By Anders Fogh Rasmussen
On 25 March the EU celebrates its 50th birthday. On that date in 1957, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Rome Treaty, which for many years constituted the framework for the Common Market that subsequently became the EEC and now the EU. It is a birthday that it worth celebrating. For this European community has ensured freedom, peace and progress for Europe. The Europe that over the centuries has been ravaged by devastating wars.
It was visionary European politicians who in the 50s - on the ruins of a bombed-out Europe – put forward the idea of preventing any future wars by binding together the countries of Europe in an economic and political community that would make everybody realise the folly of once again engaging in mutually destructive conflicts.
And the project proved successful. Our generations have experienced the longest period of peace in the history of Europe. Not only do we live together in peace and harmony, the altogether decisive point is that the peoples of Europe have won freedom and democracy. After the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the former Communist dictatorships were transformed into new democracies. And in 2002, at the EU summit in Copenhagen it was decided to enlarge the EU with ten new democracies from Eastern and Central Europe. It meant that one of the darkest chapters of the history of Europe was finally closed. We have again achieved a whole and undivided Europe.
The EU is the greatest peace-keeping project in world history. EU cooperation has eliminated the totalitarian ideologies and replaced them by democracy. EU cooperation has dismantled borders, trade barriers and distrust among people and instead fostered collaboration, free trade and trust. Where Europe was formerly divided and at war against itself, we stand united today. We also stand united on combating wars and conflicts in other parts of the world.
Just imagine what Europe would have looked like today if we, 15 years ago, had left the Eastern European countries to fend for themselves at the very moment when they had shaken off the burden of Communism? There could be reason to fear that their development towards political freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and market economy would have been delayed, and that nationalist trends would have prevailed, if they had not had the altogether decisive perspective of EU membership.
Naturally, we must not forget to also pay tribute to the USA for the fact that Europe is free and democratic today. However, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the EU cooperation, we may also congratulate ourselves on having learned the lesson of the mistakes of the past and on having initiated successful cooperation that continues to achieve significant results for the benefit of Europe’s citizens.
The EU holds principal responsibility not only for securing freedom and peace as well as growth and prosperity in Europe. Over the last 20 years, we have also seen the development of the internal market, the single currency and the huge enlargement with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. These are all of them major EU projects that have improved the everyday lives of Europe’s citizens.
We must recognise, however, that during the last few decades, the EU has been preoccupied with its own development. Five new treaties in less than 20 years. And from 12 to 27 Member States within the same period of time. It is not really strange that many citizens have a feeling that the EU has been more a matter of institutions, procedures and articles than of specific initiatives for the benefit of the citizens.
But it has been a necessary development in order to reach the point where we are today.
Just take a look at the internal market, which today is the altogether pivotal point of the cooperation. Indeed, it is to a very great extent the internal market that binds together the European countries. Today, even the strongest EU opponents support the internal market. As a matter of fact, the results speak volumes. Operating on a level playing field, our enterprises have access to almost 500 million potential customers. Ordinary consumers and citizens experience a much greater array of goods. Competition is the best guarantee of quality and low prices regarding both goods and services. We see it among other things in connection with the cheap airfares and the lower price of telephone calls that have enabled close cross-border connections in Europe.
Since the establishment of the internal market, more than 2.5 million jobs have been created. During the decade from 1993 to 2003, total European gross domestic product grew by no less than EUR 165 billion. That is a convincing result. Admittedly, former EU Commission President Jacques Delors once said that you can’t fall in love with the internal market, but you would have to be more than usually cold-blooded not to be impressed by these results regarding Europe’s growth and employment rates.
At the moment, the Danish upswing is sustained among other things by several thousand craftsmen from especially Poland. Without their contribution, the shortage of labour would have affected us earlier, and might have curbed parts of the upswing. It would be almost impossible to find a craftsman. And the risk of huge price increases would be imminent. This is a concrete example showing that the enlargement and the free movement of labour as ensured by the internal market are of great significance to all of us.
In the years ahead, we must develop the EU cooperation further. We must base our future efforts on the exceptional results we have achieved over the last 50 years. The EU must continue to represent the strategy of ”Achieving Europe”. But we must innovate the strategy. Progress in the European cooperation will not take the form of big projects, but will show in the total of many small, but for the individual European, very important decisions.
The success of the EU cooperation will to a large extent be measured by the degree to which it contributes to improving and simplifying everyday life for the citizens of Europe. This applies to the array of goods at our local supermarket, the conditions for marketing Danish exports abroad, the opportunities to study at universities, and to obtain medical assistance free of charge or partly free of charge if we meet with an accident while in another EU Member State.
The three most important tasks are to empower Europe to promote growth and employment in the future. To ensure the safety and security of citizens regarding cross-border problems such as terrorism, illegal immigration, as well as environmental and climate protection. And lastly, to strengthen the ability of the EU to pursue the interests of Europeans on the international stage.
I believe that these tasks are very important for the populations’ impression of the EU as a community that achieves results and engages in the problems that are of importance to the citizens of Europe.
Nevertheless, on an occasion like this, I will allow myself to look into the crystal ball. What kind of Europe do I hope and believe we will see in a 20-year perspective?
* We will see that it has become much more of an everyday event for European citizens to make use of the freedom of movement which the EU guarantees. Future generations will grow up in a borderless Europe with a great many more opportunities. We will see labour move to where the good jobs and exciting challenges are to be found. People will settle in areas that match their lifestyles. There will be more exchange programmes for students to study abroad. And more Danish teaching and research staff will fill positions at educational establishments throughout Europe, concurrently with improved credit transfer and more transparent competition among EU universities.
* We will see a more dynamic and effective EU in key areas, where the citizens’ justified demands and expectations regarding these areas must be met – this applies in particular to the fight against terrorism and organised crime. It applies to more European efforts in emergency situations, and it applies to civil protection both in and outside Europe, when there are not enough resources at national level. A common European energy policy for the purpose of ensuring fair prices, more use of renewable energy sources and security of supply as well as a liberalised energy market internally in the EU. The EU is a global driving force in terms of ensuring environmentally sustainable development.
* The EU will have developed a market-based agricultural policy, which means that farmers will work on market terms like all other trades and industries. The common agricultural policy will have been abolished and replaced by far less expensive support schemes in favour of nature conservation, regional development, tourism, retraining and education programmes for the rural population, etc. Research and development, the fight against terrorism and crime, military cooperation and structural funds will subsequently become the heaviest items in the EU budget.
* We will have developed a much stronger common foreign and security policy. And the defence policy cooperation will empower the EU to play an active role as a peace-creating and peace-keeping actor. Not by means of an EU military capability – but by means of forces made available on a voluntary basis by the individual Member States. At global level, greater importance will be attached to the voice of the EU – also with respect to political issues. The EU as a whole has the largest economy in the world, which means that we in the EU will want to have political influence that is as a minimum equal to that of the USA and Asia.
* The EU will have become enlarged with the countries in the Balkans, and will thus have contributed to closing yet another dark chapter in the history of Europe. Perhaps also the Norwegians and Icelanders will have decided to join us. We will have developed very close neighbourhood cooperation with the EU’s other European neighbours. I dare not predict whether Turkey will have become a member of the EU. It depends among other things on whether Turkey decides to implement the necessary 80,000 pages of EU legislation and thereby change Turkish society with a view to meeting European standards. If Turkey meets all the necessary conditions, and provided all EU Member States are agreed, Turkey may be a member of the EU in 20 years. If not, Turkey and the EU will in all circumstances share a very close partnership. For it is in the interests of both the EU and Turkey.
* The EU will be a strong international trade organisation, acting as a driving force for the purpose of fostering free trade globally. With continued globalisation, the competition from China and India, etc. – and probably also with regard to countering protectionist trends in third countries – the role of the EU in the area of trade policy will be of even greater importance to economic growth in Denmark. International division of labour and specialisation will increase over the next 20 years. As a small, open economy with altogether predominant expertise in service, high technology and know-how products, Denmark will be entirely dependent on the ability of the EU to secure fair rules on the global market. Especially through the World Trade Organization, the WTO, and bilateral agreements with third countries regarding Danish exports.
* We will see the Transatlantic Marketplace – a transatlantic free trade zone between the EU and the USA. Protectionist forces on either side of the Atlantic will have been defeated and come to realise that their fight was in vain. Free trade is the only viable path to secure a competitive economy and increased prosperity. The free trade zone will develop rapidly and will constitute the world’s most dynamic economic powerhouse. Transatlantic relations will be closer than ever before. The more prominent role of the EU at global level will not have intensified competition between Europe and the USA, but will have made us equal partners with shared interests. Like the USA, the EU will be able to act militarily in international crisis areas.
The 50th birthday of the EU will to some extent be characterised by the current discussion about a new treaty. However, in the larger historical perspective, it is a less important issue compared with the unique results that the EU has achieved since 1957. As always during its 50-year history, the Member States of the EU will find solutions and compromises for the cooperation to continue.
So I am an inveterate optimist. Future prospects look promising. The main direction of European development implies greater freedom and more options for people. For us as Danes, our views and positions will carry more weight in Europe. For us as Europeans, we will have greater influence on global developments.