The crisis has created doubts that the European Union can complete its historic mission, but this challenge can be met with political leadership
These are trying times for the European Union. The long-lasting crisis in the eurozone has created new doubts about its vitality. Unlike earlier versions of euroscepticism, the present doubts do not relate to the extent and pace of European integration, but to a fundamental question: Is the EU capable of meeting the challenges of our time?' Or will it, as remarked by the French political scientist Dominique Moisi, turn into a "large Venice" – a city with magnificent history and a splendid attraction for tourists, but with low vitality and economic dynamism?
Consequently, three strategic tasks are of critical importance: the EU must put its financial house in order; it must define its foreign policy with a clear sense of priorities; and it must restore the confidence of the European citizens in the European project.
The July meeting of the European Council made a step forward towards the solution of Greece's debt problem. This was achieved by using the European Financial Stability Facility more robustly and by including private sector creditors in the picture. However, the respite may not last very long. Measures to deal with sovereign debt issues will have to be addressed more comprehensively, and as already proposed, this will probably require the launching of Eurobonds to be issued by the EU.
Member states will have to decide about the prospect of the EU as a fiscal union. In addition to this, moreover, the required increase in competitiveness will need a strengthened legal system and additional policy measures. The task of finalising the single market, adopted by the European Commission last year through the Single Market Act, will have to be put on the front-burner. Institutional optimism – so central in the EU's DNA – is tested today primarily in the areas of finance and the single market.
Assuming that the EU demonstrates its ability to move ahead in these areas, it will also need to bring greater clarity with regard to its foreign policy priorities. These are difficult to maintain at a time of dramatic changes in the Arab world. The current search for a meaningful formula for resumption of the Middle East peace process and Palestinian statehood has presented the EU with an opportunity to show initiative and creativity. Irrespective of the inherent risks, EU engagement is welcome and, even, natural.
However, it should not shift attention from the key priorities, which have to remain clear and attended to – the Eastern partnership and the development of strategic cooperation with Russia, and further enlargement with the countries of the Western Balkans. The latter priority will require strong diplomacy in dealing with the variety of political problems of a region in the middle of Europe, where the political situation is still fragile and the region's European perspective remains the main factor in the irreversibility of peace.
Financial and foreign policy issues are intensely political in nature, and cannot be dealt with effectively as a matter of technical expertise and bureaucratic sophistication. The EU needs a strong recommitment of its political class to the European project. Hesitations in dealing with the issues of sovereign debt have created space for doubts, and recurrent talk about the possibility of the collapse of the Euro system has strengthened speculations about the EU's general decline.
In the EU neighbourhood, most particularly in the Balkans, there are growing doubts about the will of the EU to complete its historic mission. These kinds of political challenges cannot be addressed from below, through civil society movements. They require a clear identification of objectives and demonstration of the will to achieve them. This can come only from above. There is no substitute for political leadership.Danilo Türk is President of Slovenia. This article first appeared in PublicServiceEurope.com's sister publication Public Service Review: European Union