Opinion / Fu Jing

EU at a crossroad as members ponder UK situations

By Fu Jing (China Daily) Updated: 2017-06-13 07:25

The European Union is at a crossroad, with member states pondering the twists and turns of the transatlantic relationship, the United Kingdom's departure from the bloc, and a worsening geopolitical environment. Since the astonishing outcome of last year's Brexit vote, the 27 remaining EU member states are debating the bloc's future while sticking together.

In March, the European Commission, the union's executive arm, issued a white paper, presenting five scenarios for the EU's prospects after the Brexit setback-the starting point of the debate. Following that, the EC released four reflection papers on globalization, defense and security, finance and economy and social dimensions of the EU.

The debate will last until 2019, which is the year of election for the EU. The leadership of EU institutions will be streamlined then.

As this peace project faces unprecedented, colossal political challenges, it is understandable that Europeans would step back and think about the way ahead by launching debates on various pressing tasks.

It is encouraging that the EC has not only touched upon the questions and challenges the EU has met but also proposed concrete solutions. Concerns, complaints, populism and isolation rhetoric are widespread today, and the proposed solutions are useful to build trust and consensus for the EU.

But the EU must be cautious about the possible risks if it sticks to the debate and decides to take action later, because it is likely that the bloc will lose the golden window of opportunities by 2020. Now, despite those challenges, the EU has been on a stable economic track and its economic recovery has been gathering steam, which has laid the foundation for launching reform and ushering in changes.

However, some may oppose further actions even if things get better.

So, in reshaping the EU, several things can be done parallelly to speed up the process, though this bloc has to live with a lengthy and time-consuming decision-making process. For example, the EU must rethink its immigration policy and urgently introduce more decisive measures. The EU must focus on peace and development within neighboring economies.

In many countries, especially in France, the UK, Germany and Belgium, the army and police are still patrolling major cities while security alerts remain high. Many places have suffered terrorist attacks on various scales one after another. Measures to ensure lasting security and public safety have to be urgently taken. Too much bottom-up debates on safety issues would be a waste of time, because the EU leadership, governments of member states and EU institutions must shoulder the responsibility to meet those basic needs.

On social dimensions, there are several champions, such as Germany, the Nordic countries and the Netherlands that have maintained robust economic growth, high competitiveness while boosting social inclusiveness.

The EU members should debate each other's models, experiences and secrets of success and put them into practice if necessary. But other things will take time. For example, when it comes to global governance and agenda, the bloc should consider the changed global situation, in that new decision-makers appear on the world stage. The principle of decision-making is changing and the EU is basically heading in the right direction in harnessing globalization by advocating multilateralism.

Therefore, the issue related to the EU's global role should be debated not only within the bloc but also with other stakeholders such as China, African countries and the United States. But the EU should realize it has to embrace the changing world, still feel confident in its soft capabilities and development experiences, and be more determined to improve the world order with the help of the rest of the world.

With the EU completing 60 years (the Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25, 1957), reflections and timely actions are both essential, and in many cases urgent.

The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.

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