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Interviews with experts and opinion leaders from our research network
With the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) after World War II, the unification of Europe evolved from the European Economic Community (EEC) into the European Union (EU). The number of EU member countries has expanded to 28, and the EU has overcome various difficulties over its long history. However, recently there has been a growing pessimistic view of the EU through the Euro crisis, with anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiments. In this environment, we’ve invited Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, former President of the European Council and former Prime Minister of Belgium to talk about the EU today and its future.
Herman Van Rompuy was elected as the first full-time President of the European Council in November 2009. In 2012, he was re-elected for a second term starting on 1 June 2012 and running until 30 November 2014. At the time of his first election, Herman Van Rompuy was Prime Minister of Belgium. Prior to that he had served in Belgium as Speaker of the House of Representatives (2007-2008) and in several government positions, including as Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Budget (1993-1999), Minister of State (2004) and Secretary of State for Finance and Small Businesses (1988). He was ennobled by the King in 2015 with the title of Count.
Shirai：The British government formally decided to leave the EU and is proceeding with Brexit negotiations with the EU. What is your opinion on this matter?
Van Rompuy：Brexit is a problem that is largely specific to Britain. Britain has always had a unique relationship with the EU. Britain didn’t join the EU until 1973, 21 years later than the six founding countries: Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries. Then two years after joining the EU, Britain held a referendum on its EU membership. That affirmed Britain’s place in the EU, but such a referendum has only happened in Britain. Britain has now decided to leave the EU, but only by an extremely narrow margin of 52%. We respect the decision of the British voters, even though only a small minority voted for leaving.
We should also note that Britain is neither a member of the Eurozone nor the Schengen Zone, two pillars of the EU. So they have not been at the core of the EU. Of course, Brexit is a sad experience, because in some ways the EU is not seen as an irreversible project anymore. We never thought that an existing member would leave the EU. We’ve always enlarged the EU, even recently. We still have candidate countries, Serbia and Montenegro. And other countries are eager to join the EU, even if they are not applying, like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. It’s sad that Britain is leaving, because it is the world’s fifth largest economy. In 2060, Britain would have become the most populous country in the EU with 80 million inhabitants. It’s a big loss.
Shirai：Considering the preparation and ratifications, the negotiation period for Brexit is short. There are many stakeholders with the European Commission, European Parliament, member countries, and the British government. Britain is also facing internal struggles such as the issue of Scottish independence. Can they agree on terms and conditions in this limited period?
Van Rompuy：We are just starting negotiations. We have to negotiate at least two blocks. The first is separation, or orderly withdrawal. We have 18 months to extricate Britain from its rights and obligations, which have been built over 40 years of close ties.
The first topic will be the legal position of 3.5 million the EU citizens from the continent living in the UK and of 1.2 million Brits living on the continent. It’s absolutely key to give them certainty. Millions of people are uncertain now. Many other problems need to be resolved in those 18 months. If we can agree before the end of 2018, the British Parliament will have to approve the treaty and then the European Parliament. Britain can then leave by the end of March 2019, because a month later there are European elections. I cannot imagine that Britain would organize European elections in 2019, so they need to leave before those elections. That’s a really big task. They will need those full 18 months.
The political situation changed dramatically after the recent elections. There is no majority in the Parliament any more for a hard Brexit where Britain is leaving the single market and the customs union but there is still a strong majority in the ruling Conservative Party for a hard Brexit. This can even end in a collapse of the government and new elections. In the meantime the British people will notice day by day that Brexit bears a cost and is affecting their purchasing power and that jobs are lost. The uncertainty increased after the elections of June.
I know how important this is for Japan. Japan has been a big investor in the UK. I think that many Japanese companies have invested in the UK as some kind of gateway to the rest of the EU. I also know how important trade between the UK and Japan is. So it is important to see what the process will be and how this will work out.
Shirai：How do you think the UK will overcome its internal differences with regard to Scotland’s movement for independence after Brexit?
Van Rompuy：I think what we really have to discuss is the situation in Northern Ireland. You have to realize that there was a civil war there until 20 years ago. Thousands of people were killed. A major part of the peace agreement that ended the war was that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK) no longer had a border, because both of them were in the EU. Now, there will be a border again. This is felt as a new division of the Irelands. If we can’t find a solution in which there is no hard border, tensions will rise and peace is not guaranteed any more. Scotland voted also in favor of remaining in the EU. The Scottish government is striving for a new referendum but opinion polls suggest that there is nowadays no majority for leaving the UK.
Shirai：How do you see the future of UK-EU relationship and the status of the UK after Brexit?
Van Rompuy：Britain will leave, but they still have financial commitments. They are part of the European budget, and they are leaving before the end of a budgetary cycle. The European Commission is evaluating Britain’s commitments at a minimum of €60 billion. During the Brexit campaign, the Brexiteers, as we call them, gave the impression to the British public that Britain would gain in budgetary terms from leaving the EU. Now they have to explain to their people that there is a cost, even it is a one-time expense. The public message is quite difficult.
We also need to negotiate the framework for future cooperation including trade. The British government wants a free trade agreement, like the one we are negotiating with Japan. The EU’s position is united. First, we have to agree on the terms of separation. If sufficient progress is made we can discuss details of our future relationship, including free trade.
If Britain leaves the EU in 2019, they will be out of the single market. At that time, there will not yet be a free trade agreement. We’d still have to negotiate that. It’s a problem for the EU, but it’s a bigger problem for Britain. 45% of British exports go to the EU 27 countries. Only 8% of exports from the EU 27 member states go to Britain. There is an imbalance. We have to find a solution, or Britain will become a third country to the EU as so many others and will fall back to WTO rules. All this will be very harmful for trade.
The most common sense solution to avoid this cliff edge would be staying temporarily in the single market until we have a new agreement on trade. The EU would be agreeable to that. However, Britain would have to respect the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. So then our British friends have a problem. The Brexiteers’ biggest opposition to the EU was with regard to migration, people coming from the EU, and outside the EU, into Britain. There is huge political difficulty for them to accept the free movement of people. I think the British government could extend this transition for two or three years if they accept freedoms in these four areas, but they cannot pick and choose. They would need to accept for a couple of years freedom in all four areas. We would have to agree on this transition, and then we can start negotiations on free trade. But a free trade agreement is not something that you can negotiate in general terms. You have to look what’s happening in the textile industry, what’s happening in the automotive industry, what’s happening in the financial services, and so on. You have to look at tariffs and future tariffs, and what will happen if standards in the UK and the EU diverge. Currently, we have the same standards and are part of a single market. This is a complicated agreement, and a free trade agreement will be less advantageous than membership in the single market. For Britain, there will always be a cost. I hope that we can negotiate in a climate of trust, but trust at this stage is not very high.
I hope that negotiators can create a positive spirit and dynamic. It really all depends on political will. People in the UK thought that the EU would be divided and that it would go in all kinds of directions, that the Germans, French and Italians all have different preoccupations. Yet they have a common stance, and agreement came rapidly in the European Council. The EU 27 are remarkably united, and unity is their top priority. For the British government, unity in the Conservative Party is essential. If the Conservative Party and prime minister get a clear majority, then there is a real chance that the prime minister would have some room to maneuver and convince her own party.
Shirai：So, what are the prospects?
Van Rompuy：If there is a climate of trust and willingness to compromise, we can reach an agreement on the separation treaty, the transition, and after 2019, after Brexit on free trade.
But the process of negotiations can derail at many points, and I will talk about four of them. First, we might not agree on the separation itself, because parts of the British public can’t accept the budgetary bill. People were promised that they would gain by leaving the EU. Second, we might not be able to agree on the transition. Then, we have a huge problem. Third, negotiating a free trade agreement is a long and difficult process.
We are currently negotiating a free trade agreement with Japan. We prepared the negotiation with Prime Minister Noda and started the process in 2013. I still remember the phone call with PM Abe to launch the negotiations. If we can conclude the negotiations this year, it will have taken almost five years.
However, there is a big difference between negotiating with Japan and negotiating with the UK. With the UK, we are already in the single market. We have the same standards. With a third country, like Japan, we need to agree on the convergence of standards in order to organize free trade. So it can be easier with the UK, but still there are a lot of hurdles to clear.
Finally, assuming we can agree on all of this, it still needs to be ratified by all the parliaments in all the countries unanimously, 38 parliaments according to the latest count. In Belgium alone, we need agreement from seven parliaments. I think that the UK and the EU 27 have to be interested in getting a deal. It’s in our common interest.
Shirai：I would like to ask you what you think of the effects of Brexit in terms of the EU’s long history.
Van Rompuy：From a wider perspective, the EU is still a great success. Croatia joined the EU as its 28th member state. Even in the midst of the Eurozone crisis, two Baltic countries, Estonia and Lithuania, joined the Eurozone. If they were not confident about the future of the EU, they never would have applied to become members. Beyond that, the end of the EU has been predicted many times, even in the last year. A few years ago, some in the international press said the Eurozone would certainly implode. Their only question was whether it would be before or after Christmas in 2012. Well, we celebrated Christmas 2016 without any problems. We overcame this existential threat to the Eurozone. We stemmed the massive influx of refugees coming from the Middle East. Populism was beaten in France and Germany. Both were also existential challenges. You have problems in Japan every day. We have our problems in the EU every day, but you have to make a distinction between existential threats and everyday problems.
Shirai：The UK’s decision for Brexit seems like it could have some power and accelerate anti-EU political party activities such as the Five Star Movement in Italy, Alternative for Germany, and the National Front in France. There are things behind this, such as anti-immigration sentiments and unemployment. How can the EU and each country overcome this anti-EU movement?
Van Rompuy：According to analysis, Brexit didn’t increase anti-European feelings. On the contrary, opinion polls show that support for the EU membership increased dramatically after Brexit in nearly all the countries in the EU. We had the banking and Eurozone crises, we had economic crises, we had refugees, we had terrorism, and we had Brexit. People feel uncertain. Leaving the EU just adds instability to instability, and that’s why people want to remain in the EU. Even in France, the support for remaining in the Eurozone is at 75%. In Italy, an overwhelming majority of people want to remain in the EU and the euro area. Even the populists now have doubts about leaving the Eurozone. The leader of the Five Star Movement wanted to join the most pro-European group in the European Parliament. During the Austrian elections, there was a fight between the Green Party candidate, who was supported by the mainstream parties, and an extreme right wing candidate. The right wing candidate was defending himself saying that Austria would remain in the Eurozone. Even in the French elections, the candidate from the National Front started out promoting leaving the Eurozone. Then, she said France needed two currencies, one for internal use and one for international use. That was complete nonsense and she said afterwards that leaving the Eurozone was not a popular theme in France.
Shirai：How should we view anti-EU political parties in each country?
Van Rompuy：After Brexit and rising populism in the Netherlands and France, some thought that this would be the last year for the EU. Well, you saw the results of the Dutch election and the results of the French elections. Two-thirds of the French people voted in favor of a pro-European candidate. The first thing he did after being elected as president was to march on the tones of the European anthem. Despite many predictions over the last 7 or 8 years, the EU is more resilient than people think. There is still strong will to move forward with the European project.
Shirai：Behind the anti-EU trend, there is the growing disparity in income following the expansion of the EU and globalization. How will the EU deal with this underlying problem?
Van Rompuy：I would say that the rise of populism is older than the banking crisis and the recent wave of Euro-skepticism in the Netherlands, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Denmark. There were populist movements at the end of the ’90s and the beginning of this century, and those had nothing to do with the economy and nothing to do with Europe. Europe was not even mentioned then. It was about migration.
After the Eurozone and economic crises, we saw populist movements rising in other countries. However, the beginnings of populism were not related to the Eurozone problem. It’s a problem, as I said, of the Western world. If you listen to the American media, the Washington-bashing reminds me of the Brussels-bashing. It’s exactly the same phenomenon.
It’s not just a problem for the EU. If you look at the American elections. There are exactly the same themes. It’s about migration, terrorism, problems created by globalization, opposition to the establishment, and so on. The same sentiments and themes come to the surface in those elections. Ok closely at the EU, you’ll find that member states are facing the same problems.
Shirai：What's the matter in the EU?
Van Rompuy：There is a huge tension between what I call space and place. The space that we created in Europe includes the single market, free movement of goods, services, capital, and people, and so on. This openness has created prosperity. In my region, in the first 15 years after the creation of the European community, we doubled our living standards. The space and the openness of the market created prosperity.
Over the last 10 or 15 years, we saw not only the European single market, but we also saw globalization of economy and migration. We saw globalization via the Internet and cheap travel. Now you can fly from Europe to Tokyo for €380. You can call anyone in the world for free using Skype™ or FaceTime®. We created this huge space. As long as winners are outnumbering losers, everybody is happy. However, if the perception is that there are more losers than winners, even if that’s not true, then people tend to reject the space, reject the EU, reject globalization as in the United States. They are longing for a place that offers more protection as they perceive globalization as a huge and threatening space. Another example of globalization. There were large numbers of refugees coming into Europe from Syria, a humanitarian tragedy of the first degree. Europe can accept tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, but not millions. So we worked with Turkey to organize better border controls. The refugee centers in Western Europe have now been closed for several months, and refugees aren’t pouring into Europe. It was predicted that the Schengen Zone would collapse, because it couldn’t absorb millions of refugees. There were cracks in the system, but the Schengen Zone today is solid and nearly intact. There are problems, but we are taking action. The trust is not back yet. We need to persevere and do better. These are big tasks moving forward.
So people want protection against threats. If they feel they are not sufficiently protected, they will long for protectionism and nationalism. That’s what has happened in the United States, and that’s also at the root of this Euro-skepticism. We have to find a new balance between openness and protection. And that is the heart of the matter.
Shirai：What kind of approach should the EU take?
Van Rompuy：To beat populism, we need to see results on prosperity. Employment is big part of that. Economic growth needs to be distributed equally. In the United States, wages have been stagnant since 1973. We don’t want that in Europe. We also need to see results on security, relating to migration and terrorism. We can only beat populism if we can show the results of our policies in the domains of prosperity, fairness and security.
We created 7million jobs in the Eurozone over the period 2014-2018. If you said that in 2012, no one would have believed you. I just had a meeting with a large group of investors. There is an overall positive mood now on the economy worldwide, and especially in Europe. We will have economic growth between 1.5% and 2%. The mood has changed, and we are seeing economic results in almost all the countries. The biggest decrease in unemployment is in Spain. Spain was in a catastrophic situation a few years ago. In my region, we now have full employment. In Germany, full employment. In the Netherlands, close to full employment. We are seeing results in the economic field. The second part is that European leaders have to stop Brussels-bashing and have to speak in a more positive way about Europe. How can you regain trust from the citizens when leaders are using Euro-skeptic language? And that’s why what the French President did right after his election was great. He has shown pro-European conviction. And you will have the same in Germany.
Shirai：In recent years, there have been worrisome developments such as the banking crisis in Italy and the fiscal crisis in Greece. The EU worked to avoid the banking crisis. Concerning the fiscal crisis, Eurobond and the Euro Treasury Plan are about to start, but those will take a while. In this situation, can the EU avoid such crises and maintain stability?
Van Rompuy：Well, the Italian banking sector is not on the verge of collapse. There are a few banks that are restructuring under the guidance of the European Commission.
But they represent a small percentage of the balance sheets of all Italian banks. It’s not about the big banks.
We have more general problem of non-performing loans, and the Italian authorities are looking for solutions. But the Italian banking system is not in trouble. If it was, you would see huge spreads on the Italian bond market, which is not the case. In Greece, you mentioned the fiscal deficit. After lengthy negotiations, the creditors are nearing an agreement on liberating the next trenches of the loan that was agreed upon in the summer of 2015. This year, Greece will have positive economic growth for the first time in 10 years, and it will have an unexpected and important primary surplus on their budget, excluding interest payments on the public debt. This is a good indicator of the improved soundness of their public finances.
Shirai：That’s good to hear. The EU is moving in the direction of integration as much as possible in fiscal and financial matters. Do you believe such integration is achievable in the near future?
Van Rompuy：We need to work further on strengthening the economic and monetary union in the EU. However, the differences in interest rates between the German bonds and the bonds of the most members of the Eurozone are narrow. There is much more stability in the Eurozone now than a few years ago. But we have to strengthen the economic and monetary union.
I have strong doubts about Eurobonds being the best way to do that. When you have Eurobonds, it means that you are mutualizing the public debt of national states. The national states will then not launch loans on their own anymore. It will be a European authority that will borrow and then in some way lend the money to the national states. You then have one interest rate. You can do this mutualization of public debt if the economic situations in different countries are really converging. If not, then there is always this danger that a country that is not complying with the rules can borrow cheaply, because it is a common European borrower.
This is not the best way to encourage economic reforms or to get countries to make their economies competitive. That’s why these Eurobonds should come after we have converged enough. So convergence is on the political agenda now. What is critically important for the EU is how the French economy can become more competitive with less public deficit, which is now slightly above 3 so that it can grow in the direction of Germany, as these things would provide stability.
We have made progress but not enough, and the French President has a huge task to rebalance their economic situation. In recent years, there has been too much divergence. France and Germany had the same level of unemployment in 2007, around 8%. Germany is now below 4%, but France is now at 10%. This is unsustainable. The challenge is how to create a situation in France that’s more similar to Germany.
Shirai：Geopolitically, several critical incidents have erupted in the past several years, like Russia’s invasion into Ukraine and the Syrian conflict. I think that the EU would prefer to have an integrated response to Russia’s activity, but several EU countries depend on Russia for natural resources. Considering that, is it even possible to have an integrated approach to Russia?
Van Rompuy：The EU decided on economic sanctions in the summer of 2014 after the uprising and beginning of civil war in Ukraine. Of course, Russia played a role there. I could use other words, but I put it in a diplomatic way. We decided on sanctions that are revisited every six months, and we need unanimity for those sanctions. And the EU is still united behind these sanctions. We are very grateful that Japan joined us in the sanctions on Russia. At the same time, we are negotiating with Russia, on constitutional changes in Ukraine, on the cease-fire, on the organization of more autonomy in Eastern Ukraine, and so on. We showed firmness through economic sanctions, not military actions, and at the same time we showed an openness and willingness to talk. And the results were the Minsk Agreements in the beginning of 2015. Of course, those agreements still have to be implemented from both sides.
We cannot restore a trustful relationship with Russia without a definitive solution on Ukraine. The first point in this restoration of trust is the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. If this can happen, then I think a lot of things are again possible between the EU and Russia. This is not a geopolitical problem. It is a regional problem. Russia is not a geopolitical player. It plays no role in Africa or Latin America, or in large parts of Asia. The Soviet era is over. We need to address tensions and conflicts, but we can also do positive things with Russia. We negotiated the Iran nuclear deal with Russia, and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Shirai：The United States now has Mr. Donald Trump as its president. How do you think the EU will respond to his “America First” policy, focusing on bilateral economic and trade negotiations, and his position demanding that other NATO members take on a greater share in the financial support of NATO?
Van Rompuy：With President Trump, you never know. At first, he was very negative toward the EU. The first political personality he received after being elected was Mr. Farage. Just unbelievable. He said at that time that Brexit was a great thing that he hoped others would follow. Then he changed his mind and said the EU is “a wonderful institution.” So, there is a shift in his views regarding Europe, and we are applauding this.
On NATO, I think that he was right to say that, and President Obama also said that the European countries have to spend more on defense. We have to spend more and cooperate better among our member states so that we can get economies of scale, because we are spending a lot of money but in a fragmented way. When we work together, we can have more productivity from our defense spending. The German Chancellor added something else, and that’s also what our American friend needs to realize, that peace is not just a matter of military power. Peace is also a matter of development, trade, fighting against terrorism, managing immigration, and so on. Peace is a comprehensive concept. The German Chancellor said that when we talk about defense spending, we also need to add what we are doing in Germany and in the EU on development aid, because this is also serving the cause of peace. And she is right. Our American friends are spending very small amounts on development of aid. We are spending almost half a percentage of GDP. President Trump is right, as was his predecessor, to emphasize our commitments, because these are our commitments.
Where he was wrong was in linking such spending to the clause of solidarity within NATO. If one country in the alliance is attacked, then all alliance members have to show their solidarity with the member country. Calling this into question or not mentioning it creates huge unrest among our member states, and especially those that have borders with Russia. I am speaking especially about the Baltic States and Poland. For Poland, this is not just an anxiety coming from the current government. The previous government also had many of the same fears. I read this morning that the American Secretary of Defense is visiting Lithuania and other countries to reassure them, which is a good thing. Again, this is a shift in American politics in the right direction. The only question is, and I’m not joking, if you make a U-turn, people are never sure that it will be your last one. So the problem today with the United States is one of unpredictability. We need a steady course to provide stability and to provide reassurance to countries.
Shirai：How do you see the future of the EU, 10 years or 20 years from now? Will the EU strive for greater integration fiscally and financially? Will there be more member countries? Or do you see other scenarios playing out for the EU?
Van Rompuy：It’s difficult to say what will happen in 10 years’ time. If you had asked me that question in 2007, would I have go things like the Eurozone crisis, the banking crisis, the refugee crisis, and terrorism? Our world and society is changing rapidly and dramatically. I am speaking about Europe. I am not speaking about Japan. I am less familiar with societal changes there, but I am sure that there are similarities with those we are experiencing in the EU. We are living in such a changing world, really a world on the move. There is now a more positive mood in Europe as I have described, but still people are anticipating some kind of future crisis. That’s because we have been through such a dramatic evolution (and still are) with terrorism for instance, that people still have not regained their sense of trust in the future.
But first I will say that the implosion of the EU will not happen. On the contrary, in 10 years’ time I hope that some countries of the Western Balkans will join the EU and that we can strengthen our ties with our neighbors, like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. I see and I really hope for an even stronger and in some ways expanding the EU. I hope that after the French and the German elections a new initiative is taken, not to reinvent Europe, but to relaunch Europe in numerous domains. I hope there will be more military cooperation among the EU member states, a strengthened economic and monetary system for the EU, a strengthened Schengen Zone, a more competitive economy, and so on. I hope that we will have that kind of agreement in 2018 that can be implemented in the upcoming years.
Shirai：Does that mean Europe needs to become more integrated?
Van Rompuy：Yes, but in a very concrete way. We need to look at each area to see if we need more European integration. For instance, on military cooperation, on economic and monetary union for the EU, on the Schengen zone, and so on. In some areas, we might need more and in some less Europe. It depends. So, let’s look at it in a very pragmatic way and not starting by saying “I want more Europe” like a preacher. Because we’d like to avoid ideological debate. As you know, I am a Belgian. We are very pragmatic. Let’s see where we can make progress and where should the EU backtrack a little bit. But I expect to see no reversals in the historical trend.
And let’s hope that in the upcoming years we will have the same kind of economic growth that we have seen since 2014. For the EU, I hope that we will now have a more solid base for growth.
Shirai：The European Commission is now proposing multi-speed integration. What do you think about that concept?
Van Rompuy：First of all, we already have multi-speed cooperation and integration. Only 19 EU member states (out of the 27/28) are participating in the Eurozone. On the Schengen Zone, not all the EU member states are participating. Some of our Member States are not members of the Schengen Zone. Britain, of course, and Ireland aren’t a member of the Schengen Zone. So not all the member states are in these pillars of the EU.
So we have multi-speed in key domains. Secondly, if countries want to work more closely together in other areas, they can already use the framework foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty, using what we call ‘enhanced cooperation’. If at least nine countries want to do something together, they can ask for permission from the EU Council of Ministers to go ahead. Until now, we have seen those kind of agreements, only in two areas, and nine countries are still negotiating with regard to the financial transaction. but those negotiations have not come to their conclusion. They can already use that framework for enhanced cooperation, but the fact is that so far they only have agreed on two of the topics , so it is not easy.
In other domains, everything is possible, but the member states only speak about multi-speed not practicing it. I found it very interesting that some countries, especially from central and eastern Europe, are suggesting that this is very dangerous because you will have members in the first class and others in the second class. They fear to belong to the second group. Implicitly, this means that they don’t want to leave the EU, while they are afraid to become second-class member states. They won’t be considered as full members of the EU on an equal footing with others. So, I find that this debate rather reassuring that countries are really eager to maintain their membership in the EU.
Shirai：Do you believe Germany and France will continue to be principal countries in the EU?
Van Rompuy：In Germany, you have Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Chancellor is very pro-European. Her opponent in Germany is the former President of the European Parliament, Mr. Martin Schultz. He too is very pro-European. So these two big countries, France and Germany, will both be led by strong pro-European politicians. But we also need strong engagement of leadership, and that is absolutely key all over the EU now. The leaders have to show their strong European convictions. So, we need to see results, and we need strong rhetoric to support and make the case for those results. Can this be done? Yes. And I mentioned already France and Germany. I am convinced that, after the German elections, the new German Chancellor, whoever that may be, and the new French President will meet and work on a program to re-launch the European project. Together with the improved economic situation, there is some kind of optimism and hope now in Europe, but that climate could change. So, we now have a stronger economy, and we will have pro-European leaders in the two leading countries in the EU. This provides a window of opportunity that we need to utilize fully. So we have a few years ahead in which we can produce and deliver better results from our different policies. This is an opportunity to turn the political climate in a more pro-European direction. I would not say that this is our last chance, but it’s a really big opportunity, and we have to seize this kind of opportunity.
Former EU President Mr. Van Rompuy talked about a wide range of themes this time from Brexit to the vision for the future of the EU. I was moved by his words that citizens running into anti-EU sentiment and Euro skepticism are seeking anchorage to protect themselves.
Regarding the vision for the future of the EU, he said the EU will continue to deepen integration, considering the achievements that it has accomplished so far. I think it is Mr. Van Rompuy’s belief as a leader who played an important role at the core of the EU for many years, and also the expectations of the people serving after him.