Remodeling Europe: Greater integration, not less

Remodeling Europe: Greater integration, not less

Europe has played a vital part in my life for more than 20 years. Thanks to European cooperation in the field of higher education, I had the opportunity to live, study and work in Spain for a year while I was an undergraduate at a British university. From there I went on to study at the College of Europe in Belgium, where I met my Danish wife. I worked for much of the 1990s on EU-funded projects in the newly liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe, supporting the critical role that the European Union played in delivering their post-Cold War transition to democracy and growth. So Europe is central to both my personal and professional life, and I am now deeply concerned about its future.

The European Union currently finds itself in the throes of an existential crisis. Crippling sovereign debt levels are placing unprecedented pressure on the political, economic and institutional foundations of a union already struggling to contend with chronically slow growth and high unemployment. This critical situation has caused, and is compounded by, a growing disharmony between member states and EU institutions, and among the member states themselves. National political agendas dominate, as leaders struggle to protect standards of living that more and more people now view as unsustainable.

Europe therefore stands at a crossroads – it can either continue trying to “muddle through” or it can shape new visions and models of integration. The path that is ultimately chosen will determine the fate of over 500 million European citizens. In response to this challenge and to help Europe make the right decision, the World Economic Forum has launched the “Remodelling Europe Initiative.”

Change starts with diagnosis. In separate reports published this month, the World Economic Forum has concluded that the eurozone is plagued by a weak governance structure, fragmented capital markets and an uncertain growth outlook (“Euro, Dollar, Yuan Uncertainties: Scenarios on the Future of the International Monetary System”), and there is a yawning gap developing between Europe’s most competitive northern economies and their southeastern counterparts (“Europe 2020 Competitiveness Report”).

To address this economic and political crisis, an ambitious and coherent vision for the future of the European project must be developed that reflects the hopes of the next generation and addresses the fundamental legitimacy deficit that lies at the heart of the problem. Seeking answers, in the past months the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers – communities of future leaders in their 40s and 30s, respectively – have been called on to share their hopes, fears and expectations for the future of the European project. They unequivocally call for a more integrated Europe, not less.

Based on the forum’s 2012 Voice of Europe Survey, greater integration calls for more ambitious democratic reform of the EU, including the direct election of the president of the European Commission by European citizens (favored by 68%) and deeper integration of the eurozone such as significant transfers of tax revenue (favored by 59%).

The World Economic Forum will share these findings with the 1,000 policy, business and thought leaders who will gather in Istanbul this week, and will then bring together smaller groupings during a series of workshops in European capitals in the autumn. By generating these insights and providing a platform for dialogue, we hope to contribute to the development of an Action Plan for Europe, to be submitted to a panel of heads of state and government at the forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2013.

Experience has shown that challenges of the nature that Europe is currently facing can only be addressed successfully by bold leadership and radical change. The founding fathers of the European project understood that well, and I was just one of the millions of Europeans who came to benefit from the courage and foresight that they demonstrated. Let’s hope that we can collectively rediscover those qualities as we prepare for the next phase in Europe’s transformation.

Stephen Kinnock is the head of Europe at the World Economic Forum.