This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

Belgium -Brussels – The beginning of a new year is the right time to look back at what the last year has brought, but especially to think of what lies ahead of us.

It cannot be questioned that Europe has changed dramatically. A few years ago, we would never have suspected that we would be facing such problems as the economic crisis, widening social disparities and high unemployment rates – especially among the youth – and most importantly, we did not foresee such challenges as the massive wave of migration and terrorism.

A number of questions are being raised about the future of the European Community especially after the Britons have decided to leave the European Union. No matter how difficult the talks on a new partnership with the UK may be, we should always remember that there are many more unifying themes between continental Europe and the UK, than there are divisions. We should not forget that when we were united in the past, we succeeded in overcoming even more difficult challenges than Brexit.

We were caught off guard also by the outcome of US election. The feeling that, at any time, Europe could turn to and rely on a strong transatlantic alliance has weakened. But the alliance with the United States should remain our strategic interest. The new reality should encourage us to take ever greater responsibility for tackling the problems of security, especially in our neighbourhood.  We are still looking for an answer to the question of how to avoid new immigration influxes in the future. On how to strike the right balance between humanism and solidarity on the one hand and our possibilities and security on the other.

Moreover, the impact of the financial and economic crisis has not yet been fully dealt with. We may note with satisfaction that the measures taken to safeguard the euro area proved to be correct. Step by step, we are making corrections to our European house. However, this is not enough. We should go beyond mere corrections and strengthen the building and the development of our reunited Europe. We must do it in a manner that will provide all of us living in our common house with a better understanding of one another. That will make all of us feel at ease in our house. Europe needs to be more united that it is in these days.

We can be proud on the achievements that have been reached untill now. The EU is a good place to live. But the world is changing fast.

Looking at the challenges we face in this fast globalising world, I think it is clear that the EU needs a new dynamism, needs action and a lot of courage.

The EU needs to start a serious process of self-reflection, and then implement concrete changes and reforms based on it.

First of all, we should realise that the EU is and will remain a community of states, not a unitary state. That we need to be more united, rather than more unified. This means we have to prevent any tendency towards centralisation and to strongly encourage cutting the bureaucratic burden, the process of decentralisation and the rigorous application of the subsidiarity principle. We need to promote fundamental structural reforms of individual national economies. Regarding the fast development of technologies, I don’t think this is the time to build protective walls around our countries or to close ourselves to the world. But even if we wanted, it is not possible to build a wall high enough to protect us from expanding international trade. We should consider globalisation and technological advances as an opportunity and not a threat or a disaster.

On the other hand we should be more united in foreign policy area and defence as well. We need to speak with one voice more than before. It means that we also need a common foreign policy with clearly stated priorities, clearly defined European foreign policy interests, and a united stance when pursuing these priorities. Of course, we need effective tools for safeguarding and promoting our foreign policy priorities and for safeguarding common European interests, in particular security, the protection of our external borders, immigration control. The EU needs a common defence union that will constitute a stronger and equal European pillar of NATO, capable of independent action, but always acting in concert with the U.S. The traditional European soft power should be complemented by hard power as well.

We should perceive all these challenges as an opportunity to implement these changes. The EU can only continue if it is attractive, strong and confident and if it brings added value to its individual members. European integration has four goals: peace is its political goal; security is its geopolitical goal; prosperity is its economic goal; and the preservation of Europe’s identity is its civilizational goal. These goals are as essential today as they were seventy years ago, and we should never forget them when discussing the future of our union.