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Oportunitats per Europa: el moment clau

Reflexió sobre la necessitat de que la Unió Europea avanci vers una major integració econòmica i estratègicab. Ara és el moment adient per buscar la competitivitat a través de la millora de la qualitat i la innovació en els seus productes, aprofitant la bona qualificació i capacitats dels professionals europeus.

Opportunities for Europe: the key moment

The EU isn’t working: how should it change? By Joan Monras Oliu

The French and Dutch “no” at the referendum for the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) showed that something was not working in the EU. It was presented as the next natural step towards European political integration and it was rejected by two of the six countries that in 1957 signed the Treaty of Rome. Some may see this “no” as a result of the unsatisfactory and insufficient social issues of the text. For them it is clear that European mentality grew in the welfare state and that the failure of the TCE to deeply defend this social model is the main reason for its rejection. I will argue a slightly different thing: I will defend the view that the social failure and economic stagnation of the actual European Union is the underlying reason for a traditionalist reaction that ended in the “no” vote or in the French riots. Traditionalists from the right and the left have denounced the TCE as a threat for the preservation of the European old social model. However, I will argue that the “no” to the TCE should be used as an opportunity to rebuild the concept of Europe in different and modern terms. The best answer to the problems of the EU is through a powerful and competitive economy which gives opportunities to European citizens, something that has no relation at all to the political integration. In the 21st Century, it means that Europe needs a knowledge based, dynamic and creative economy. In order to do that Europe will have to rethink the appropriateness of its institutions and its projects, which was probably a better reason to vote against the TCE.

First of all it is useful to understand why EU is not working by analysing the positions around the Treaty for a Constitution for Europe, concentrating on the “no” vote. In many countries, like France or Spain, the opposition to the Treaty came either from the radical left or radical right. On the left, people argued that the new step towards integration did not match with the traditional welfare state that the EU members allegedly represent. From their point of view, the project did not constitute a guarantee of the rights (many times they forget the duties or responsibilities) of the workers or the public education and health. On the right the arguments were essentially nationalist, thinking on a deepest integration as a threat to national interest. Nonetheless, in countries like France or Spain, there was a lack of liberal critique to the TCE. Hardly anyone argued that the welfare state is unsustainable or that EU members have to rethink its system, something that the TCE did not do. Hardly anyone either said that the actual way the EU works can be largely improved and that a deeper political integration has nothing to do with actual EU problems.

Both this latter liberal critique and the aforementioned reasons for the traditionalist “no” vote helps us to look at some of the problems that the EU will have to face and the opportunities that it has. The EU leaders and population have to be aware of the time that we are living. Luckily or unluckily the globalisation is a reality. Products are easy made in many places and travel expenses are extremely low. Producers from a remote part of the world can be our closest competitor, and trade is growing increasingly fast. This reality may produce a sense of fragility or fear, something that is growing in developed countries. Nowadays they have to face a different reality, where China, India or Brazil are, in many aspects, more powerful than European countries or even the US. This situation causes a reaction that encourages protectionism. Those who think that the others are stronger will defend a greater protection both in trade, immigration or social rights. Those are, arguably, the same that voted against the European Treaty because they saw it too soft in social terms or because they were afraid of losing their national identity. The globalisation has, however, another side. As suggested by Hiscox from the Harvard University, it represents an increase of the global wealth, even if it has some ‘losers’. In other words, the opportunities of shortening time and distance that offers globalisation can be taken by European members not as a threat but as an open door towards an improvement of their economy and well-being: this is the challenge that Europe has to face.

The EU members have now the capacity to compete in terms of quality rather than quantity. It is clear that China is unbeatable in making cheap easy-designed clothes, but Europe or the United States are unbeatable when a high skilled professional is needed to develop a certain product. Following in the textile sector, an example would be design. Cities like Milan or Barcelona, which are in regions where they were used to earn money from textile factories, have now developed a high standard textile design and are competing all around the world. The same is true when talking about all those products that need high levels of knowledge. Here are the opportunities for Europe. In this sense Europe can be at the forefront of the world and can exploit its background and skilled population. Europe has the challenge to use these opportunities, something that, arguably, is not doing enough. The best example in that sense is the decreasing competitiveness of European Universities. While some years ago most of the best universities were mainly in Europe, now they are mainly in the US. In other words, Europe in stead of taking advantage of the moment and the opportunities (never in the history had had such a big market where to sell its products), it is trying to defend what it acquired in previous years.

In concrete terms, EU members should be conscious that this economic change is essential for the European future. Political integration is not a guarantee against wars (also domestic wars have been frequent during the world history) but rather a powerful and dynamic economy that enables people to take advantage of their opportunities and that give individuals their rights to have opportunities and their duties to use them. Therefore, rather than fighting for a stronger political integration I would argue for a stronger economical integration and a stronger strategical integration. On the one hand, recent cases like the takeover bid of Spanish Gas Natural to Endesa and counter-offer of E.Con, the German energy company, are examples where national interest has overcome economic interest, as has been argued recently in The Economist or in La Vanguardia by Ralf Darhendorf. On the other hand, European initiatives in strategic sectors concerning knowledge-based economy, like the Agenda Lisbon 2010, should be reinforced. Finally, it is the time, with the actual failures of the EU Treaty, to reassess which legislation is favouring the knowledge based creative economy and which one is not. In other words, the enormous quantity of rules that European have to follow as an alleged guarantee of the quality of European products may be causing high limitations to many companies, for example SMEs. Many of this knowledge based economy come from small and medium size companies of professionals that decide to develop a certain product. It is virtually impossible to face the enormous cost of EU rules for those groups of professionals, and what was born as a guarantee for quality is now reducing the opportunities of high qualified professionals working on high quality products.

In conclusion, the EU is facing a crucial moment. The failure of the Treaty is an example of the threats and opportunities that the EU has. On the one hand there are those who seemed afraid of the growing opportunities partly due to globalisation. They defend that the best way to face this opportunities is by closing European doors, and saving the success of the 60 years period of peace and prosperity. On the other hand, there are those who see the actual circumstances as a huge opportunity to develop a solid and dynamic economy. EU has the background and conditions to successfully become a knowledge-based and competitive economy, but the EU members have to be conscious of it and work on it. Stronger political integration is not the solution to these economic issues, but rather a potential danger as showed by the example of the SMEs. The accidental curb on political integration can be used as an opportunity to rethink what policies are favouring the strengths of the EU, and which ones are limiting them. It is our choice to see these facts as a failure of the EU or as an opportunity for the EU, my choice is clear.

Joan Monràs Oliu

Menbre del Cercle


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