European Union: No Time Left! Guenter Verheugen talks to the Voice:  

Let’s talk about the challenges for the most advanced international project our continent has ever had: the European Union. In your opinion, are they mainly of a global or rather an internal, European nature? In other words, do we have to solve the more continental issues first before being able to cope with some of the global challenges we face, like migration or major changes in global balance?
We are confronted with a frightening number of global challenges, which we have known already for some time. Here is a shortlist: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons; migration flows as a result of war, political instability, climate change and economic disparities; conflicts between the only existing superpower and emerging powers, like China; conflicts between Western democracies and the Islamic world; transnational terrorism; cybercrime; effects of digitalization – just to name a few.

We are confronted with a frightening number of global challenges /…/

On top of that we have risks emanating from the policy of the present US president, for instance as regards the functioning of the global trade system. A new wave of protectionism might replace the present liberal trade system.

/…/ individual European nation states cannot deal with these challenges if they act alone

It goes without saying that individual European nation states cannot deal with these challenges if they act alone. In a global context, each and every European nation state can be marginalized. Could you imagine Latvia negotiating a favorable trade agreement with China? The answer to your question is therefore clear and I do not see any reasonable alternative: we Europeans have to join our forces and capacities and we have to become a global player on an equal footing with existing and emerging powers. I am well aware that it is a no-brainer to say that we need to speak with one voice. The question is how we will achieve it. The first priority for Europe must be the development of integrated structures that cover the whole continent. It requires a strategy that goes far beyond the existing European Union, the famous stretch from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Having said this, the European Union has no time left to live up to its international responsibility. Sitting on the fence is not an option.

/…/ the European Union has no time left to live up to its international responsibility. Sitting on the fence is not an option

Are European institutions and structures prepared for challenges and changes? What about the member countries?

The EU is not sufficiently prepared to make sure that its citizens will enjoy peace and prosperity in the future /…/

My reflections on your first question lead me to a very uncomfortable conclusion. The EU is not sufficiently prepared to make sure that its citizens will enjoy peace and prosperity in the future, which is the basic promise of the European integration process. The present state of affairs does not look very promising. The EU is shaken by the rise of populist and nationalist forces which have one thing in common: they are against the whole concept of European integration. If we want to determine how influential these forces are already, we have to look at the EU migration policy. The populists and nationalists set the tone and dominate the agenda, whether they are in government or not. Furthermore, there are strong divisions within the EU: new and old, east and west, north and south, wealthy and poor. Moreover, we are losing a very important state due to Brexit and up to now it cannot be excluded that we will end up without any arrangement to soften the breakaway. The EU does not have a common vision for its own future.

The EU does not have a common vision for its own future

Moreover, the relationship between the EU and its most important neighbor Russia is in deep trouble. We are also approaching the point of no return and risk losing Turkey. Countries like Ukraine, the Caucasus States and the States of the western Balkan region are put into a waiting room for an unforeseeable period of time. No wonder we do not see convincing transformation in that part of Europe. Nevertheless I am not without hope. There is still a lot of trust and confidence in the idea of European integration. We could build on that. However, what is needed the most are courageous politicians willing and able to stand up for the European idea.

/…/ what is needed the most are courageous politicians /…/

Which way should the EU go in order to strengthen its global position and build a long-term perspective for further development? More or less power in Brussels? Do we need a common European foreign policy more than a common European currency? What about European defense policy? A European army?
We need precise language here. Legally and technically, everything is in place in the EU that is needed for a common foreign and security policy. But a common policy does not mean a supranational, community policy. A common policy always depends on the good will of all the member states, because each of them has effective veto power in the Council. I do not think that foreign policy can become fully integrated in the nearer or farther future. It would require the foundation of a European state and I do not see that the idea of any United States of Europe as a federal state has much support. We could probably streamline the present instruments, but finally the question will be whether we can develop a joint strategy in foreign and security affairs, based on the recognition that a common European interest is much more important than short-term national advantages. Concerning the idea of an EU army, I have serious doubts. I would prefer a security arrangement along the lines of the Charter of Paris from 1990 that guarantees security for the whole continent and terminates the risks of military confrontation on our continent. If it comes to interventions outside Europe, the EU would be well advised to strengthen the role of the United Nations and of international law. The EU should be able to support peace -keeping missions of the UN if asked. That could be achieved by coordination and cooperation of existing forces, as it is already in the making between 25 member states.

/…/ finally the question will be whether we can develop a joint strategy in foreign and security affairs, based on the recognition that a common European interest is much more important than short-term national advantages

Do we need a new leadership in the EU? How can we build a balance between the “old” and “new” EU? Is it possible at all?
We have a leadership problem in the EU. For various reasons the bigger member states are not willing to accept a leadership position, which would mean to act as an honest broker among the 28.

We have a leadership problem in the EU. For various reasons the bigger member states are not willing to accept a leadership position /…/

Emmanuel Macron clearly has the ambition but he does not have the means. Germany does not have a comprehensive European strategy and seems to be satisfied with a situation in which Germany can always get what it wants due to its mere size and weight. It is the European Council that carries the responsibility to lead. If Germany, France and Poland, for instance, would develop a joint initiative to overcome the present stalemate, I am convinced that a strong majority of member states would follow. Under the present political conditions, however, such a move is very unlikely to happen.

As concerns the balance between the so-called old and new member states, I see two obstacles. The first is a question of mindset. Many actors in the “old” member states still look at the “new” ones as second-class members, as the poor relatives that should be grateful and keep silent. This might change as a result of more people-to-people contacts. It is a pity that Central and Eastern Europe is still a largely unknown territory for the majority of people from the “old” EU. The second reason is of an economic nature. The main drivers of capital concentration are located in the western part of the EU and the economy of the “new” members is largely penetrated by EU capital. This makes the whole transformation and catching up extremely complicated.

Many actors in the “old” member states still look at the “new” ones as second-class members, as the poor relatives that should be grateful and keep silent

Poland has been a member of the EU since May 2004. You were the EU commissioner responsible for EU enlargement at the time, strongly supporting Poland’s efforts to join the EU. After almost a quarter of a century, what is your reflection on the enlargement? With all the knowledge you have now, would you support Poland and other CEE countries again to help them join the EU?

This is a question which is very often asked. I find it surprising, because the answer is quite simple. We simply have to ask ourselves the following questions: What would the EU and the continent as a whole look like without the enlargement rounds of 2004 and 2007? Would we have stronger democracies, better governance, more rule of law, less corruption, or not? Sure, there are still deficiencies in some of the “new” member states, particularly in the area of political culture. However, we have similar problems also in the “old” member states, which tend to be ignored. I have the feeling that very often double standards are applied. But generally, yes, the enlargement was, to quote Winston Churchill, our finest hour. And we should not forget that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize especially for its enlargement policy. It is very disappointing that political leaders in Brussels and in member states do not tell the success story of enlargement. As a result, the enlargement policy continues to remain unpopular. The historical momentum that we had at the beginning of the century is gone.

/…/ the enlargement was, to quote Winston Churchill, our finest hour. And we should not forget that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize especially for its enlargement policy

Does Poland use its international political and economic potential properly? Is there a chance for Warsaw to join the club of the few most powerful European capitals?
Poland belongs to the biggest EU member states. It was the key country for the success of the enlargement policy. It has profited from its EU membership. Since its accession in 2004, two Polish politicians got top posts in the EU: Jerzy Buzek as President of the European Parliament and Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. That shows that Poland’s political importance has been recognized. Nevertheless there is still ample room for improving Poland’s influence in the EU. How this plays out depends largely on Poland and its European agenda. It is legitimate that Poland defends its interests in the EU. However, to be successful it needs strong partners and convincing arguments.

/…/ there is still ample room for improving Poland’s influence in the EU. How this plays out depends largely on Poland and its European agenda

Often called “the Father of European Union enlargement”, Günter Verneugen, former Vice-President of European Commission, was responsible for EU’s enlargement until 2004. In 2002 he also took over the responsibility for the European neighbourhood policy. From 2004 to 2011 he was Vice-President in charge of enterprise and industry. He has published a number of books and essays on European and other issues. From 2015, he is one of the seven advisors of the Agency for Modernization of Ukraine, working in the area of models integrating Ukraine with the EU.

Prof. Verheugen is also co-chairman of the Program Council of Warsaw Economic Hub, the annual conference organized for 11 years by The Warsaw Voice and The New York Times.

This interview comes from The Warsaw Voice Autumn issue http://www.warsawvoice.pl/WVpage/pages/article.php/28754/article

 

 

After the Warsaw Economic Hub 2017 edition

Over 300 delegates met in Warsaw on December 15th 2017 to discuss issues of key importance to the CEE region, Europe and the world, seen through the perspective of Poland as an international interactive business and economic hub. The 10th edition of the Warsaw Economic Hub annual international meeting gathered Polish and international political leaders, senior government officials and top figures in the fields of finance and business, as well as institutions crucial for market development. Conducted in English and Polish, the meeting’s presentations, lectures and discussions offered unique access to facts, analysis and opinion, providing an excellent foundation for participants’ own strategic business decisions in the region.

The series of the Warsaw Economic Hub (WEH) conferences continues since 2008, at the invitation of the event’s media host, local English language magazine The Warsaw Voice and the International Media Partner of the event, The New York Times, the newspaper of the international business.

The WEH Program Council, chaired by Guenter Verheugen, the former European Union commissioner for enlargement, is tasked with ensuring that the lectures, presentations and debates are of a high standard. The WEH Program Council’s members include Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister and former president of the European Parliament, Danuta Huebner, a former EU commissioner, Wiesław Rozłucki, the founder and first president of the Warsaw Stock Exchange and Paweł Wojciechowski, former minister of finance, former vice minister of foreign affairs and current Chief Economist of the Polish Social Insurance Institution (ZUS).

Organizers of the Warsaw Economic Hub 2017 edition introduced two-folded theme of the debates to describe and discuss both, main aspirations and some of the challenges facing Poland and CEE region: Innovative Hub Poland. Is Poland to gain an innovative leadership in the CEE and maybe beyond? What about the future of the European Union and Poland’s position there?

To see the agenda of the 2017 edition of the conference, please enter here.
To see photo-gallery of the 2017 meeting, please visit here.
To watch the 2017 WEH edition video, please click here.

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