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E. Hennicot-Schoepges: Address to World Summit 2015

Address to World Summit 2015, Seoul, Korea, August 27 to 31, 2015

Many challenges are facing Europe at this very moment. First of all, we have to look at the continent as a whole, including Russia and the former Soviet republics, the Balkans and the southern Mediterranean area. The European Union, including 28 Member States, has been a success story, preserving peace until now and based on solidarity, a common space of justice, protecting human rights and the common values of the Union.

Only 10 years ago main initiatives happened, such as the enlargement, joining 13 new Member States to the 15 existing. The common currency is not yet common to all the Member States. Within the Union there are still too many differences; considering the living standards of the population, tax regulations, the unification is not yet consolidated, so the first challenge of the EU is to reach the goal of unity in diversity.  We are still under way in healing the wounds of the Second World War, learning the lessons and the history and standing to our responsibility toward Jewish people.

Unity in diversity, however, is a true challenge for national governments and for the common European institutions. The slowdown of economic development created serious troubles for keeping the balance of the common currency. The final resolutions of these last months about the problems of Greece ended in a large debate about solidarity.

A main challenge will be solidarity within the EU as well as with neighboring countries. Attitudes have to change in this respect: overwhelming materialism kills compassion. Solidarity is written in the treaties and has to be implemented.

Unemployment is a big problem; leaving young people without the perspective of an independent professional future generates extremism and populism.

The plan of my compatriot Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to mobilize 315 billion euros in order to attract new investments in the economy and to launch employment initiatives gives hope.

The financial crises and the mechanisms that paved the way to the breakdown of the banking systems unveiled a kind of casino capitalism. Some of the products, such as credit default swaps, should be prohibited. Ethics in business have to be promoted as a real value.

President Juncker's vision of better cooperation in the European defense policy should be considered as increasing the European responsibility and reinforcing the cooperation with NATO. Compulsory military service has been abolished in most of the Member States; an opportunity of teaching young people the values of civil service for the whole community disappeared. This could become a new tool for learning about all the needs of a society, stimulating the awareness of the differences within the population in order to promote solidarity as a process of learning by doing.

The next years will tell us if there will be a "common house" in Europe, quoting Mikhail Gorbachev’s speech before the Council of Europe in 1989. Last week he was warning in the German magazine Der Spiegel that there could be a third World War, a nuclear one, if the problems in Ukraine turned wrong.

This is, indeed, the biggest political challenge for the EU: the capacity of peacekeeping with the neighbor country Ukraine and the handling of the sanctions against Russia. Solidarity with the people from the neighbor states is to be better promoted through the existing European programs.

The explosive relations with Russia have shown the weakness of a common diplomacy, as commercial interests and the dependence on the import of gas and oil were interfering. Too late a response to the Russian violation of international and EU agreements has been formulated. The Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine was the moment to better prepare following steps. 

The biggest challenge, however, is the integration of refugees. The EU has to secure its outside borders by reinforcing Frontex, and taking strong measures against criminals exploiting human misery. Human traffickers are to be punished. While preventing illegal immigration, a common asylum policy has to be implemented. A European initiative for refugee camps at the borders should prevent a humanitarian catastrophe when winter comes.

Development policies in Africa are to be reinforced; the debt of colonization has to be paid!

All this needs the good will and the active participation of the whole population, which is to be convinced by its political leaders.

And this might be the biggest challenge for the EU: the crises of democracy.

Two World Wars with millions of deaths started on the European continent due to the weakness of its political leaders. This should not happen again.

For more information about the World Summit, click here.