europe’s involvement, happen today across the globe.
For many years we have celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, but now we have experienced a new wall in Ukraine on European soil. With this, we came into a new relationship with Russia, with whom we have an unnecessary and tragic relationship. To have, from strategic partners, suddenly become opponents and even enemies is a political and cultural paradox; a defeat for both sides.
The European Union was not founded only in answer to fallen totalitarian regimes – Fascism and Nazism. It developed as a counterbalance and alternative to communist totalitarianism, or rather Soviet influence.
The enlargement of the EU or cooperation with it does not represent a threat to anybody. It should be in Russia’s best interests that its neighbourhood, if it sovereignly wishes to, shares the European values of peace, its respect for human rights, democracy, the rule of law and social market economy. A stable neighbourhood would be the greatest guarantor of Russia’s security. Other aspects of security would have to be further discussed in an open dialogue.
With the start of accession negotiations, we have opened up the European perspective to Turkey. Yet the development of strategic relations with Turkey cannot circumvent the values and principles that are necessary for long-lasting peace, including the discussion on how the concept of power should be dealt with.
The EU has developed a complex model of decision-making within the framework of the concept of soft power. Unfortunately, the concept of despotic power is taking root in our neighbourhood.
What happened with wisdom and determination in answer to totalitarianisms after the Second World War thanks to the fathers of Europe, should play a large part in the global framework with a greatly responsible role of the EU. Poverty cannot be eliminated during a state of war, and peace cannot be sustained only by means of soft power.
It has been shown that the EU has not been able to defend its own borders even in peaceful conditions, against bare-handed refugees. How could it therefore defend its own territory or rather the territories of the Member States in more demanding situations.
Europe can become an anchor of stability in an increasingly unsafe world. Only by enhancing the Common Foreign and Security Policy can the EU act on terrorism, bring peace and more stability to its neighbourhood.
Exploiting the potential
I claim that the EU after its historical enlargement has not yet exploited its full potential for development, despite having reinforced it economically, and the solidarity resources diminishing the developmental differences.
I am thinking particularly of the young people, for whom Europe has opened up perspectives that did not exist before. But broadening perspectives alone is insufficient, the awareness of the European project should also be strengthened. Taking into account the European wish to cooperate among the Member States and release of all the creative potential operating on different levels, especially in the regions, the EU could produce much more added value, firstly for the happiness of its own citizens.
Europe has also the potential in terms of knowledge and talent to become an innovation union. Technological and digital leadership will be our insurance for future jobs. Europe certainly has the potential to create the best innovation environment, with less barriers for scientific results to flow into innovations and ensuring equal opportunities for innovation in every European region.
It is clear that a Europe of different speeds is taking place. Yet nowadays the key issue is not how many speeds exist but what can bring Europe forward and in which direction the development will go.
The question of the future of Europe is first and foremost a political question, which, rather than a new contract, needs a strong will for a common future, be it in foreign policy, in the fight against terrorism, energy, environmental goals or anything else.
The European citizen and the common institutions
The fathers of the EU marked the beginning of the EU with their vision and decision. Also later, great leaders set the tone, including Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Jacques Delors, Wilfried Martens and others.
Today charismatic leaders are insufficient. The project of a united Europe can be continued only with the unity of its political leaders and with the support of its citizens.
We are facing a generational challenge as well. Only few people who survived the horror of concentration camps and the various fronts are still alive. Generation after generation has now been born into peace, freedom, democracy and into an enlarged EU. Those of us who have experienced a divided Europe are called to take care of the historical memory, so that the young generation will know what we defeated and what we are defending.
European citizens have their direct representatives in the Members of Parliament, and their indirect representatives in the Ministers and Heads of Government. In Brussels, we have the Commission, which is the guardian of what we create together.
After fourteen years of experience inside the EU I claim that the European citizens expect ever more from the EU. Many may not understand many of its aspects, but they know exactly when and where the EU functions and when and where it does not. They are particularly sensitive to the balance in issues of security, peace and inequality.
They are not fans of great inequalities and they are right. They are aware that there are ever more challenges, which cannot be faced by any single Member State on its own. The EU cannot afford a too big divergence between the expectations of its citizens and the visions of its leaders.
Another underestimated common challenge that is not only a sectorial question and which keeps worrying me more and more and affects all Member States is health. Health indicators are generally worsening, especially when they concern the increasing cancer problems, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Our health state synthetically reflects everything that we have done wrong in the past, both on an individual and collective basis. We will not build more Europe with less health. Changing health trends however means changing the paradigm.
So, we also need to ensure accountability in the decision-making process in order to create a relationship of political trust between the citizens and the institutions. Europe does not need to hide from the will of its citizens. On the contrary, the EU must better engage with its citizens and develop a policymaking process that is both transparent and more efficient. The EU has to become true citizens’ union, and the corner stone of every citizens’ union is a high level of responsiveness to the will of its citizens. Thus, the EU has to become more democratic.
The political picture
The catastrophic forecasts about the disintegration have not come true – not regarding the Euro, Greece, or the refugee crisis. When I was with J. Habermas, with the Nobel Prize laureate J. Saramago, H. Tietmayer and others in Prodi’s group for the “Future of Europe”, we also considered the scenario of disintegration. I am sorry that we have not devoted more attention to this. The majority did not believe in it. Today it is clear that this is also possible.
The time of crisis and a lack of unity have clearly shown us that we cannot advance with different understandings of human dignity, different standards of the rule of law, different principles of the market economy. The limits of our common life with different fiscal cultures have also been reached.
We do not need new crises, catastrophes, let alone the disintegration of the Union to come again to the awareness of how much we need and rely on it.
The EU advanced economically and politically for decades. It was not ready for the crises. Slow and ineffective answers did not strengthen the trust of the European citizens in the common institutions. The strength of a union comes to light precisely in times of crisis.
According to the Treaty of Lisbon, it is possible to leave the Union. But the one who chooses to leave it should know that the Union will then also leave them.
I am proud to have been a member of the European Convention, which prepared the draft of the European Constitutional Treaty. With some changes, it has since become the Treaty of Lisbon.
It seems crucial to me that the Charter of Human Rights is its constituent and legally binding component. Its first article, which speaks about the respect of human dignity, is for me the core of the European story and the ideal. We should always return to this starting point, realize it, and not allow for too many deviations in its interpretation. The more united our understanding of human dignity, the stronger our Union will be. This is also the most promising starting point for a more social Union.
The other key idea of the fathers of Europe was the community method: doing things together. To do things together means to think of the other (“Penserautruirelève de l’irréductibleinquiétude de l’autre”, to quote the French philosopher E. Levinas). This ideal should also be actualized. The Union will survive and develop if we agree on what and how we will work together. We can have more or less Europe, yet we should not set anything up forcefully. Rather than to a greater or lesser degree, it is important that it functions as agreed.
Those who want more must have that possibility. This is another aspect made possible by the present Treaty. It is not enough to think only about the current problems. A long-term vision for the whole and especially for the Euro area is required. The common currency cannot be strong, nor can the monetary policy be efficient, if they are not supported by other common policies.
In a context of a rapidly evolving political picture of the EU, which brings about the weakening of Union–supportive political parties, the EU Parliament will remain the key institution in the years to come, caring for the continuity of the pro-European spirit. I hope that it will become the democratically most representative common institution, the incubator of new ideas and solutions and the space for the dialogue about the new Europe.
Further changes in the political landscape of the Member States and increased centrifugal forces should increase the potential for the European Parliament to express excellence as relevant, stable political structure.
I have written this because I experienced the old Europe and because I do not want its return. I want a Europe with joy for life and with a sense of solidarity in working towards the common good. I would be glad for the European Parliament to be the peak of political excellence on the way to the new quality of a more united Europe.
Brussels, December 2016.