Together for the Future of Europe’ was the first in a new series of webinars hosted by the European Parliament’s Former Members’ Association. Distinguished panellists debated how the European Union should navigate the horizon of challenges it faces – many significantly exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, FMA President and European Parliament Former President, emphasised that the dignity of the human being must remain the EU’s starting point when discussing its future. As the primacy of human dignity is the foundation from which the architecture of Europe has evolved, Pöttering added it is this principle which will underpin Europe’s continued development as a values-based community.

Europe’s founding principles are at risk, and our democratic values are being weakened, said Jürgen Martens, President of the European Liberal Forum. Martens cited Russia’s belligerence in Belarus as an example of the need for the EU to quickly develop a more robust Common Foreign and Security Policy. Broadening the list of belligerents to the much-discussed digital Chinese digital threat, Mikulas Dzurinda, President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, called for Europe to become pharmaceutically independent of China and said that every dictatorship has its limits.

Acknowledging that his own region of Central and Eastern Europe must improve its democratic quality and enhance the rule of law, Dzurinda identified four key challenges for Europe: the creation of new, quality job as AI and robotics are deployed; preparation for fiscal consolidation after the COVID19 crisis; adherence to the rule of law; and subsidiarity as a means for promoting the reform of Europe.

Asked about the potential for creating a European army, Dzurinda said this was possible and desirable – a position strongly supported by Hans-Gert Pöttering. He said today’s hard-won peace is dependent on common values; values which are threatened by populist movements within the EU, and malignant state actors adding fuel populist causes from outside Europe’s borders.

Maria João Rodrigues, President, Foundation for European Progressive Studies spoke emphatically in favour of new own resources for Europe, including new types of taxes – the burden of which, she said, should not fall directly on Europe’s citizens, but on large corporations which currently do not pay their fair share.

If Europe is to succeed for the next generation, Rodrigues said the Social Pillar must be advanced; focusing on social needs is a clear means to bind Europe’s citizens as a community of values. She added that when dealing with China and the United States, the EU should not seek to acquiesce, but to come to the table with our own preferred values.

Susanne Rieger, Co-President, Green European Foundation, echoed Rodrigues’ call for new social dynamics, but called for a greater voice to be given to civil society as a means to improve EU policy making and to engage citizens in a meaningful and visible way. Rieger pointed to the Green Deal as an encouraging opportunity to reshape Europe’s future labour markets, and as a means by which Europe can maximise its leadership of sustainable international trade.

The panel was joined by Renaud Dehousse, President of the European University Institute. Dehousse compared the COVID19 crisis with the 2008 economic crisis. This comparison drew several insights from the panel, highlighting the initial selfishness of Member States at the beginning of each crisis, but the rapid reversal of attitudes in 2020 as the fast-moving COVID challenge was met with a single-minded communitarian plan.

Several panellists spoke about the need to build on this experience and to learn lessons which will ensure that future crises are met with regional cooperation, rather than the closure of national borders, and the broad-sweep actions which damaged Europe’s economy and political unity. It is, they observed, a moment to learn, to advance and to prepare.

The webinar launched a new long-term co-operation between the FMA, European Political Foundations and the European University Institute. The series will see initiatives examining the short and long-term implications of the COVID crisis for the European project, encouraging an open debate on the key challenges. The aim is to open up the debate, deepening discussion on the various guiding themes in the following sessions.

The event was supported by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) with background information and insights linked to the guiding themes of this event. Resource links are available on our website and on our Facebook event page.