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The great transformation: Memo to the incoming EU Presidents


  • André Sapir
  • Guntram B. Wolff


Bruegel Policy Brief 04/2014 is addressed to the incoming Presidents of the European institutions. It is the first in a series of memos to the new European leadership to be launched in September, which will address individual Commissioners with priorities for their portfolio. Take part in the debate using hashtag #EU2DO. The European Union’s leadership spent the last five years fighting an acute and existential crisis. The next five years, under your leadership, will be no less difficult. You will have to tackle difficult economic and institutional questions while being alert to the possibility of a new crisis. You face three central challenges - The feeble economic situation prevents job creation and hobbles attempts to reduce public and private debt; EU institutions and the EU budget need reform and you will have to deal with pressing external matters, including neighbourhood policy and the EU’s position in the world; You will have to prepare and face up to the need for treaty change to put monetary union on a more stable footing, to review the EU’s competences and to re-adjust the relationship between the euro area and the EU, and the United Kingdom in particular. The EU needs to adapt its economies to the global Great Transformation by deepening the single market, improving product markets and improving governance. This strategy needs to be combined with measures to boost the public capital stock to reap demand and supply-side benefits. A reform of the EU budget is imperative to orientate it more towards growth, while reform of the Commission should deliver a more coherent approach to growth policies. Neighbourhood policy should be redesigned to allow for different forms of collaboration and global trade should be promoted. Finally, the treaty reform will have to focus on concrete measures to create a fiscal capacity with appropriate legitimacy and a new relationship with the UK. State of affairs Your predecessors as presidents of the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament spent a good part of their mandate fighting the financial crisis and creating mechanisms – primarily the European Stability Mechanism and the European Banking Union – that were left out of the Maastricht design of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Your terms of office will be no less challenging. You will have to solve deep and difficult economic and institutional problems, while being alert in case of a new crisis. The European Council of 26-27 June 2014 defined a broad political agenda for the next five years, but you will have to take the lead in spelling out a more precise agenda. You face three challenges. First is the economic situation. The financial crisis is receding but huge economic problems remain. Unemployment in Europe is at record highs and goes a long way to explain voter dissatisfaction with national and European leaders. Debt levels are historically high. Economic growth has turned positive again but remains far too feeble to alleviate the high joblessness or meaningfully reduce public debt, in particular in countries with high debt levels. But it would be a mistake to think that Europe’s economic challenge stems only from the crisis. All European Union countries need to adapt their economies and even societies to the Great Transformation resulting from the combined forces of globalisation, demographic, technological and environmental change. This transformation started well before the crisis. European leaders agreed already in 2000 to modernise their societies - the Lisbon Agenda to create a competitive knowledge-based economy with sustainable growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. Had Europe implemented the Lisbon Agenda, it would probably not have avoided the crisis, but it would have been in much better shape to rebound more strongly and quickly. Unlike Europe, emerging countries remained relatively immune to the financial crisis. They continue to forge ahead. In this respect it is good to consider two key facts - in 2013 emerging and developing countries together accounted – for the first time since at least 1850 – for more than 50 percent of global GDP; meanwhile, the average public debt-to-GDP ratio of these countries dropped below 40 percent, while it nearly reached 110 percent in the advanced economies. Your second challenge is twofold - reforming the functioning of the EU institutions while dealing with pressing external matters. You must deal with growing scepticism about the EU and tackle pressing strategic questions that have remained unresolved for several years. The success of eurosceptic parties in the European elections will force you to focus on results for citizens. For this, the work on economic growth is necessary but not sufficient. The EU is still perceived as wasteful, bureaucratic and undemocratic. You will have to improve the internal working of the EU and of its institutions, manage the relationship between the euro area and the EU countries outside it (the United Kingdom in particular).

Suggested Citation

  • André Sapir & Guntram B. Wolff, 2014. "The great transformation: Memo to the incoming EU Presidents," Policy Briefs 832, Bruegel.
  • Handle: RePEc:bre:polbrf:832

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    1. Marta Gotz, 2015. "Tendencje rozwojowe klastrów w Niemczech / Development Tendencies of German Clusters," International Economics, University of Lodz, Faculty of Economics and Sociology, issue 11, pages 106-144, September.

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