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Encouraging cooperation among key countries can help lay the groundwork for a more flexible and effective EU

Agenda Pública

6 mins - 10 de Noviembre de 2023, 07:00

EsadeGeo and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with Agenda Pública, the Jacques Delors Institute, and the ENGAGE project brought together principal European officials and analysts to address the strategic challenges facing the EU against the current backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty.

Enrico Letta is President of the Jacques Delors Institut. Previously he was Dean of the School of International Affairs at Sciences Po Paris (PSIA) and former Italian Prime Minister. He was the General Secretary of the Italian Democratic Party (PD) from 2021 to 2023. He served as Minister of European Affairs from 1998 to 1999.

Agenda Pública
As the title of the seminar indicates, the future of the EU implies the need for closer cooperation between Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Poland. Why do you think this cooperation should be encouraged? 

Enrico Letta
Promoting cooperation among these major EU countries can contribute to creating the political conditions that are necessary to tackle the challenges we are facing. Stronger partnerships can help in managing and resolving political disputes and ensuring that the EU remains a cohesive entity. Poland plays a crucial role in EU integration due to its strategic location in Central Europe and its growing influence. Its active participation in the process of European integration is vital in strengthening the EU's eastern flank and ensuring the unity and stability of the European project.

In this regard, also the issue of enlargement is crucial, as the EU's future will include more than 27 member states. Encouraging cooperation among key countries can help lay the groundwork for a more flexible and effective EU framework that accommodates further expansion, ensuring that new members can integrate smoothly and contribute to the EU's collective success.

Agenda Pública
Could you explain in a few words what the European Commission has asked you to do in relation to the future of the single market? 

Enrico Letta
2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Single Market developed under the impulse of then Commission President Jacques Delors. An occasion to celebrate the achievements but also to reflect on the future of one of the EU's key assets. In recent years, the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the energy crisis, and rising international tensions have highlighted the vulnerabilities of the single market. The EU institutions have asked me to elaborate a forward-looking report with recommendations on how the EU can better harness the potential of its single market. Given the complex international scenario, the aim of my work will be to develop a new strategic vision to preserve European sovereignty while also safeguarding the founding principles of the single market.

Norbert Röttgen is a German politician of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and former Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

Agenda Pública
First, I would like to ask, do you think that any changes to qualified majority regulations would lead to any immediate impacts in foreign policy for the European Union?

Norbert Röttgen
Oh, yes. I think that if it were to happen, it would quite quickly and profoundly change the way of discourse and the way of decision making, and the pace in which we are able to achieve results. It would completely take away blackmailing behaviour, and so it would really enhance the capacity of the European Union to act quickly and convincingly in foreign policy. So, it would have a fundamental impact that, yes, I am convinced of that.

Agenda Pública
Do you see any similarities in the way the EU and member states have dealt with Russia's invasion of Ukraine on the one hand, and the Hamas-Israel conflict on the other?

Norbert Röttgen
I think the war of Russia against Ukraine is a European land war as we have known it in the past centuries, and it has now returned after seven decades following the Second World War, is in many aspects totally different to the situation we are seeing in the Middle East, where a terrorist group has attacked the country of Israel, where there is a mastermind, which is Iran, behind this war and this attack, and the attacked country is militarily much stronger than the attacking terrorist group

And another difference is Hamas is abusing the people, the Palestinians, as a shield and a weapon to wage this war. There are many, many different aspects, so the approach both in method and substance must be difference. 

Sylvie Kauffmann is editorial director, lead writer, and columnist at the French newspaper Le Monde, for which she writes a weekly column on global affairs.

Agenda Pública
What do you see as the largest difficulty for the European Union in accommodating new countries during the enlargement process?

Sylvie Kauffmann
I think the biggest difficulty will be the governance. The reform of governments and the discussions we had showed that there are a lot of differences to overcome when it comes to, of course, the decision-making process. Unanimity, qualified majority voting, the number of commissioners. But this is going to be for us, for the existing member states, to solve. 

I think we also have to find a new format. Somebody talked about imagination. We need to be very creative. You know, we don't have to stick to the existing models necessarily. We have to find other ways to accommodate new member states and maybe a different path, not path, but a different pace for each of them according to their capacities. 

And then, of course, as we can already see, there will be problems in the agricultural policy, the common agricultural policy for Polish farmers, for Bulgarian farmers, for French farmers, so that will also be an issue.

And then, I think also the budget because some member states who are actually recipients will become net contributors. 

Yeah, and so that's going to be a sock to some of them, and we will have to finance funds to the new member states, and that's going to be a lot of money.

Agenda Pública
More in line with the security aspect, given the geo-strategic importance of the European Union as a whole, what role do you see Europe playing in the crisis between Israel and Palestine?

Sylvie Kauffmann
Oh no role at all, and that’s really a pity. We are unable to, so far, we are unable to agree among ourselves. We have too many different outlooks on this crisis and different sensitivities. So, that’s really a pity, so we really have to work hard on this, because this is a big crisis. 

Arancha González Laya is the Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po. Previously, she served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain.

Agenda Pública
What concrete changes do you think we would see in European foreign policy with the adoption of qualified majority voting?

Arancha González Laya 
I think we need to approach this as a two-dimensional discussion. The first is about what kind of institutional changes are needed. And, what we know is that the treaties were wise enough to include the number of changes that could be adopted to simplify decision making. 

But there is another part that also needs to be improved, which is the culture, the culture of working together, the cultural of paying attention to the sensitivities of the different member states, the culture of building a more solid European position. And these two are things the member states need to be ready to work on together. 

In any event, decision making in the European Union has to be, in a way, modified, to accommodate the fact that we will have more members in the European Union, and we need also to improve the manner in which the EU decides.

Agenda Pública
Regarding how the European Union has been responding to the situation in Ukraine, do you see any similarities with how the EU has been approaching the conflict that is happening now in Israel and Palestine?

Arancha González Laya 
No, I think the two have in common that these are very deeply rooted conflicts. The two have in common that they are in the vicinity of the European Union. The two have in common that we need extraordinary amounts of diplomacy to, in a way, find the spaces to advance them. The two have in common that they have the potential to create havoc. 

And of course, we may not connect the two, but the world out there, especially third countries, do connect the two. 

And connect the manner in which the EU responds to this crisis and look at the manner in which the EU responds to this crisis, and to draw similarities or differences. And if they see differences that are too glaring, then they call this “double standards”. 

We have, in my view in both cases, a necessity and to go back to the respect for international rules, the respect for international law, the respect for the agreements that make for a liberal international community. 

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