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Is it still possible to see Europe as a model of peace, stability and prosperity? And where will Europe be placed in an increasingly globalised world?

Imagining the Europe of the future at a moment when the current economic and financial crisis is an overriding concern could be considered a way of ignoring the problems presently looming over the European project today. But this is not the case. The single European market remains the largest and most attractive integrated economic area in the world. Moreover, the EU as a whole continues to be the foremost promoter of free trade and development cooperation. And again, the EU plays an absolutely primary role in the defence of human rights and makes an essential contribution to international peace and security efforts. How many European citizens are aware of the fact that there are 24 ongoing Europe-led peacekeeping missions around the world?

That is why the cultivation of Europe’s future must be our most compelling and immediate commitment. Far from shifting the attention from the economic and financial crisis, we believe that strengthening Europe’s global profile, its democratic legitimacy and efficiency of its institutions, is an essential part of the solution to the present situation. This conviction has underpinned our efforts over the past six months at reflection and analysis in the Group on the Future of Europe – a group of eleven foreign ministers representing the traditionally more Europe-leaning Member States. The convergence of views on the present and future of European integration, as reflected in the group’s Final Report, forms a particularly promising platform from which to proceed in overcoming the challenges we are now faced with.

In the first place, we must act rapidly in response to the extremist and populist forces threatening Europe’s accrued patrimony of peace, freedom, growth and social welfare. We are united by a shared sense of urgency. The current paradox is that the economic and monetary union, the most advanced of European integration frontiers, is threatening to become a divisive factor. This is unacceptable, and for that reason we place the maximum importance on measures aimed at strengthening European economic and monetary governance. Our commitment stems from two mutually-sustaining principles: fiscal responsibility and debt solidarity, which could lead to the issuance of Eurobonds. At the same time, we must work toward an integrated financial structure, as defined in the report presented by President Van Rompuy at the June European Council, and for the implementation of the agenda agreed for the promotion of growth and employment. Our ability to respond effectively to the current crisis and to the needs of our citizens depends, in turn, on how effectively we can work together to generate growth.

Growth in each European country must be the result of national policies that are consistent with budgetary discipline; but there is also space for European level policies. In particular, we place a very high priority on measures aimed at further developing the single market; improving governance and implementation can be the key to fully tapping its growth potential. The challenges we are facing, however, go beyond the economic/financial dimension. Raising the EU’s global profile and nurturing its citizens’ identification with their common institutions will be the crucial criteria by which to measure the success of our long-range vision. On the global stage, Europe must continue to pursue its legitimate interests while maintaining a “community of values”. We must speak with a single voice in advancing the principles that guide our external actions: solidarity and the promotion of democracy, human rights and religious freedom. Our common foreign policy must be based on a comprehensive approach that embraces the global challenges of this era, such as climate change, the defence of human rights, access to water, immigration and development cooperation. We also need additional measures to ensure the more efficient inter-sector coordination of our external action, which means the complete implementation of the coordinating role of the High Representative/Vice President of the Commission, whose powers should be incremented.

In any case, the EU’s role on the global stage will remain incomplete if we are unable to ensure a fully developed Common Security and Defence Policy, for the ultimate purpose of common defence. A comprehensive EU Security and Defence Policy would be a way to share a greater portion of the global challenges with our allies and partners, through a complementary NATO-EU approach that would include broader cooperation in areas ranging from strategic planning to supply and from training to technology. Greater permanent structured cooperation, what’s more envisioned by the Lisbon Treaty, would increase opportunities beyond the sharing of resources, embracing an approach based on deeper integration. As we gradually transfer powers to the EU we must also increase the democratic legitimacy of community institutions, and various options have been presented to that end. Some of them are already possible, such as the selection of the President of the Commission from among the principal candidates of the European political parties, and assignment to the European Parliament of the right to initiate legislation.

We must work toward creating an authentic “European political area”, where European parties can meet on crucial questions regarding the future of Europe. More effective and responsible European institutions will help us renew the basis for our integration by creating the conditions for the European citizen’s identification with the European integration process. A “Political Union” must remain our final goal. Ideas for fostering a more prosperous, democratic and internationally assertive European Union are on the table. Some of these can be put into practice on the basis of the existing legal framework; others require common and more long-term reflection and would call for adaptation of the European treaties. If it is to build a real future, Europe has no other choice but to remain united.

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