Do We Need A New Pact For Europe?

by Herman Van Rompuy

It is a pleasure to speak here at this important event bringing so many engaged people together from across Europe. I am sure you will be able today to come closer to a shared vision on what our main challenges are, and where Europe should go, in a spirit of dialogue. I have read the New Pact for Europe with great interest. The analysis is sound throughout, and I would certainly subscribe to almost all of its proposals.

In particular I think it was the right choice to frame the whole exercise around the need for public support for the European Union and the work it is doing. That is indeed essential, vital even. Without public support, Europe cannot go forward. This is something I know all leaders, in Brussels and in our member- states, realise acutely. At the national level, there is as much ‘disenchantment’ and ‘malaise’ as at the European level.

Of course, during the first phase of the economic and monetary crisis, in the years 2009-2013, we often had to focus on immediate rescue action. We were saving the euro. We did so in order to save jobs, and bring back growth, for people to be able to maintain their income, their way of life, but these underlying objectives were not always immediately visible. This is why people sometimes got the wrong impression that the currency (or the banks, for that matter) was a goal in itself. It never was: it always was a means to an end. In this sense, the purpose was ‘social’.

In that period, the European Union has gone through an unprecedented test, and we are only slowly coming out of it now. As I have often said in that period, I did not and do not agree with people who hastily concluded that the crisis has killed solidarity between European countries and peoples. Not at all! The crisis has revealed what it takes to be in a Union, in terms of responsibility AND in terms of solidarity. It was and is the first real test of solidarity in the history of the Union.

The fact that the eurozone today is stronger than five years ago (… I will say a word about Greece later…) is thanks to a gigantic collective effort, involving all euro countries, all EU institutions, all citizens, to muster the political will, the parliamentary majorities, and the means and money, to help each other and come out of the crisis together. The hundreds of billions euro of financial support testify in themselves to this de facto solidarity. In doing so, we showed the world a joint political determination that many had underestimated. And today, being in a position of engaged observer myself – un spectateur engagé – I still see this determination at work. We have weathered a storm in these years [2010-2013].

We must keep this in mind when tackling the new challenges ahead in the eurozone and in the Union, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. In fact, according to the latest statistics, 2015 will be the first year since 2007 during which almost all 28 member states will see economic growth. This is very important. Citizens want to know things are moving in the right direction, even if too slowly.

To my mind, it is no coincidence that the latest opinion polls are showing that the support for the European Union is recovering too. I am referring to the PEW polls released two weeks ago, looking at our six largest member-states, and done by the independent Washington research institute. After a big fall, with the year 2013 as the worst one, support for Europe has bottomed out and is increasing again. This was especially true in Spain, and also for the United Kingdom (another country about which I’ll say a word later).

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