With almost fifteen years passed since the entry into force of the EU’s current treaties, every day there is new evidence that an update and adaptation is needed, writes Guy Verhofstadt.
Guy Verhofstadt is an MEP for Renew Europe, co-chair of the Executive Board of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and rapporteur on the report on the proposals of the European Parliament for the amendment of the EU Treaties.
What would the founding fathers of the European Union make of the Europe of 2023?
Almost certainly, they would warn the status quo is precarious. Yes, the achievements of our Union so far are profound; prosperity, peace in the EU and unparalleled cooperation. Europe Day is a chance to reflect on and celebrate these.
Nevertheless, while we see and feel that while support for the European project is high, it is also fragile.
Complacency, inequality, technological change, the rise of autocrats and Eurosceptics and leaders and the erosion of democratic institutions represent a profound threat to our democracies and the European project.
On Europe Day, we must ask ourselves in all honesty, is this Europe equipped to deal with the challenges we face and the expectations of our citizens? The answer is clear; pro- Europeans must promote a radical vision for a united Europe based on reaffirmed values. And fight for it.
The outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe show us the way. The first Europe-wide citizen’s assembly presented recommendations for a genuine re-foundation of the European project so that its institutions are fit for today’s realities. Citizens have set out a roadmap for a brighter future for Europe; all we have to do is take it.
Polling shows us that citizens still believe in the European dream. They understand that in an uncertain world, Europeans are stronger together. But we see that, too often, our antiquated institutions show fragility and incapacity to act with speed and determination.
In a world where the international order, as we have known it since the Second World War, is fragmenting, European leaders need a common and singular EU foreign policy.
As the Conference on the Future of Europe concluded, this is incompatible with a European Council where decisions require unanimity of its 27 diverse members. Unanimity decision-making must be scrapped once and for all. German proposals to utilise qualified majority voting (QMV) don’t cut the mustard.
Developments in Ukraine show the need for a real defence union and a European military capacity. The founders of our Union understood this. 73 years later, we must embrace their convictions and discard our naivety.
Donald Trump will surely be the Republican nominee for the American Presidency next year. The prospect of Trump 2.0 should be taken seriously. We must prepare a Europe that is sovereign and capable to defend its interests.
The prosperous, assertive and strong European Union that our forefathers envisaged and our citizens demand now cannot be built on dependencies with third countries.
Likewise, the founders of our Union cannot have imaged a world where members of the Union seek to actively undermine it from within.
Democratic backsliding is existential and intolerable. The Union must have the courage and capacity to stand up to authoritarian behaviour and defend democracy, at home and abroad. If we are not a space of freedom and democracy in the world, we are nothing.
Pro-Europeans will only succeed if they argue for a Europe closer to citizens. This necessitates the creation of real European demos. Renew Europe wants European political parties which have a say and which are the cornerstone of a genuine European political and public sphere.
European elections must become a truly single European election and not only 27 national campaigns where, too often, but national battles also prevail over the European debate.
Transnational lists would prevent this harmful phenomenon for the EU and reinforce a sense of belonging. The introduction of the right of legislative initiative for the European Parliament is also crucial. Such a right would strengthen the voice of citizens.
The old adage is the EU moves forward in crises. The recovery and resilience fund, and the joint purchase of vaccines and arms for Ukraine showed that Europe can react when it is needed. But we cannot rest on our laurels.
Almost fifteen years have passed since the entry into force of our current treaties. Nearly every day we have new evidence of the need to update and adapt our governing texts.
Pro-Europeans must be honest and passionate: our sovereignty is handicapped by our own obsolete rules. The time for a Convention, in order to change our European treaties, has come because defending the status quo won’t work anymore.
‘Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity’ – these words, spoken by Robert Schuman 73 years ago, echo strongly and firmly within us, today more than ever.