The EU Reflection Group: Learning from the Past

By Vike-Freiberga, Vaira | Harvard International Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

The EU Reflection Group: Learning from the Past


Vike-Freiberga, Vaira, Harvard International Review


The rapidly changing, globalized world never ceases to both surprise and catch us unawares. The world economical crisis that started out as a financial crisis in the United States, however, has done more than that. As it continues worsening each day, it is spreading waves of shock, disbelief, and despair across one country after another.

How did we get into such a predicament? Why is it that no one saw it coming and no one could stave it off? Even after the serious warning of the burst of the "dot com bubble," and after the corporate mega-scandals the size of Enron, one could not detect any serious rethinking of the magic mantras of more growth, more profits, more dividends, and more bonuses. During the first quarter of 2008, there was still reluctance in high places to admit the scope of the growing disaster. No one imagined that the financial crisis originating in the United States would so greatly impact first, the world's banking systems, next, its stock markets, and finally, its "real" economy and productivity. If ever there is a time for serious reflection on past actions, this is surely it.

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When the European Council created a Reflection Group on the future of Europe from 2020 to 2030, it was seeking solutions to all manners of actual and future challenges. No one really expected a world crisis of the severity we are now experiencing to arise in the years before 2020. The mandate of the Reflection Group is sufficiently broad to allow plenty of intellectual scope and freedom, yet the deadline allowed for its deliberations is extremely short (until 2010), and the challenges it faces--to come up with suggestions that might offer tangible help--are daunting. Among the questions the group will be confronting are the relations between the European Union and its citizens, the evolution of EU models of social welfare and social justice, the impact of major demographic changes in the future, the prospect for European economic growth, innovation, and competitiveness in a global environment, the possible shape of a united EU energy policy, and the importance of collective security. All this will hopefully lead to some specific recommendations aimed at strengthening a "Europe of the citizens," as well as securing (or improving) its place among the global political and economic powers.

Creation of the Reflection Group

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, feeling that Europe was running out of steam in debate on a number of key issues and that the continent could benefit from an influx of new and fresh ideas, provided the impetus behind the formation of the European Union Reflection Group from 2020 to 2030, At the time of initiation, the continent was gripped by a perceived widening gap of confidence between the citizenry and its elected representatives and a loss of enthusiasm among the general public about what was referred to as "the European project," or the "construction of Europe." The citizens of the EU might well be counted among the most privileged in the world from any number of objective measures and statistics. Despite their standards of living and relative privilege, Europeans seemed subjectively unhappy at the thought that their living standards might have reached a plateau, or even been at risk of future decline.

The creation of a Reflection Group in Lisbon did not meet with unanimous enthusiasm by all the EU's heads of state. A certain amount of healthy skepticism existed about the need for a special group to ponder issues which had already been addressed by multitudinous entities. The road to hell could probably be paved over just with the policy papers that have accumulated in Brussels over the years regarding such matters. However, nobody would go so far as to claim that everything possible and conceivable about the future of the EU had already been said, that the road ahead was crystal clear, and that every future step of the body was outlined in sharp detail for the next twenty or thirty years. …

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