As Europe's leaders gather in Portugal to put the finishing touches on the new, slimmed down Reform Treaty, it might be helpful if they all pretended that the last 50 years of European integration had never taken place.
Let's then imagine what Europe needs to do to confront its most pressing challenges, especially if it were able to do so without the political constraints of 50 years of EU deal-making and ramshackle institution-building.
On top of that, let us make a major leap of imagination and suppose that even though this scenario of the EU at "Year Zero" means we would not have a half-century of intra-European cooperation to draw on, the nations that today make up the EU would nevertheless be keen to adopt far-reaching joint policies.
Let's suspend our disbelief, then, and try to imagine what Europe could and should be doing to tackle some of the most far-reaching and obstinate policy challenges that will determine whether the next 50 years are as constructive as the last. Or, to put it another way, let's look at our problems in the light of the EU's existing mechanisms and its potential for creating far-reaching new policies, and then let's ask ourselves why the EU isn't realizing its own potential and delivering the goods.
Broadly, we see three areas in which Europe's policymakers at both the national and EU levels can do better: global challenges where Europe could show greater leadership, the creation and strengthening of human capital within the EU and worldwide, and improvement in the effectiveness of the EU's own political machinery.
Europe needs a clearer and more recognizable global agenda. It needs to build substantially on its leadership on climate change by adopting much tougher EU goals, and then use its international economic and trade clout to champion new global emissions standards that scientific opinion can accept as meaningful.
On conflict and security issues, Europe should be advancing to a new phase in which it takes much clearer and unambiguous positions on issues ranging from nuclear proliferation to sanctions against Burma's military regime. The purpose must be to establish Europe as a forceful and fair-minded player on the world stage, rather than as a "broad church" in which different viewpoints coexist.
The aim should be that "soft power" instruments like EU development aid and economic partnerships would be linked with a growing sense of political and security outreach to ensure Europe is a global player to be reckoned with. That means, of course, that the EU should seek to widen its transatlantic thinking so that the EU and the US cooperate more closely on defining -- and thus protecting -- their common interests in a world where together they account for little more than 10 percent of the total population.
These points are far from a blanket criticism of the EU's efforts to create a common foreign and security policy. But they are intended to underline what many people in Europe know very well, which is that the speed with which problems concerning international development and conflict are growing easily outpaces the EU's policy responses so far.
Building more human capital in Europe and worldwide is a crucially important element in future EU activities. Education is by far the most profitable investment Europe can make, so it should be launching its most ambitious strategy ever to create a new knowledge dynamic and employment inside the EU while helping to expand greatly education in the world's poorest countries.
Europe also must at last grasp the nettle of immigration policy -- something that has persistently eluded generations of political leaders. Agreed EU-wide immigration rules are needed to reconcile shrinking Europe's hunger for imported labor with widespread fears of cultural tensions and social unrest. It won't be easy to create a fairer and more multicultural Europe, but failure to address this problem openly will carry an even heavier price.
By much the same token, Europe's governments should be making a determined new effort to strengthen Europeans' sense of a shared history and common values. A stronger European identity is the soundest basis for creating the more multicultural society that demographers regard as inevitable.
Meanwhile, doubts still surround the political and institutional machinery the EU will need to realize these and other ambitious goals. Sighs of relief greeted EU leaders' mid-year agreement on a reform treaty aimed at overhauling the union's decision-making mechanisms, but it is still uncertain whether the new pact will survive the ratification process in 27 countries.
We believe, though, that the increased use of qualified majority voting by member governments embodied in the new treaty should also be applied to the ratification process itself.
That way, if a small minority of EU governments prove unable to ratify the treaty, it would not be torpedoed the way that its predecessor, the Constitutional Treaty, was in 2005.
Jacques Delors is a former president of the European Commission. Etienne Davignon is a former vice president of the European Commission.
Copyright Project Syndicate/Europe's World
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