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Europe

Europeans Seek EU Response to Global Issues

The EU must become more democratic and establish a common foreign and defense policy to remain a viable model for the future, writes EU socialist leader Martin Schulz. It also needs to improve inner-EU relations.

A lighthouse shines the image of a blue EU flag

Europeans want the EU to light a path forward in a globalized world, Schulz said

Martin Schulz is a member of European Parliament from Germany's Social Democratic Party and head of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament.

"World peace cannot be safeguarded without making creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it." These were the words Robert Schuman used to introduce his vision of an assembly of European nations. After centuries of precarious balances of power, devastating wars and the catastrophe of both World Wars, a new era of European history began 58 years ago. The idea of using the integration of countries to create peace among peoples has become a reality.

Martin Schulz

Decades of peace are proof that the EU has been a successful undertaking, Schulz said

If we pause for a moment, we'll see that the success is truly breathtaking. Out of the deep wounds of two World Wars grew a peace project for Europe. By giving up national sovereignty to a supranational institution, a process of increasingly rapid integration has been started. A war between member states of the European Union is unimaginable.

Paradoxically, it's the success of the inner-European peace project that has led to the EU's predicament of legitimacy. Peace among European nations is seen as a matter of course by younger generations. They do not ask about the point of the EU with our conflict-heavy past in mind but rather with a view of the future. It's time to amend the question of the value of the EU with the question of benefits from the EU. What does the EU do for us?

The tasks of the 21st century

The reversal of climate change, the fair allocation of resources, the management of international finance markets, the maintenance of social standards in the face of global market pressure, the strengthening of the United Nations and international law: These are the tasks of the 21st century. Globalization awakens fears and a nostalgic desire to return to the nation-state's protectionism with its trade barriers and exclusion of anything foreign.

Windmills and a coal excavator

Two-thirds of Europeans want the EU to play a large role in deciding environmental policy

But a return to the past takes the wrong track. No country will be able to master challenges of this size by themselves, armed with the ideologies of the 19th century.

The powerlessness of protectionist nation-states in a divided Europe stands in contrast to the power of a united global player. The surrendering of national sovereignty boosts political sovereignty on the supranational level. The growing gap between rich and poor, the expanding low-wage sector and the precarious labor relations can be dealt with more effectively on a European level than in national arenas.

By unifying social standards and tax rates and by investing in research and development the EU can remain competitive and stave off the social dumping pressure of the mobile world economy. As a global political actor, the EU is tasked with advancing a transnational environmental policy and a fairer world economic order. A multilateral dialog based on a policy of peace can be an alternative to the reviled unilateralism of the Bush administration.

Mistakes were made

The EU has to achieve all of this. But it doesn't because it's missing the instruments it needs. The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is a bitter defeat for efforts to reform and make the EU more democratic, more efficient and more capable of taking action outside the bloc's borders.

A construction zone with a massive EU flag in the background

The EU must conquer several new challenges to remain relevent to citizens

A necessary phase of deepening relations after the "big bang" of expansion to the east has been absent. And we're paying the bitter price for it now. It's the very areas that are instrumental to shaping the future that have been struck by operational paralysis. Current sentiment shows that more than two-thirds of Europeans want a common European foreign and security policy and just as many want environmental policy dealt with at the EU level as well.

Patching up democratic shortcomings

At the same time, one out of two Europeans has the feeling his voice is not being heard. This is proof that citizens have a good sense for finding the EU's Achilles heel -- its democratic shortcomings.

As states' sovereignty was transferred to the supranational level, we've failed to institutionalize principles of division of powers and sovereignty of the people that is solidly anchored in our understanding of democracy. If today the EU were to apply for membership to the EU, it would be turned away because of its democratic shortcomings.

The message is clear: people don't want less Europe; they want a different Europe. A more democratic Europe that's more capable of taking action. The long-standing, time-proven European methods of securing peace, sharing sovereignty, integrating economies, creating a community of solidarity that crosses national borders and establishing a clear, articulate multilateral policy approach are the strategies with which we will be able to deal with challenges resulting from globalization.

It is time for the inner-European peace project to add an outward dimension -- that will make Europe once again a model for the future.

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