Founding member of the European communities and seat of European institutions since 1952, Luxembourg has proven its sound European spirit over the last 11 presidencies it assumed. In 2015, the Luxembourg Presidency will have to face tough challenges. On June 4 and 5 2015, the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche Européenne Robert Schuman in cooperation with the Trans European Policy Studies Association organised the Luxembourg Pre-Presidency Conference to discuss these challenges and to describe the main goals of this Presidency Trio: Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg .
On June 4th 2015, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, presented the main stakes of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of EU agenda, during the “Luxembourg EU Pre-Presidency Conference”. TEPSA invited professors, researchers from diverse European institutes, but also European civil servants and former politicians, at the historical Robert Schuman building of the European Parliament.
The inaugural speech by Son Altesse Royale the Grand-Duc Henri, gave the opportunity to highlight the importance of this twelfth Presidency for Luxembourg, where “the European adventure began 63 years ago”. “Our national interest is linked to the progress of the European destiny”, judged the Grand-Duc. Recalling that the Luxembourg Presidencies have often been successful, and that the “research of compromise” has always been prioritized, the Grand-Duc wanted that the Luxembourg Presidency will be “a full success, not for personal glory but only to serve the astounding European project”.
Before describing the global stakes of the program, Minister Jean Asselborn revealed the common key priorities which will guide the Presidency: he affirmed that Luxembourg will exercise an “open presidency” which “will put citizens at the heart of the European project”.
At the heart of the program, which is based on the five objectives of the strategic agenda of the EU for the five coming years, is the will to “act in a determined way in the migration field”, especially following the recent tragedies which took place in the Mediterranean.
Another crucial stake consists of the EU economic crisis. The Minister assured that everything will be set up to create growth and employment. Going deeper into the European social dimension is one of the other priorities. The Presidency will pay due attention to the Investment Plan for Europe of President Jean-Claude Juncker. In his speech, Jean Asselborn emphasized the importance of the competitiveness of Europe, the dynamism of the internal markets and sustainable development (in particular with the upcoming COP21 in Paris).
As a conclusion, the Minister underlined the two topics which are in the current European news, the Greek and the Britain issues. He spoke in favor of keeping Greece in the Eurozone and he also affirmed that it will be possible to find some common ground with Great Britain to keep the country within the EU.
After these introductory speeches, the conference was separate into parallels panels.
During the discussion focused on the Brexit and Grexit questions, the speakers were unanimous to say that an exit is neither in the interest of London nor of Athens.
Graham Avery, honorary member of the TEPSA board, explained that the UK wants to be “exempted of the effect of an “ever closer union”, and to avoid “excessive interference of Brussels”. His main claim is that the British will take their decision whether to stay or not in the EU “as soon as they have analyze the alternatives of their permanency within the EU” which will be less favorable for them.
For Johannes Pollak, from the Institute for Advanced Studies (HIS), a new Member institute of TEPSA, Greece and the United Kingdom would be losers in case of an exit because the economic consequences would be “disastrous”. Additionally, the EU would also be weakened because an exit of the UK would risk creating a domino effect on countries like Hungary, which would begin to demand some conditions to stay in the EU.
Throughout the session on the Juncker Plan, the speakers have showed some criticisms about this new investment plan.
Iain Begg, professor at the London School of Economics and Member of TEPSA Board, was not sure that the Juncker plan constitutes the best answer to the problem of “growth deficit”. For him, the plan is not effective enough and it will not change the actual state of the EU economy. He also warned the assembly of the oppositions and inequalities between EU Member states.
Andras Inotai, professor and director of the Institute of World Economic in Hungary and Member of the TEPSA Board, warned against the risks of having a two-speed Europe. To improve Europe competitiveness, it will be crucial to improve efficiency of the institutions, to maintain real cohesion, to support the creation of “innovative societies” and to strengthen the capacity of social adjustment.
Adriaan Schout, researcher at the Institute of International Relations, Clingendael, a Member institute of TEPSA, affirmed that the Juncker plan creates a “political risk”. He criticised the fact that the EU and the European Central Bank (ECB) are more and more political and are losing their independence.
Another panel was organized on the neighborhood policies and their difficulties, on the EU-Russia relations and on the Ukrainian conflict.
Katrin Böttger, deputy director of the Institute of European Policies (IEP) of Berlin and Member of the TEPSA Board, began her intervention by reminding the historical relations between Russia and the EU since 1990. Since 2013 and the acceleration of the Ukrainian conflict, there has been a crisis in the relations. How long will this period last? And what will happen next? A full membership of Ukraine in the EU would allow putting in place reforms in the country but some skeptics think that it would rather offend Russia.
Atila Eralf, president of the Centre for European Studies, Turkey, a Member Institute of TEPSA, chose to talk about the changes in the Neighborhood policy of the EU. He acknowledged that the neighborhood policy has not been crowned with success because of its special characteristics. The global approach of the neighborhood policy should be revised to be inclined towards geopolitics and precisely to face Russian attempts to strengthen the Eurasian economic union, which competes with the EU policies.
This Pre-Presidency Conference of Luxembourg 2015 was a success thanks to the involvement of the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Européennes Robert Schuman. The TEPSA Board and Secretariat would like to express their gratitude to Jean-Marie Majerus and his team.
The Greek referendum which was held on 5 July has been severely criticised. The question put to the people was not well drafted, the reference to an agreement reached with creditors in Brussels was not correct, etc. etc.
In the meantime the outcome of the referendum is known, it is a clear ‘no’. At the time of writing of this Editorial nobody exactly knows what the follow-up will be.
Now, whatever the consequences will be for the continuation of the negotiations in Brussels respectively for Greece’s position as a Euro zone country, so much is clear that a lot has to be achieved in order to make the Greek economy healthy again.
Certainly, the Greek government bears the main responsibility here. It has to introduce reforms and budgetary restrictions, to carry through privatisations, to amend several social policies and to combat corruption as well as tax and capital evasion.
However, the European Union as well as its Member States also bear a responsibility for what has happened. Indeed, we have accepted Greece as a Euro zone member. We have allowed each Member State to develop its own policy in all vital domains of the economy, such as employment, social security, income, taxation and pensions. All this, without a degree of surveillance being exercised. It was only when the crisis broke out, that efforts to coordinate national policies have been undertaken. In short, the European Union – in practice its Member States – have failed to implement the ‘E’ of the EMU, so the Economic Union.
The European Union and its Members States must therefore help to overcome this crisis. In the past Member States have always adopted rigorous measures when national sectors – agriculture, coal mines, textiles, shipyards etc. – were put at risk. We also have actively contributed to overcome the situation of backwardness of the economies of most new Members States of Central and Eastern Europe. Indeed, our public authorities as well as our business people have made massive investments in these countries, the outcome of which has resulted in a ‘win-win’ situation. So, why not help Greece?
Again, the Greek government bears a crucial responsibility here. The government also has to provide for political stability in the country and confidence on the market so that foreign investors will be tempted to effectively spend their money in Greece. That said, other Member States can – and should- -do more. We should not accept that the Greek economy – and in the end the Greek society as a whole – will be disrupted.
A serious factor here certainly is related to the geographic and strategic position of Greece in the Mediterranean. Think at the security tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and the consequences of this conflict for NATO. Think also at the dramatic influx of refugees coming from Africa, Syria and Asia who try to reach the European coasts, among others in Greece. However, a perhaps more important factor concerns the principle of solidarity. Indeed, it is high time to feel at one with the Greek population, so the ordinary citizens in that country.
Jaap W. de Zwaan