As the world enters the 21st century, Europe finds itself at a crossroads: to sell national sovereignty in trade for European unity. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which coincided with Brexit, the European Union’s member states have found themselves questioning if the Union is working for them.
Why do member states remain in the EU? What are the incentives of membership? What does federalisation look like in the European Union? Should the Union attempt to be a world player against the global powers? What will the current nation states look like in the EU?
Jan Macháček introduced the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš. Mr. Babiš opened up the conference describing the insecurities that Czechia has with the EU calling it “not the EU I wish to be part of,” and generally pointing out its flaws. Then the Vice President of the European Parliament, Dita Charanzová, gave way to introducing Former Prime Minister of Belgium and European Parliament Member Guy Vershofstadt to answer a series of questions.
Mr. Verhofstadt covered in these questions what a federalised European Union looks like, critiques of the Union’s current state, the future of the EU’s neighbours in the modern age, and how a multi-speed Europe is not sustainable. Verhofstadt also called to bolster European industries and markets to make the EU a competitive power on the world stage.
Then there was a group discussion with Ms. Charanzová, Mr. Verhofstadt, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Member of the Cabinet for the Czech Republic Jan Kohout, and State Secretary of European Affairs for the Czech Republic Milena Hrdinková.
They gathered to discuss the overall primacy of EU law over national law, specifically in reference to Poland. A deeper debate continued about the reasoning as to why the United Kingdom decided on Brexit. On top of this, the speakers discussed the European single market and where the EU needs to focus its efforts to compete in the global economy. The conversation then shifted to discussing the European Green Deal and the reality of implementing it across Europe. Green Deal’s relation to the economic turmoil with energy prices and the general economic dismay with the COVID-19 pandemic was further discussed.
However, much like the questions with Mr. Verhofstadt, the conversation led to European federalisation, which showed a greater scope of this particular problem. Ms. Hrdinková said that “the question really is how do we get member states closer,” when referring to the issues the EU faces when acting as a centralised power.
The conversation concluded with the audience’s questions that focused on this centralisation of power for the European Union and the recurring issue of the day: its federalisation. This issue, the unanimity within the European Council, and a quicker way to establish foreign policy were considered the most significant downfall of the EU, according to Ms. Charanzová.
The session ended with the knowledge that the EU has ways to go when deciding which direction to move forward. However, it surely should be reassuring to EU citizens to see how faithful these leaders are to making the Union a better place.