Crisis and citizens’ trust
“Results equal trust in Europe,” says Thorning-Schmidt
By Gaspard Sebag | Tuesday 24 April 2012
Concerned with the declining level of citizen trust in the European Union during the economic crisis, the European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, invited the presidents of the EU’s three major institutions to a seminar, on 24 April, to reflect on this issue. According to Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, concrete results at EU level are key. European Parliament President Martin Schulz believes that the non-existent division of powers at European level is one of the reasons. Commission President José Manuel Barroso thinks that more leadership at all levels and ownership of the European project is necessary.
“This crisis does not have an institutional answer,” according to Thorning-Schmidt. She believes the only possible answer is to deliver “concrete results that make a real difference to the lives of citizens”. “European results equal trust in Europe,” she stated. The Danish premier cited the roaming directive and improving the single market as examples of concrete results. Other areas where she believes the EU has to push forward are jobs and growth.
On that point, Schulz wholeheartedly agrees, pleading for “a focused employment policy”. He believes EU leaders are responsible for the Union’s loss of credibility in the eyes of citizens due to double standards. The EP president highlights that, on the one hand, the heads of state or government were ready to mobilise enormous amounts of money to shore up the banking system but not to tackle youth unemployment. Barroso also threw the blame at the member states’ doorstep. “Who is the face of Europe?” he asked. “It is the Commission. So we get a lot of blame.” Unfairly so, he considers, arguing that the economic crisis, far from being imputable to the EU, stems from “irresponsible behaviour of some governments which accepted highly unsustainable levels of debt and also irresponsible behaviour in the financial sector”.
In contrast with Thorning-Schmidt, Schulz does see an institutional answer to the absence of public trust. In his opinion, in the past decades and still today there has been and still is a case for transferring more powers at the European level but, in order to be legitimised, this has to be accompanied by a division of powers, which he believes is currently non-existent. Schulz argues, for example, that the next president of the European Commission should be elected by the EP and that the race for that position has politicised. “In that way the Commission will become a government without necessarily using that term,” says Schulz.
If that becomes the case it may well fill in one of the gaps Barroso identified. “Europe can only be built in terms of confidence if leaders have the courage to stand for it, to defend it,” he said. “The missing link here is leadership at all levels, ownership of the project and, at same time, political determination to defend these values,” concluded the EU executive chief.