Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, met fierce opposition to his pragmatic vision on Thursday in a round table event on the future of Europe at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We don’t need more Europe — we need a better functioning Europe,” the Dutch prime minister told listeners and fellow panel members in a panel discussion called “Which Europe Now?”, echoing an argument made by former British Prime Minister David Cameron and other conservative European politicians.

Rutte was confronted, however, by an emotional Martin Schulz, the German socialist who stepped down as President of the European Parliament earlier this week.

“Only in strengthening ourselves by combining our economic competencies and capacities are we able to defend our human-values-based society in the 21st century,” Schulz said, voicing disagreement with the Dutch head of government’s assertion that the idea of “an ever-closer union” was dead.

“Could somebody tell me how a single country, in the worldwide competition in which we are living, with perhaps a tendency to protectionism in some important parts of the world, could survive without the European Union?” the former European Parliament president said.

An equally impassioned Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, lamented what he considered to be the “huge lack of trust between nations and within nations,” and which he attributed to, among other factors, the inability for national governments to take responsibility for what happens in Brussels.

“If our societal model is to work for the future, trust is an essential component,” Timmermans hammered. “We need to bring back trust. We can do our part at the European Commission, but it is only a small part, and it will fail if not everyone is on board for this.”

The former parliamentarian and the commissioner were reinforced by Ana Patricia Botin, executive chairman of the Spanish banking group Santander, who urged listeners to move forward with faster and stronger European integration.

“Let’s finish what we have begun,” she appealed, adding that a European banking union was more necessary than ever, and especially after the European banking crisis.

While all the members of the panel agreed with Prime Minister Rutte that Europe needed reforms and practical solutions to its problems, a rare display of unity emerged between representatives of European institutions and the private sector.

Frans Timmermans qualified the central crisis facing Europe today as ideological: between those who want to separate and protect themselves from external problems at the cost of certain freedoms, and those who want to open-up, diversify, and develop greater cooperation to solve problems in partnership.

For his part, Mark Rutte offered three opportunities that he saw as positive for the future of Europe: a deal with north African nations inspired by the EU-Turkey agreement in order to stem irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, the opening of data exchange across borders to help set up the digital single market, and an EU budget favoring innovation and job creation.

To this pragmatic list, Martin Schulz responded that he hoped “all members of national governments and especially the heads of states in governments, take their responsibility as well.”

“The European Union is as strong as the member states allow,” the former President of the European Parliament reminded. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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