Reaffirming Europe

by Carl Bildt and Franco Frattini Carl Bildt is foreign minister of Sweden. Franco Frattini is foreign minister of Italy. 04.04.2009

ROME/STOCKHOLM - The ongoing global economic crisis is shaking beliefs and approaches that have long been enshrined in European policies. Indeed, the crisis is calling into question the very foundations of the European Union. There is thus an urgent need to reassert the core character and identity of Europe. The very nature of our European model - a model that is open internally, externally, and globally - must be reaffirmed.

Internally, Europe should remain both an open society and an open economy. We should fight against the protectionist temptations that would unravel the very foundation of the European project, a project based on the "four freedoms": free movement of goods, people, services, and capital.

But the European economic recovery plan that was recently reaffirmed by the European Council of Ministers is mainly focused on national measures to support domestic demand. In implementing this plan, governments must refrain from the temptation to turn national measures into narrow protectionist schemes. Such a development would threaten growing unemployment in Europe and elsewhere, and make fighting the crisis much more difficult. So a return of economic, social, or political nationalism is simply not an option.

Indeed, intra-EU trade today accounts for nearly two-thirds of EU member states' total trade. And the EU itself is the leader in world trade, accounting for 18%, followed by the US and China. Even the free circulation of workers and people in Europe is a well-established and positive reality: 2% of EU citizens - more than 10 million people - reside in a Union member country other than their native one.

Moreover, in 2006, 57% of European citizens declared themselves ready to move abroad for professional reasons. Among these, young Europeans are the most motivated (a half-million EU young people are already studying in another country).

The crisis must also not become an excuse to create new institutional formats that jeopardize the delicate balance between the different EU institutions, a balance that - through appropriate adjustments - has been proven by the test of time. Of course, the crisis does highlight the need to strengthen the EU's institutions and instruments for common action and coordination. We need final and complete ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in order to have the institutionally and internationally stronger European Union we need.

Nor should today's uncertainties become an excuse to call into question the need to continue and complete the process of EU enlargement. Extending the EU's area of freedom and democracy, peace, stability, and prosperity, especially throughout south-eastern Europe, is in the interest of every European citizen.

Indeed, we need to send a strong signal to our neighbors in the Western Balkans that their European perspective is still alive, as reaffirmed by the European Heads of State in 2008. And we remain convinced of the strategic and economic benefits of bringing Turkey into the Union. Of course, the process of accession depends on the readiness of the adhering countries, but it should not be halted or slowed down.

Globally, Europe needs to promote an open, inclusive, and effective system of international governance. Through its wide-ranging experience of convergence of national interests and values, the EU has emerged as a model of multilateralism and as the most powerful normative actor in all areas of governance.

The EU is ready to play a major role in building a new system of global governance. This requires further development and deepening of strategic relations with emerging powers, such as China, India, and Brazil, as well as with regional organizations. This is precisely what Italy has been promoting during its current presidency of the G-8. We need to integrate today's emerging powers into a new system of global governance. The latter, however, should be ready to share the burden with us.

This is also the moment to inject new energy into the Doha round of global trade talks. A successful conclusion of the round would be the strongest possible action to counter protectionist tendencies and resume growth in world trade.

Finally, in times of economic crisis we should be guided more than ever by our common democratic values - the inner dimension of our European identity and a crucial unifying factor for our societies. They are also a powerful tool for European leadership in global affairs. Europe has a special role to play in securing a better world where human rights and individual freedoms are widely and fully respected. We must not shy away from our responsibilities.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

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