EU demonstrating 'willingness and ability' to change

Tackling Euroscepticism through structural reform and a clear vision for the EU is vital to the legitimacy of the union, writes Guy Verhofstadt.

By Guy Verhoftsadt

09 Sep 2014

Since the European elections in May, it is clear that the EU needs to demonstrate its willingness and ability to change and renew itself. Growing Euroscepticism is undermining support and legitimacy for the union and must be addressed through structural reform and a clear vision for the future.

The ALDE group strongly opposes moves to dismantle the ties that have been built up over the past 60 years, but are equally strongly in favour of developing a new élan and breaking the current paralysis that characterises most intergovernmental thinking. The EU must become more dynamic, more transparent and more responsive while subsidiarity must be taken more seriously and implemented more systematically. Yet there are areas where the EU can and must integrate more closely to raise competitiveness, draw on the benefits of economies of scale and maximise Europe's potential for reviving the economy and creating new job opportunities.

This latter objective must be the top priority for all institutions. The EU needs a new Delors plan similar to that launched in the 1980s to create a single market by abolishing barriers to free movement. However, this time it must target three key areas that will determine our future economic and industrial growth - the energy sector, digital services and capital markets. The current dependency on unreliable, foreign energy suppliers underscores the importance of building our 'energy union'; a smart grid with a high degree of interconnectivity that makes fuller use of renewable sources while greatly improving our energy efficiency, reducing both emissions and waste and contributing to our climate goals at the same time.

"The EU must become more dynamic, more transparent and more responsive while subsidiarity must be taken more seriously and implemented more systematically"

The IT sector is revolutionising our society and stimulating the birth of whole new industries and applications which need to be encouraged and exploited through the provision of extensive and high speed broadband networks across the EU. Currently, all major global high-tech companies are either American or Asian, and Europe is under-utilising its own potential in this area and its research and technological expertise.

In addition to stimulating new growth, Europe needs to ensure that there are stable financial foundations to support necessary investment in the real economy. Our businesses rely too much on traditional bank loans which, in the climate of the recent sovereign debt crisis, have grown wary of risk taking and charge overly high interest rates to SMEs needing capital to expand. We need to mobilise private money through capital markets to boost investment as well as making more use of the EU budget and European Investment Bank in developing innovative investment mechanisms. EU capital markets also remain fragmented with collateral in one country often unable to secure a loan in another. Furthermore, we must stimulate greater EU labour mobility so that skills can be matched to where they are needed. The US has four times more labour mobility than the EU. In times of high youth unemployment and low economic growth, this is unpardonable.

Finally, we must not forget that the EU is more than an economic union but one comprising of people and fundamental values. Respect for human rights and civil liberties must underpin our work and our priorities. They are not an optional extra but the core of our society. The EU - and the commission in particular, as guardian of the treaties - must be ready and willing to defend citizens' freedoms and rights when they are threatened or restricted. This applies to data privacy as much as to freedom of the press, religious conviction or sexual orientation.

The EU has much to do to restore its image and role as part of our global governance system. It won't be helped by those Eurosceptics and anti-European nationalists who seek to wreck it. So it falls to others who share a common vision to maintain the drive for reform and improvement that will make the union fit for purpose.

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