MEPs debated about the future of Europe on the occasion of Europe Day on 9 May
Parliament debated the achievements and above all the challenges facing the EU in the midst of the current crisis on the occasion of Europe Day on 9 May. This is in honour of a historic declaration by French minister Robert Schuman in 1950, which paved the way for the EU. In the debate led by president Martin Schulz, speakers agreed the Union and its common currency are being challenged like never before, with some asking for more Europe and others insisting on less austerity.
The quiet revolution
EP president Martin Schulz called for courage in the face of the crisis, reminding everyone that Europe was built in "a quiet revolution" in the aftermath of a war between its nations. "Yet why is the current crisis, like a centrifugal force, driving us apart rather than binding us more closely together?" he asked. He warned the euro was in danger of becoming "a symbol of national egotisms or even division". Mr Schulz said that if budget discipline is essential, so is growth: "Only together can we act to prevent the economic decline of Europe and halt unemployment." Europe Day was a great occasion to reflect on where we have come from and what has been achieved, because our history is a warning to defend our achievements.
Need for growth
Joseph Daul, the French leader of the Christian-Democrat group, emphasised that reducing debt and stimulating growth should not be considered separately: investments in growth cannot be made by increasing expenditure. Instead, he said, we should aim to achieve growth by making our economies more competitive. This can be done through completing the single market, investing in research and development, reducing red tape and freeing up SMEs.
Hannes Swoboda, the Austrian leader of the Social-Democrat group, referred to the results of the Greek elections: "People from Greece try to fight against the social injustices and they do not understand the necessary reforms." He said there was a need to think about the construction and reconstruction of Europe: "The austerity budget is undermining public investment instead of creating growth and jobs, especially for young people who are the victims of mass unemployment."
Call for federalism
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the Liberal-Democrat group, called for federalism in Europe: "Europe has been pushed to the margins of the world, with a slowing economy and an ageing population in a world that is getting younger. It has no ambition, no roadmap and no hope. European federalism is the only way out.” Talking about concrete economic measures, he proposed increasing the capital of European Investment Bank as well as introducing project bonds and mutualising debt.
Listening to the people
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the French co-chairman of the Green group, warned that we should not underestimate the results of the recent elections in Greece, France and the rest of the EU: "If Europe is to be democratic, it has to respond to people's fears." He said simply answering there is no alternative to current policies was risky. "Be very careful: if we say there is no other solution, people will find other solutions and sometimes they are dreadful. Democracy is about looking for alternatives."
Martin Callanan, the British leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said the world had moved on from the time of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, but that in many areas the EU had not. Rather than claiming to have all the answers, the EU should in his view embrace small government, cut red tape for small business and trust the people to know what is right for them. Europe should be built on the principles of liberty, national democracy and entrepreneur-driven growth. It should do less but do it better.
Nigel Farage, the British leader of the Europe of freedom and democracy Group, said Europe suffered from economic failure, massive unemployment, low growth and the pressure of the euro. He added: "All has gone badly wrong in the EU - the Titanic has hit the iceberg". Referring to the elections on 7 May, he said: "A democratic rebellion has begun although what happened last Sunday in Greece has been reminiscent of the German elections in 1932." He concluded: "We must break the Eurozone, we must build a new Europe based on trade."
Patrick Le Hyaric, the French vice-chairman of the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left, said that new policies were needed otherwise Europe would risk implosion. He stressed that lessons needed to be learnt: in several countries in Europe parties supporting austerity lost out in elections. The will of the Greek people looking for a new path should be respected and the Troika memorandum abandoned. Mr Le Hyaric added that the EU needed growth, social and development programmes and a new role for the European Central Bank to improve purchasing power.