"There is a positive mood in the public opinion towards the European Union as a whole." Live from RiskMinds International 2017, Guy Verhofstadt – Brexit Negotiator for the European Parliament & Former Belgian Prime Minister – speaks to Joanna Simpson about the most recent developments in the Brexit negotiations, including the necessity for a new and close relationship to ensure the best outcomes for Britain and the EU, and the need to not make sectorial deals. In Europe, he explains; the people do not want to leave, although there is a imperative need for a reformed Union if there are to be any future successes.
The future of Europe
In the week that Brexit negotiations had stalled yet again, Brexit Negotiator for the European Parliament & Former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, outlined his thoughts on the EU project at RiskMinds International 2017 in Amsterdam.
After Brexit, Europhiles held onto their seats as a domino effect seemed almost inevitable. The rising tide of populism seemed poised to do away with the European project.
But more than a year later, it’s clear that the opposite happened. Across several elections, it was the pro-European party that won the vote.
“That doesn’t mean people are less critical about the EU,” warned Guy. “But that they recognised that the EU is the answer to many pressing issues. More people are saying that we need the EU to fix our challenges.”
It’s obvious that the EU needs deep institutional reform, he argued. It was time for it to overcome its bureaucratic burdens.
“You have to ask yourself, how is it possible that, in the US they can take in nine months all the necessary decisions to overcome the financial crisis, while we, after nine years, are still in discussions about the recipes that need to be found,” he stated.
Part of the problem lay in the fact that, unlike the US, the EU wasn’t organised as a “proper federal system”.
“The problem of Europe is still unanimity, whether it’s helping Greece, or Brexit, every time we have a problem, 27 need to agree before we can act. Imagine if, in the US, 50 governors of the 50 states have to come together in Washington several times a year to decide what to do?’
“Europe is working with opt ins, opt outs, and exceptions. Even more complicated than that, member states are not obliged to participate in policies, but non-members can participate. They might not officially be in, but informally they are.”
How should the system work?
This lack of unanimity is the reason that Europe still doesn’t have any unified markets, reasoned Guy.
“Take the capital markets, if you don’t have an integrated mortgage market, you can’t have a capital market in Europe. It’s the same story in the energy market, we do not have the essential grid that is linked between 27 countries, and we still have in our treaties that energy policy is a national policy.”
This had an effect on innovation as well, he argued. “Look at Spotify, they had to set up in the US first because it was too difficult to do it here.”
The answer was for the EU to rid itself of a 27-member style of governance and install a much smaller group.
“We need to have a control on policies by the European Parliament on the one hand, and member states on the other, but in a way that the members cannot block policies that are absolutely needed.” he said.
And he was hopeful this would happen.
“This is the revolution that we are expecting - we’re waiting for Germany to have a Government in place, and then we expect a speeding up of the reform package.
“I’m optimistic that it will happen,” he concluded. “Because if it doesn’t, that will be the return of nationalism and the populist argument. They will win, and they will win stronger unless we fix and reform the EU and create another future for it.”