Europe must undergo profound reform to succeed in the digital, globalized age
Company lawyers understand and appreciate Europe and European policymaking. Their work has clearly been internationalized and Europeanized over the last decade. In this unstable and shifting world of today, it is interesting to reflect upon where Europe is heading, because the world is indeed changing rapidly. Digitalization and globalization affect every nation, their politics and economy, the way we work, the way we live.
Hence the question: How do we cope with these revolutionary developments? And how can the European Union keep up with these rapid changes?
Guy Verhofstadt, Former Prime Minister of Belgium and Chair of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, reflects on the future of the European Union.
GDPR as a protective measure – Europe must increasingly take the lead
Since May, the European Union has a new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is to be directly implemented by all European digital regulators. This is an important milestone, and Europe was the first continent to launch comprehensive and far-reaching legislation to protect the private data of its citizens.
However, the GDPR is a protective measure. It is reactive and defensive in nature, but not pro-active. Yet if the European Union doesn’t go on the offensive on the digital market, they will only fall further behind.
Things have to change
The eurozone needs to be mended to get the European economy back on track. It should no longer divide national economies into good and bad performers, but lift them all up. And for this reason, they also need to speed up the negotiations on the free trade agreements, and include high social and environmental standards that will create more jobs.
Another top priority is a large-scale, comprehensive overhaul of the migration policy. Or better: a unification of our 27 national migration policies. This would result in a common border and coastguard to protect the EU’s external borders. There needs to be a migration policy that has one set of European rules applicable in every member state instead of the 27 different regimes.
Thirdly, Europe needs a defense system which enables it to deal with trouble that crops up in its own backyard, like the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. It needs to create its own European Defence Union by drastically expanding the EuroCorps, unifying chains of command and creating a common military purchasing policy.
It can be done
In the 1980s, Europe was in a very similar situation as the one it is facing today. Eurosclerosis was the buzzword at that time – until the European Commission President Jacques Delors decided to do something about it. Not by pandering to the negative feelings of people, but by strengthening the European Union and making it better and more effective. He launched the internal market.
He got rid of custom duties and border controls within the EU, and he made it possible for service providers to obtain one single license that allowed them to do business anywhere in the union.
Jacques Delors didn’t say: “Oh, people are unhappy with the EU, so we should give up on it.” He said: “People are unhappy with the EU so we should reform it, and make it work again.”
The European Union is the answer – but it must undergo profound reform
Today, we need the same pro-active approach as the one applied by Delors. Globalization is taking place at an accelerated pace. Today, it is the multinationals who take decisions, while our democracies are still largely organized at national level. Europe must be the answer to these challenges. This simply cannot be solved by individual nation states.
To achieve this, the European Union must undergo profound reform so that it will become able to truly benefit from globalization and to minimize the disadvantages.
Guy Verhofstadt, 65, is the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament. He served as prime minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. This contribution is an abridged version of the speech he gave at the ECLA Reception in Brussels in April 2018.