How Europe will look in 25 years’ time may be harder to predict than we know; technological developments and our capacity to innovate, along with inexorable demographic pressure and the looming fiscal timebomb of ageing add to the redistribution of economic power as global trade and investment moves eastwards and the continuing threat of further financial crisis that could pose an existential threat to the EU with the possibility that Europe may yet be pushed along roads we’d prefer to see less travelled.
Scenarios for the EU range from regressing back to a loose trading union with all the trade frictions and social tensions and animosities that might entail – to a true federation of nation states. But I myself choose to be optimistic, because there are a number of forces that will ensure Europe remains united. The question is more what type of union it will be and what degree of strength will it have? In spite of Europe’s longstanding natural and cultural differences, there are common, pan-European interests at stake.
“I also want to see an influential Europe that is a stable beacon for the world. But if Europe is able to reinvent itself it needs first to align and co-ordinate its members’ foreign and defence policies”
The global competitive environment is such that no single EU country can any longer act alone as an economic or political power – even Europe’s largest economies.
Then there’s the EU’s democratic acquis. In the years since the early 19th century, European nations have acquired democratic values that are a solid foundation for lasting peace and prosperity. On top of that, there’s a deeply-rooted economic interdependence among the EU’s member states, with almost 60% of German exports going to other EU countries.
Looking ahead to the Europe I hope for, I would start by saying that as a mother I want today’s 20-year-olds to be able to dream confidently of a life that will in a number of ways be better than that of their parents. I want them to be able to find a job that interests them, to be adequately equipped to face life’s challenges successfully and to be able to fall in love and start a family without worrying about what tomorrow will bring.
I want a Europe that will once again be proud of the achievements that formed its collective DNA, with democracy, freedom, peace, justice, solidarity and equality at the heart of the social state. These are achievements that my own generation has enjoyed and taken for granted, but passing them on to future generations now poses very real challenges and demands far-reaching institutional and economic decisions.
The risks that confront Europe mean we urgently need determined and decisive leaders with the vision to serve the interests of their nation on the one hand, and on the other, to align their national interests with those of the European Union.
I also want to see an influential Europe that is a stable beacon for the world. But if Europe is able to reinvent itself it needs first to align and co-ordinate its members’ foreign and defence policies. It must also introduce policies that will ensure the economic wellbeing of European citizens while underpinning its global authority. Policies to promote innovation, creativity and cutting-edge technological development, along with energy efficiency, alternative growth models and sound reforms in education that emphasise skills development.
In short, I’m looking towards a European federation of nation states with revitalised democratic legitimacy and well-embedded notions of our “Europeanness” and our common destiny. That means changes in the institutional architecture of the EU that would create a proportional democratic relationship between Europe’s citizens and the European-level administration. To my mind, that calls for a ‘one person-one vote’ model for each elected EU leader. We also need profound reform of our social systems capable of addressing Europe’s ticking demographic timebomb. Increasing Europe’s birth rate and implementing an effective and rational integration process for immigrants will be key to sustaining our social protection systems. I’m well aware that achieving all these changes may sound too good to be true, but critical junctures in history demand bold vision.
“I’m looking towards a European federation of nation states with revitalised democratic legitimacy and well-embedded notions of our “Europeanness” and our common destiny”
Before we get to 2025, though, I expect Europe’s immediate future to be dominated by social unrest and a further rise in euroscepticism. This will be exacerbated by low voter turnouts and a loose anti-systemic vote at the European Parliament elections next May. If that happens, the European project may be brought close to an end. But, then the fear of the EU’s dissolution will create reflexes that ideally will accelerate the pace for genuine change in European governments’ approach to economic and political integration. It will, one hopes, force them to solidify an economic union, with a new role for the ECB that includes printing money and moving to “Eunomics” while at the same time pressing ahead with the structural reforms needed for improved growth and competitiveness. And as the EU moves to economic union, the need for closer political union at the societal and EU levels will gain greater legitimacy. But, on the other hand, if peace and prosperity remain empty words and don’t become a shared European conviction, with political and societal forces in EU member countries pulling in the opposite direction, we could yet witness the dissolution of the European Union. That would be a major casualty of the 21st century, with dire and unpredictable consequences.