Report from the mBank-CASE seminar The EU in 2019: State of play, and prospects
The 162nd mBank seminar enabled the discussion on the state of play of the European Union and its prospects. The topic was introduced by Dr. Ewa Balcerowicz who presented the recent report prepared by CASE – ‘Nasza Europa: 15 lat Polski w Unii Europejskiej’ (‘Our Europe: 15 years of Poland in the European Union’). The report highlights how Poland has changed due to the EU membership, and, in its last part, opens up a discussion on future challenges of the European integration and role of Poland in it.
The guest speaker Dr. Janusz Lewandowski started by elaborating on the reasons for the existence of the only supranational parliament worldwide. Specifically, he pointed out that the communalities making the Union possible go beyond geographical proximity and include, in particular, common lessons, cultural memories as well as the contributions from both good and bad sides of the European history. As the European Union has freed the European generations from the existential links related to the two World Wars and totalitarian regimes, it allowed countries to shift from purely geopolitical concerns and focus on the developments of the common future. On this ground, positive integration dynamics, being further supported (until recently) from the other side of the Atlantic, have fueled enlargement strategy and fostered extra-EU cooperation via the establishment of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) towards Eastern and Southern partner countries.
Yet, as Dr. Janusz Lewandowski pointed out, recent evolutions of the political and economic dynamics within and beyond the EU have led to the rise of populism and promotion of discussions on the decadence of the Union. Specifically, the economic crisis has fueled fears contributing to the development of economic and cultural uncertainties. In parallel to it, expanding the migratory crisis and terrorism threat have led to the proliferation of populism built upon the ideas that salvation and security within Europe are only possible through restoration of the national status. Further, the year 2016 and Brexit in particular have fueled the discussions on the pessimistic scenarios of the European future and induced the ‘exiters’ dynamic. Nonetheless, the Brexit experience and approaches of some populist parties have only highlighted that, though it might be possible to ruffle the voters by misinformation, such practices exemplify a pure failure of democracy. In this light, the year 2017 brought refreshment within the EU and shifted the vision towards practical issues that are not centered around possible decadence or twilight of the Union. The former include in particular the aging population and relatively lower global weight of the continent as compared to the 20th century. Yet, with this regard, Dr. Lewandowski has highlighted that as the EU appears arguably the most successful project over the last few hundred years on the continent, its imperfections should not legitimize the development of pessimistic scenarios but, on contrary, should justify closer cooperation and development of common solutions.
In the concluding part of the seminar, Dr. Lewandowski elaborated on some of the prospects of the European Union in 2019 and beyond. In this regard, the arguments supporting the end of the European integration appear at the current stage premature and unjustified. Further, it is crucial to understand that the European Union does not need to be reinvented. Instead, it needs to evolve by benefiting from the wisdom of the already rooted paradigms and experiences. As it is not possible to reestablish the EU, the discussions around it turn out to be counterproductive and even disruptive as they are only contributing to Euroscepticism and fostering populism. Another priority should be given to the Monetary Union to enhance its resilience to the internal and external shocks. To this end, the broader conceptualisation of its individual components, strategic orientations, key policy areas and their interdependence is needed. Additionally, as it becomes more difficult to get approval from all the Member States, further adjustments within the EU would only be possible through intergovernmental arrangements and not fundamental Union level Treaties. Concerning the history of intrusive EU regulations in different policy areas, Dr. Lewandowski highlighted that the Union “should not teach people how to live”. Although it is unrealistic and unjustified in practice to ensure that every new regulation is followed by the repeal of an old one, further EU actions and policy initiatives have to be inspired to limit the overregulation. Last but not least, considering the practice of the suspension of the European Structural Funds allocation in response to the lack of rule of law, it is necessary to establish a mechanism limiting negative consequences for the relevant beneficiaries who are often the first ones to suffer from both funding disruption and the lack of rule of law. Indeed, despite satisfying Copenhagen criteria, some Member States fail to respect the fundamental principles as defined by the Treaties. Yet, in these countries, financial support is of utmost importance for the preservation and promotion of the European values as well as the functioning of the civil society organisations and inclusion of the less developed regions.
Written by Kateryna Karunska