On Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28, 2016, the European Council for Foreign Relations held its annual council meeting in The Hague. On Tuesday, June 28, ProDemos helped organize a public discussion on The State of Our Union: Europe 2016.
Panel members were:
- Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Former Foreign Minister of Sweden
- Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former Foreign Minister of The Netherlands and former Secretary General of NATO
- Beatrice de Graaf, Professor for the History of International Relations & Global Governance at Utrecht University
- Mark Leonard, co-Founder and Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations
Peace, stability, values
The European Union faces various challenges in this day and age and it seems as if the only reports written about the European Union are negative. However, the three key words associated by young European citizens are peace, stability and values. Even though this is a positive notion, it does not mean that there are no challenges.
Carl Bildt, Former Prime Minister and Former Foreign Minister of Sweden states that the past couple of years have seen a change in challenges. The challenges faced by the European Union used to be big, single challenges; dictatorial regimes transforming to democratic regimes and the admission of these countries to the European Union and the reunification of Germany. These big, single challenges seem to be solved, and now Europe faces a myriad of challenges.
Beatrice de Graaf, Professor for the History of International Relations and Global Governance at Utrecht University vehemently disagrees. “There is one single overarching problem: it is all about security.”
The biggest challenges for Europe
The fact that the European Union faces challenges is clear to all of the panelists. Carl Bildt reiterates that there are a multitude of challenges faced by the EU right now, such as the Brexit, the Middle-East meltdown and turmoil and the transition of global economy to a digital age. These problems are all connected and none of these can be solved on their own. De Graaf disagrees and states that security is the main issue right now. From her point of view it is important to “look back at history to understand the future.” She argues that protecting the future the European citizen will feel secure.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and former Secretary General of the NATO, states framing the problem is a challenge to the European Union. The debate is framed by the fringes; Wilders, Le Pen, Putin and Farage all are the center of attention in the debate about the European Union. The political center is crumbling and the fringes determine the debate.
Mark Leonard, Co-Founder and Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the biggest challenge is the fact that the European citizen only sees the disadvantages of the European Union. The four freedoms (the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons) are seen as a threat and not as benefits.
The younger generation
Against this backdrop, the question and answer session opens. The Brexit has been mentioned in the opening session, particularly focusing on the difference in voting between young British citizens and the older British citizens.
When asked what the young political center should De Hoop Scheffer responds by stating that the young political center should mobilize people. But the important task here is that the public needs to be fully mobilized and that the younger generation really wants to be part of this. De Graaf adds that one way to do this is online through social media. The younger generation needs to fight the trolls online.
The elephant in the room had to be addressed in this panel discussion as well. Leonard is very vocal about the Brexit and state that one of the problems relating to the Brexit is globalization. Citizens need to be convinced that the European Union is on their side.
Bildt disagrees and states that the last quarter century has “probably been the best quarter century of mankind ever. There are fewer wars and increases in human well-being, and this is due to globalization.”
Leonard mentions the fact that people feel unrepresented by mainstream parties and that this is connected to people who voted in favor of the Brexit. A large part of the people who voted in favor of the Brexit have felt unrepresented by the parties in power and want to show that they disagree with their current politics.
This, however, is detrimental for the younger generation, since “the older generation makes the younger generations’ European Union impossible” according to De Hoop Scheffer.
The way forward
What is next for the European Union? De Hoop Scheffer sees an ever-increasing flow of migration, which will become much more substantial. Populist parties within the European countries bind anti-European Union sentiments and anti-migration parties which will only cause more problems. Therefore, he argues that the Europen Union should guard its external border together with other countries.
De Graaf asks for a decisive and strong European Union which should stop acting as a law-making machine. The real source of insecurity is the turmoil in the Middle East and Syria. Solving these problems have been left to Russia, Iran and the United States.
The European Union should “try to influence the course of events instead of changing and adding legal paragraphs.”