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Europe cannot afford to look inwards in 2014

Written by Mikaela Gavas, Kevin Watkins


2014 is the year of decisions in Europe. Between 22 and 25 May, elections will be held across the 28 European member states to elect a new European Parliament. As soon as the parliamentarians come to office, they will need to elect the new European Commission President and decide on whether or not to approve the new Commission.

What can we expect of Europe and its new leadership? An inward-looking assemblage of nation states, focused on domestic problems rather than global problems? Or an outward-facing and united community, working globally for the common good?  

Clearly, this year of change comes against the backdrop of a EU that is still struggling to emerge from a crisis, with 26 million people out of work. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU increased from 114 million in 2009 to 124 million. Unsurprisingly, tackling unemployment was the main topic of discussion for the first European Commission presidential candidates’ debate on 28 April. There are also other important issues on the agenda, like managing public finances, and adjusting to a rapidly greying population

Yet beyond its borders, violent conflict is raging, from the Central African Republic, to Syria, to the Ukraine, affecting more than 1.5 billion people globally, at a cost of around 30 years of GDP growth on average. Catastrophic global temperature rises and increased frequency of extreme weather events will have a serious impact on populations and countries everywhere. And more than a billion people still live in extreme poverty, on less than $US 1.25 per day, whilst half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just 1% of the population.

The spill-over of all this will have a direct impact on the EU and its citizens, on Europe’s economic growth and investment, on its security, migration and asylum policies.

Europe cannot afford to ignore these issues. Peace, prosperity and sustainability in the world as a whole are essential if Europe is to thrive. This is a message driven home by the report of an Independent Vision Group on European Development Cooperation, chaired by Baroness Margaret Jay. It argues that success in the future will be shaped by how Europe deals with three global challenges:

  1. The challenge of building a world economy which creates livelihoods for all – an inclusive globalization which allows people everywhere to fulfill their aspirations, providing opportunities for poor countries to eliminate extreme poverty in all its dimensions, and fulfill the right to education, jobs, health and livelihood, for all;
  2. The challenge of sustainability, dealing with climate change, but also protecting water supplies, air quality, oceans, forests and biodiversity, in a planet increasingly threatening to overstep the planetary boundaries;
  3. The challenge of security, whether tackling violence in all its forms, building defences against natural disasters, or protecting everyone from financial, food or fuel shocks that undermine welfare and reverse progress – for households as well as for nations.

Europe brings multiple assets to work on all three of these issues: its own experience, its position as the largest market in the world, its role in international negotiations, and the financial resources available to the EU. But for it to lead, Europe needs the right people in the new posts. When the European Parliament ratifies the new Commission, at some point between June and October, it must set the highest standards and be ruthless in demanding people of the calibre these posts require. Even more important, however, is the right vision: values-led, global in scope, and ambitious about the potential of working as one. 

The Independent Vision Group, chaired by Baroness Margaret Jay of the UK, consists of experienced leaders from eight countries and of varied political persuasions. Kevin Watkins represents the United Kingdom.