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The Road to Europe’s Future

Can the European public regain confidence in its leaders and eventually its institutions?

July 19, 2005

Can the European public regain confidence in its leaders and eventually its institutions?

While Europeans have long been comfortable with close economic ties with one another, the recent rejections of the EU constitution have shed light on lingering fears about further political integration. British Prime Minister Tony Blair looks at how to integrate political and social Europe and what EU leaders need to do to reassure their publics.

Europe is in the midst of a profound debate about its future.

The issue is not between a “free market” Europe and a social Europe, between those who want to retreat to a common market and those who believe in Europe as a political project.

This is a union of values, of solidarity between nations and people, of not just a common market in which we trade, but a common political space in which we live as citizens.

There is not some division between the Europe necessary to succeed economically and social Europe. Political Europe and economic Europe do not live in separate rooms.

The purpose of social Europe and economic Europe should be to sustain each other.

The purpose of political Europe should be to promote the democratic and effective institutions to develop policy in these two spheres and across the board where we want and need to cooperate in our mutual interest.

But the purpose of political leadership is to get the policies right for today’s world.

For 50 years, Europe’s leaders have done that. We talk of crisis. Let us first talk of achievement. When the war ended, Europe was in ruins.

Today the EU stands as a monument to political achievement.

Almost 50 years of peace, 50 years of prosperity, 50 years of progress. Think of it and be grateful.

The broad sweep of history is on the side of the EU. Countries round the world are coming together because in collective cooperation they increase individual strength.

Until the second half of the 20th century, for centuries European nations individually had dominated the world, colonized large parts of it and fought wars against each other for world supremacy.

Out of the carnage of the Second World War, political leaders had the vision to realize those days were gone. Today’s world does not diminish that vision. It demonstrates its prescience.

The United States is the world’s only superpower. But China and India in a few decades will be the world’s largest economies, each of them with populations three times that of the whole of the EU.

The idea of Europe, united and working together, is essential for our nations to be strong enough to keep our place in this world.

Now, almost 50 years on, we have to renew. There is no shame in that. All institutions must do it. And we can. But only if we remarry the European ideals we believe in with the modern world we live in.

If Europe defaults to Euroscepticism — or if European nations, faced with this immense challenge, decide to huddle together, hoping we can avoid globalization, shrink away from confronting the changes around us and take refuge in the present policies of Europe as if by constantly repeating them, we would by the very act of repetition make them more relevant — then we would risk failure. Failure on a grand, strategic scale.

This is not a time to accuse those who want Europe to change of betraying Europe.

It is a time to recognize that only by change will Europe recover its strength, its relevance, its idealism and therefore its support amongst the people.

And as ever, the people are ahead of the politicians.

We always think as a political class that people, unconcerned with the daily obsession of politics, may not understand it, may not see its subtleties and its complexities.

But, ultimately, people always see politics more clearly than us — precisely because they are not daily obsessed with it.

The issue is not about the idea of the European Union. It is about modernization. It is about policy.

It is not a debate about how to abandon Europe, but how to make it do what it was set up to do — improve the lives of people. And right now, they are not convinced.

People in Europe are posing hard questions to us. They worry about globalization, job security, about pensions and living standards. They see not just their economy but their society changing around them.

Traditional communities are broken up, ethnic patterns change, family life is under strain as families struggle to balance work and home.

We are living through an era of profound upheaval and change.

Look at our children and the technology they use and the jobs market they face. The world is unrecognizable from that we experienced as students 20 or 30 years ago.

When such change occurs, moderate people must give leadership. If they do not, the extremes gain traction on the political process. It happens within a nation. It is happening in Europe now.

It is time to give ourselves a reality check. To receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets round the city walls.

Are we listening? Have we the political will to go out and meet them so that they regard our leadership as part of the solution, not the problem?

That is the context in which the EU budget debate should be set. People say: We need the budget to restore Europe’s credibility. Of course we do.

But it should be the right budget. It should not be abstracted from the debate about Europe’s crisis. It should be part of the answer to it.

So, that is the context. What would a different policy agenda for Europe look like? First, it would modernize our social model.

What type of social model is it that has 20 million unemployed in Europe and productivity rates falling behind those of the United States, that is allowing more science graduates to be produced by India than by Europe and that, on any relative index of a modern economy — skills, R&D, patents, IT — is going down, not up?

India will expand its biotechnology sector fivefold in the next five years. China has tripled its spending on R&D in the last five. Of the top 20 universities in the world today, only two are now in Europe.

The purpose of our social model should be to enhance our ability to compete, to help our people cope with globalization, to let them embrace its opportunities and avoid its dangers.

Of course, we need a social Europe. But it must be a social Europe that works. The people of Europe are speaking to us. They are posing the questions. They are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them.

Adapted from Tony Blair’s address to the European Parliament on June 23, 2005. For the entire text click here.