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What is Europe's Next Objective?

Published on , , Sofia

Let's finally face it - the time of Europe of Unification is over. Now is the time of a Responsible Europe (I am borrowing the name from the Danish Presidency, which has put Europe's responsibility on top of its 6-month long agenda). Europe, which is aware what and why it is doing. It is aware of the consequences, they are planned and expected. Europe, which is prepared to react in difficult situations. All in all, it is time for a new and different Europe, after which nothing will be the same again.

I think that we all live in the euphoria of unification, the culmination of which was after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. This time, however, is gone and this fact should in no way turn into a tragedy. In the past months too much was talked about with a lot of dramatism about a division of Europe because of the eurozone crisis, about a Europe of two and more speeds. It was even talked about a break-up and new conflicts. Now, when the diplomatic and legal balancing trick was made with the fiscal pact, it is time for a sober assessment of the situation. And it seems good to go back for a while.

What is the European project?

Alas, the European history has been too quickly moved to the text books but it is necessary that we recall it again in order to easily comprehend what we want for the future. The foundations of the European Union are built in 1950 when the Treaty on the creation of a European Community of Coal and Steel is signed between Germany and France. Practically this is a trade agreement but with a much more important political objective - to prevent the hostile relations up to that moment between the two biggest countries in Europe. This treaty pours the foundations of the created a bit later European Community by six founding countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands.

In 1957 the EU's founding treaty is signed - the Treaty of Rome for establishment of a European Economic Community or in other words - the common market. As you can see, this is about an enhanced economic cooperation, aimed at helping the member states to recover quickly from the devastation of the first and second world wars, as well as to guarantee peace among them. These goals, however, bear fruit and the community opens for three more countries - Denmark, Ireland and Britain in 1973 and later to Portugal and Spain, which have just got rid of the military dictatorships that tormented their citizens and economies.

The intertwining of the economic cooperation in the thus enlarged community becomes relatively easy in an environment of firmly drawn global boundaries and own currencies. With every decade onwards Europe is getting rid of a barrier - in the beginning it was just an ordinary cooperation; then the customs duties were abolished; enlargement led to the first realisation that the economies in the growing community are heterogeneous and the more instable and recently freed ones would need help, this is when solidarity came up; borders were abolished; in the end the common currency came.

Fast forward to today, where we see that there is no longer a need of preventing wars, of unification in that historically burdened meaning.

The future

This is why it is high time for us to start living with the realities and not with the command of the past and to accept that Europe of Unification has played its part - it has freed and directed to the path of freedom and prosperity not a few countries. The economic realities, though, require much more than this. We no longer live in a world that is kept by an ideological balance. Europe is no longer that laboratory experiment, that was possible under the strong wing of the US and because of the guaranteed security of the Iron Curtain. We live and have to develop in a world in which the theory of the butterfly effect has a real meaning.

The future of Europe depends on redefining several strategically important words - sovereignty, common currency, common economy, national policy, European policy. And most of all - on the formulation of a common goal.

The German solution

At the moment no one is capable of formulating that common goal. The European Commission is moving within the mainstream of everyday life, coming up with new initiatives, which rarely respond to the needs but the institution is with tied hands - if the member states do not apply it does not matter what is proposed. The Lisbon Treaty has created new institutions which had to vaguely resemble the pillars of a future statehood but instead this to create a face and to make things easier, it caused confusion - both inside the community and outside. With the deepening of the eurozone crisis more and more the desire and energy for common solutions depleted.

Everyone was looking timidly at Germany, some (like Polish Foreign Minster Radek Sikorski, for instance) dared to directly call for German help because Germany was the only one that remained like an island of stability in the past years. The statement of the Polish diplomat was accepted controversially both at home and in Europe. Why? Because of the dogmas of the past. But the voice calling for a solution was growing louder and louder from the outside. Initially names were not mentioned and first to point a finger at Germany was World Bank's chief Robert Zoellick.

In an article published in The Financial Times he writes: "For almost 60 years, Germans have maintained that it is their responsibility to participate in a modern Europe. Today, Germany’s responsibility is to lead in saving that Europe. This shift is not easy for Germans, who have often been urged to step forward, only then to be criticised for aggressiveness. But no other country can lead Europe out of crisis and into revival", Mr Zoellick writes. His entire article is dedicated on how Germany has to accept its leading role by coming up with a revival plan which should practically include all those areas until now skillfully avoided for reasons like "national sovereignty and interest" - opening of the labour market, creating more mobility of workers and thus building a real economic union.

Zoellick articulates another thing that is wrongly perceived as a division into one or more speeds and even worse - help to be given only to those who support their words with deeds. He tells the story of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who by the way was quoted by his nowadays successor Timothy Geithner in Davos this year on the same occasion. Mr Hamilton decides to absorb the war debts of the American states at once and only once. Then the state debts were left to the markets. Many states defaulted, others did not. This is precisely how Germany should act, the World Bank's chief thinks.

"There is no simple solution to the eurozone crisis. But muddling through, without clear directions and incentives, is fraught with mounting dangers. Germany must now point the way. A clear revival plan would help. But the path and incentives need to match Europe’s capabilities, not just Germany’s. That is European leadership", Robert Zoellick concludes. In fact, this is no longer about a solution to the crisis of the euro area. This is the short-term goal. This is about the EU to find its next European goal. It has to decide what it wants to be - a federation or even a state. It has to answer these questions now because when the time comes to apply the fiscal pact, again, we will face the question - are we breaking apart?

Because, again, there will be countries that would have not made it. They just cannot or do not want to. And then the hard decision will have to be taken - the one that was not taken now - leave in peace, evolve and welcome back. The integration processes in Europe always go slowly - among other things because people are not prepared to think a move ahead. European leadership is precisely what is needed and an acceleration of the processes as well. And Germany seems to be aware of this role of hers.

Chancellor Merkel has directly formulated the goal, without hesitating at all in Davos when she spoke about that European integration, avoided for a long time during the bliss of the economic boom that followed the unification. It is time to make the first step. We have already outgrown the 10-year long economic strategies, written in Berlaymont and collecting dust in drawers in the European capitals. So, the goal is already there! Now, Ms Merkel, it is time that you ask who will follow you. Ask directly and publicly!

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