In May this year the elections for the European Parliament will be held in the EU member states. Following this, the president of the European Commission will be appointed by the governments of the member states, followed by the appointment of the EU Commissioners, and eventually the appointment of the president of the European Central Bank.
These new appointments will take place in a year when there is the expectation of a dramatic change in the composition of the European Parliament, with populist parties – or whatever one would like to call them – hoping to make their mark.
Irrespective of the outcome of the European Parliament elections, everything seems to indicate there is the need to evaluate the so-called European project. This is not because the project is flawed, as some people may think. Rather, it is because there is the need to ensure that the European Union remains responsive in an appropriate way to the concerns of the people.
The EU has reinvented itself a number of times since its inception. The fact that it grew from six countries to 28 countries is proof enough of this. What started off as community of six nations has ended up as a union of 28 nations. Of these, 19 have a single currency – the euro. Gradually barriers to the free movement of goods, services, people and capital have been dismantled.
This has brought about an improved standard of living across all member states. Surveys show that in none of the EU member states is there a majority that believes their country would be better off if it were not a member of the European Union.
The issue is not so much because of what is happening within the European Union, but because of what is happening outside the Union and how this is affecting the EU itself. For example, the issue of immigration is outside the EU’s control and the EU can do very little to stem the flow of migrants, other than by pushing them back, which is not acceptable for a significant part of the populations in the member states.
Surveys show that in none of the EU member states is there a majority that believes their country would be better off if it were not a member of the European Union
The same applies to the trade war between the United States and China, or the stand taken by Russia with regard to Ukraine.
The global scenario is very disturbing. In a world where many states are too trigger happy and constantly seeking a confrontational attitude, the EU has always sought to achieve compromise and agreement. This has not always worked to the benefit of EU member states from an economic perspective.
So going back to the appointment of the president of the European Commission following the elections for the European Parliament, there is clearly need for someone to lead the EU forward and maximise its potential as an economic power house. And this on the 20th anniversary of the creation of the euro.
I strongly believe there is one most suitable candidate who can fit this bill. It is Angela Merkel, who is expected to step down as Chancellor of Germany. The manner in which she has led Germany in these past 13 years is indicative of the new impetus she is likely to give to the European project.
In my opinion, she would be most capable to find a balance between the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council. She would also make sure the citizens of the EU member states feel closer to the institutions of the European Union. She would be able to forge agreements between the older members of the EU and those that joined more recently, especially in terms of some thorny social and political issues.
She will also be able to lead the EU governments to come to an agreement on how to address the challenge of sustainable public finances. She is a person who would be listened to on the world’s stage, be it Donald Trump in the US, or Vladimir Putin in Russia, or Xi Jinping in China.
She would make sure that the European ideals of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity, on which the European Union was created, built and developed, remain in the forefront. She will give an impetus to the European economy, like she has done to the German economy, during the worst global recession of the past 80 years.
Would the appointment of Merkel be a good thing for Malta? The party currently in government belongs to the other major political grouping in Europe. Merkel’s party belongs to the European People’s Party, while the Maltese Labour Party belongs to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. However, the political pragmatism that has always distinguished successive Maltese governments in the past three decades could ensure support by Malta for Merkel as president of the European Commission.
The unfolding European scenario over the coming months could indicate to us whether the EU will continue to be the economic power house which it really is. With Merkel as the president of the European Commission, I believe it will.
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