Six Years Young

Last weekend the heads of government of the twenty-seven member states of the European Union celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community, for it to become later on the European Union. For a staunch European like me this was an important event, in spite of the doubts that keep on being expressed as to whether the EU can thrive in the long term.

The EU leaders signed a declaration that asserted, among other things, the position of the EU as an economic power that could pride itself in an equalled level of social protection and welfare. The declaration also gave a great deal of importance to the need for unity among member states to address global issues but also internal issues.

The declaration continues to allow for the possibility of what is in effect a two-speed Europe, thereby giving flexibility to member states to opt out from agreements that bring about greater integration. Reference is made to the need for security and to the freedom of movement of persons within the EU.

A lot of space was given to the economic aspects and the linkage between economic growth and the sustainability of the welfare system. Reference was made to the need to have a strong economy that generates job and to a strong single currency, and support was expressed for a global system of free trade.

This declaration in effect touches all the pain points that have been felt in the last years, especially since the international financial crisis of 2008. That crisis brought with it a number of economic challenges, which have not been fully addressed within the EU. The fact that such challenges have not been fully addressed gave rise to a number of what are being termed as populist parties, which are gaining support on the back of a high level of general dissatisfaction with politicians.

Thus the ability or otherwise of governments to tackle economic problems successfully has shaped the EU political environment of the last ten years. The main issue that is still with us today is how individual governments can create a balance between economic growth and a reduction in public debt.

On the other hand very little is said about the ambitious agenda set by the EU a couple of years back to stimulate the economy. This included the creation of an energy union, the creation of a digital single market, improving education outcomes in terms of increasing the number of persons that have attended tertiary education, and reducing poverty.

Sixty years on, the global scenario has changed dramatically. In 1957, when the Treaty of Rome was signed, there was one economic superpower (the USA) and two political superpowers (the USA and the USSR). Several European countries were still licking the wounds caused by the Second World War, twelve years after it had ended.

Today we have one political superpower (the USA) and a number of economic powers that include the USA but also include the EU and China. Neither the EU nor China need aid from the USA to grow their economy like European countries needed in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

Since then the importance of the EU in the global economy has multiplied and has provided most EU member states with opportunities that would not have arisen had there been no EU. The concept of solidarity has also helped countries to receive contributions paid for by other member states, which have helped them to grow their economy. Hence, irrespective of what populist parties say, the economic strength of each individual member state is due to the unity at the EU level.

This is why I believe that the EU is sixty years young. There is still a great deal of energy in the economy of each and every member state that needs to be released. The fact that this has not happened as yet is not because of the EU but because of wrong policies and strategies.

I do believe that the EU economy needs a new impetus and such an impetus can only be achieved by adopting policies that facilitate growth through private sector investment, thereby generating real productive jobs. The European Union is not a union of the governments of the member states but a union of the people who daily create wealth, through their economic activities.

Latest News