News Details

Article written by Duncan Barry - Media and Information Executive, MEUSAC

9 November 2017

 

Discussing tomorrow’s Europe


Published on The Malta Business Weekly – 09.11.17


MEUSAC is currently organising a string of events on the future of Europe as part of its re-launch as a government agency. Over the years, MEUSAC has played a vital role to engage citizens and civil society on EU-related matters and has also been tasked to continue to push forward the debate on the future of Europe.


As MEUSAC Head Vanni Xuereb put it, “MEUSAC will continue to ensure that citizens and civil society are engaged in a healthy debate on the future of the EU so that the Union continues to attract widespread support in Malta”. The latest European Parliament survey, also known as Parlameter, once again confirmed high levels of support for the EU in Malta.


In March of this year, the European Commission published a White Paper setting out possible paths for the future of Europe following Brexit. It offered five scenarios to how the union could evolve with the aim of starting off a European-wide process of reflection and discussion on the future of Europe. The White Paper was followed by the publication of a series of reflection papers on the social dimension of Europe, harnessing globalisation, deepening the economic and monetary union (EMU), European defence and EU finances respectively, which would pave the way for a better future.


The events are focusing on harnessing globalisation, the social dimension of Europe and EU finances. The next event is taking place on November 9 and the last on November 13. The reflection paper on deepening the EMU was discussed during a MEUSAC Core Group meeting held in September. On November 1, a seminar was organised on the reflection paper on harnessing globalisation.


Europeans fund an EU budget for less than the price of a coffee
Of interest is the fact that for less than the price of a cup of coffee a day, Europeans fund an EU budget that manages a wide range of issues that go beyond national borders and necessitate a European or international response. From climate and energy, to migration, consumer protection, globalisation, employment, the single market and the common currency, the budget contributes to the prosperity of EU citizens and the success of common policies. Experience has shown that even a modest budget at European level can have a major impact on the ground.

 

Many Europeans have first-hand experience of projects funded by the EU. Students and young professionals study abroad thanks to the Erasmus+ programme, farmers receive support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and researchers and universities benefit from EU grants to further their work. Thanks to investment under the Cohesion Policy and other instruments, the EU helps countries, regions, and cities to improve the quality of life of their citizens. It invests in public transport, water or digital infrastructure, as well as in the health and education sectors. It supports vocational training, small- and medium-sized enterprises and innovation.


Funding more with less

At the same time, a variety of new challenges have arisen since the current budget was designed. The refugee crisis, security concerns, cyber threats and terrorism as well as defence require pan- European responses. The pressure created by these competing demands on finite resources has underscored the urgent need to reflect on what kind of budget is needed for the Europe of the future.


The withdrawal of the United Kingdom will signify the loss of an important partner and contributor to the financing of EU policies and programmes. However, it also presents an opportunity for a vital discussion about the modernisation of the EU budget. At the heart of this debate are some fundamental and interrelated questions.


What should the EU budget be used for? How can we make the very most of every euro to ensure that EU spending delivers tangible results for its citizens? What can spending at EU level achieve that spending at national level cannot? How can policies and programmes be made simpler and more transparent? And now is also the time to ask how the EU budget should be financed to ensure it has the resources it needs to meet the expectations of Europeans.


Economic strength, sustainability, solidarity and security must be the focal points for the EU finances of the future. And while we know that the EU budget cannot do everything on its own, a well-designed budget focused squarely on supporting those priorities can make a real difference to people’s lives and help restore trust in the EU’s added value.


About the Reflection Papers

 - The reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe raises questions on how to sustain our standards of living, create more and better jobs, equip people with the right skills and create more unity within our society, in light of tomorrow's society and world of work. It does so by setting out three possible options: Limiting the social dimension to free movement; those who want to do more in the social field do more; the EU Member States deepen the social dimension of Europe together.


 
- The reflection paper on globalisation opens up a debate on how the EU can best harness globalisation and respond to its opportunities and challenges, both on the external and domestic fronts.


 
- The options proposed in the reflection paper on the deepening of EMU are intended to help build a broad consensus on how to take on the challenges ahead and to give a fresh impetus to this important debate. Moving ahead would mean taking steps in the following three areas: Completing a genuine Financial Union; achieving a more integrated Economic and Fiscal Union; anchoring democratic accountability and strengthening euro area institutions.


 
- As for the reflection paper on the future of EU finances, the main challenge is that the EU budget faces a tough challenge to fund more with less. The EU is expected to play a bigger role in new policy areas like migration, internal and external security or defence. Moreover, Europe should also preserve its leading role on the global stage as a major humanitarian and development aid donor and as a leader of the fight against climate change. That must be achieved with an EU budget that will only get smaller following Brexit. Worth noting is the fact that the Commission published its 7th Cohesion report which takes the pulse of EU regions, drawing lessons from cohesion spending during the crisis years and setting the scene for Cohesion Policy after 2020. Regions within EU Member States are faring well economically but there is still room for improvement. One of the highlights of the report was that the current level of investment is insufficient to reach the 2030 targets of shares of renewable energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. All EU regions will therefore need more funding to achieve decarbonisation.


 
- The reflection paper on European defence speaks about three scenarios: Firstly, a scenario where EU countries would still decide on the need for security and defence cooperation on a voluntary and case-by-case basis, the second seeing that the EU and NATO would increase mutual cooperation and closer European defence integration, also requiring a harmonisation of European armed forces.