Belgium -Brussels – The year 2017 will mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, a laying stone for European Union as we know it. It will therefore be, from the constitutional perspective, a very good opportunity to look back at all our amazing achievements but also an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment to a stronger Union with the involvement of all the EU Member States that share the need to continue on the path to integration based on the set of shared values, ideas and hopes of the Founding Fathers.
Jean Monnet once said: “Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.” The challenge for EU leaders is to prove him right.
EU’s present difficulties are multidimensional and more acute than ever. We all know them: the refugee and migration crisis, growing external insecurities, the rise of anti-EU populism, youth unemployment and low economic growth, to name but a few.
The Union must stop drifting. We need a long term vision that would offer a direction in which we should move.
The impression is that, over the last years, similarly to a shoal of ice in the ocean, we have been controlled by the underlying currents.
There are moments when a vision is the only way to get citizens on board as they need a sense of direction, a feeling which way we take them forward. Then populists can become less attractive as they lack a sense of direction and rather limit themselves to destruction of what exists.
From the constitutional point of view, it is a moment to rethink the way we integrate and to reflect on a new, differentiated but not discriminatory, type of European integration.
The institutional future of the EU lies in differentiated integration.
We should accept this, accept that diversified integration is an established fact resulting from long-term trends and from the sheer number of Member States.
However, we should build the necessary safeguards to protect the EU-wide policies (to be conducted at 27 or 28 Member States). The most prominent of these policies is the single market, which is why the integrity of our single market should be preserved.
Consistency of the policies between the euro and non-euro are countries must also be ensured.
Also, with the departure of the UK and given that the remaining non euro member States constitute a heterogeneous group of small and medium economies, it might be the case that they may face discrimination from the block of euro area members.
Therefore, we also need safeguards to prevent discrimination among Member States. These safeguards should be under the control of the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties.
The architecture for the governance of the euro area is incomplete and further work and reforms are necessary to make it effective. It is clear that what we need is further integration among euro area member States, and the Commission is due to come up this spring with a white paper exposing the next steps towards this fully-fledged economic and monetary union.
Obvious steps to be taken are the finalisation of the Banking Union, with the creation of a fiscal backstop protecting the Single Resolution Fund and with a European Deposit Insurance Scheme, as well as reflections on a budgetary capacity that should be designed cleverly enough in order to help cushion shocks without creating permanent transfers and moral hazard.
This would have to lead to necessary institutional changes (such as a European Minister of Finance and a European Treasury).
The coordination of macroeconomic policies should be made more effective, with proper mechanisms to incentivise structural reforms and, crucially, ensure their national ownership, without which we would risk more Brussels-bashing.
2016 was marked by the emergence of a so-called post-fact democracy, where politicians can win elections based on lies and false promises.
In 2017, three, maybe four, of the six founding countries of the EU will hold general elections.
These elections bear a risk that the populist forces will dominate over the mainstream forces in Europe.
The absence of a positive narrative in political discourse is highly worrying. The belief in the strength of the Union is no longer what it used to be. We still have not delivered on our promises, there are too many unfinished businesses.
However 2017 can be a year of hope and delivery. If the EU falls apart, it will disintegrate into 28 globally irrelevant nation states, absolutely unable to address the concerns of citizens such as terrorism, climate change, sustainable economic growth and financial stability.