The persistent hesitation of EU leaders to tackle crises is weakening the European Union and exacerbating integration fatigue, said Josep Borrell, president of the European University Institute, in an interview with EurActiv.
“It was the lack of political will to face the problem that turned the Greek crisis into the euro crisis. Europe played a game of poker with the market and it lost,” said the Spaniard, who was president of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007.
Borrell slammed EU leaders for failing to address the financial crisis and pretending it was an American problem. He criticised the persistent inability of politicians to promptly resolve contemporary problems before they degenerate into longer-term crises.
“If we had shown solidarity and defended the common good, the Greek crisis would not have degenerated into the euro crisis,” said Borrell, noting that such behaviour had brought EU integration to a halt and exacerbated fatigue with Europe.
According to Borrell, if EU countries had immediately said they would guarantee Greek debt, speculation would have been avoided and there would have been no contagion in other countries, and “we would not be where we are today”.
The former president of the European Parliament argues that with the introduction of the euro, national politicians have lost a little of their ability to do politics at home. “They don’t want to lose even more leverage or instruments of political action [at home],” he conceded, trying to offer an explanation for their behaviour.
Now, the same is happening with the latest crisis, with migrants knocking on Europe’s doors in the wake of the North African revolts and the Libyan upheaval, underlines the EUI president.
To resolve a minor migratory crisis EU leaders are ready to change Schengen, in the same way that they allowed a crisis in a small country, Greece, to provoke a wider euro crisis, Borrell said, noting that 25,000 migrants getting to Lampedusa is a tiny problem compared to the half a million Africans who have left Libya to go back to their home countries.
“We adopted a punitive attitude instead of acting in the name of our common good. And this is really worrying! We must not hide the truth. This means there is no longer a pro-European attitude,” Borrell thundered.
The president of the EUI concedes that one reason for the lack of leadership and commitment on the part of EU leaders comes from populations not clamouring for more Europe.
He believes that EU citizens move out of fear, as was the case in Finland’s recent elections, which saw nationalists gain considerable ground.
“It’s an explosive cocktail: We age so we need openness. Openness brings us migrants, migrants threat our identity, so we want to close up again,” he explained, saying such attitudes will lead to the negation of the European Union, pure and simple.
Borrell is clear: EU leaders have blatantly failed to make the case for a stronger Europe and continue to cultivate the myths of independence.
The problem here is that “if the Greeks go kaputt, then the German banks will go kaputt. We lack the pedagogical ability to explain what the benefits of Europe are and what the consequences of non-Europe would be,” he claimed, making the case for coming up with new strings to pull Europe together, citing for example its role on the global stage.
The European Union must understand that it risks being left on the backbenches if it does not change its ways, such as its unanimity rule, for example.
“The world is advancing much faster than Europe and we cannot afford to work the same way as in the past,” he concluded, hinting at the need for “more Europe”.