Publication of a book by Philippe Maystadt is in itself an event. His Belgian political career and his presidency of the European Investment Bank put him at the heart of European politics and now lend considerable weight to his analyses. And his book’s title is itself a challenge: faced with the rise of the emerging countries, should we resign ourselves to Europe’s decline? Is our fate already settled?
Maystadt begins his short but instructive treatise by explaining why we should be so concerned about the future of Europe: the shortage of skilled workers, insufficient innovation, the burden on state finances of ageing populations is being coupled with rising national self-interest and the eclipsing of shared goals, all amplified by today’s unprecedented financial and economic crisis.
Yet there are many reasons to be hopeful, says Maystadt. Europe is still among the world’s largest market places. Its secondary schooling is generally excellent and should be the basis for re-designing higher education. And Europe leads in sectors like pharmaceuticals and aerospace as well as in key generic technologies. Europe continues to attract more foreign direct investment than the United States.
So although the Union’s condition is serious, it is not hopeless – providing some bold and innovative political decisions are taken. Maystadt sets out what he sees as a new European strategy and many of his ideas are well worth developing. Three ideas in particular merit attention:
- Europe needs to speak with one voice in the world, and urgently reform its representation in the G20 and on the board of directors of the IMF, because: “there are too many Europeans around the table, but not enough Europe.”
- Europe needs to make its internal market a dynamic forum for trade and investment by adopting genuine cross-border energy and transport policies.
- Europe needs to create a genuine economic government for the eurozone. This would involve a ministry grouping EU and national officials, a new eurozone parliamentary body to supply democratic balance, and the right mix of “community” and “intergovernmental” oversight. It’s an idea that I and my colleagues at Confrontations Europe have been insisting should be taken up at both national and European political levels, because it’s the only way to assume economic and fiscal governance of the euro.
Philippe Maystadt’s book is a roadmap for European policymakers, and deserves to be translated into as many European languages as possible. Its clear message is that Europe is not a lost continent providing its politicians and its electorates take themselves in hand and overcome their selfishness.
I have, meanwhile, to admit to a small but nagging question: Is Maystadt really convinced that the EU 2020 strategy is the key to Europe’s comeback?
Europe: le continent perdu? by Philippe Maystadt, Avant-propos, 2012, 173 pp. (ISBN 978-2-930627-32-8).