Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Divisions within Europe can be overcome

Children line up for food at a makeshift camp for migrants and refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni

By Hans-Gert Pottering and Androulla Vassiliou

Almost everywhere in the EU we see growing doubts about the EU’s capacity to act: in many countries, populist parties are getting stronger. They reject European integration and call for a return of the nation state. The gap between high expectations and the harsh reality has undermined the public support for the European integration project. In particular, during the refugee crisis, the European Union has failed to meet expectations. But does this justify the calls for less Europe?

The terrorist attacks which struck at the heart of Europe were planned across national borders: National actions alone will not counter them effectively. We therefore need a better exchange of information between our intelligence services, as well as a closer cooperation between both police and judicial authorities. International terrorism, the conflicts in our immediate vicinity which are the cause of so much instability and human suffering, and the flow of refugees are problems which no EU member state can tackle on its own.

The refugee crisis is mainly a humanitarian issue which Europe has a moral duty to address. Europe cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of so many people who flee their homes to avoid terror and violence and seek security and a better life in Europe. In any event, the EU has a duty to deal with the question of migration in a spirit of togetherness. In this respect we need the development of a European Asylum System applicable to all.

European citizens justifiably expect the Union to act faster and more flexibly. To this end, we first need to speed up the decision making process in the EU by expanding majority decisions, particularly in the area of foreign and security policy. This is the only way that the union as a whole can act efficiently without always resorting to a “coalition of the willing”. Secondly, the EU should be able to expand its own resources, as to be more flexible in the prevention and management of future crises. In the long term, the European Union should not limit itself to mere crises responses. Rather, it should claim its position in shaping global developments and demonstrate leadership in its immediate neighbourhood.

The basis for this is a unified EU: the division into East and West, North and South which we are currently witnessing, presents a danger to us all. It is therefore of utmost importance that the United Kingdom remains a part of the European Union. And we should never forget that it is our common European Union values that connect us: human dignity, freedom, democracy, peace and the rule of law. We should not waste our energy focusing on our divisions, but to concentrate on making Europe, “the community of destiny”, work again. We have no doubt that Europe can succeed in this.

>Dr Hans-Gert Pottering is chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Androulla Vassiliou is the former EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

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