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Brussels/Gütersloh, 24/01/2011

Enhancing Europe’s Impact

Brussels-based think tanks lead the way

José Manuel Barroso
José Manuel Barroso
Photographer: Marc Darchinger

The European Union has never before had more opportunities to shape events than today. The banking crisis and thus the protection of the common currency have become a crucial test for EU partners. The second annual high-level Brussels Think Tank Dialogue, which was held on January 25 at the Residence Palace and dedicated to the topic "Europe 3.0: Building a Viable Union," took Europe’s high potential for guiding policies into consideration. "We need the European dimension more than ever," concluded President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso on the current state of the European Union.

The EU Commission President further emphasized that currently more self-confidence is needed in place of wide-spread pessimism.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri), joined eight other leading European think tanks -- Bruegel, CEPS, Confrontations Europe, Egmont, EPC, Friends of Europe, Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation and SWP -- as well as Agence Europe last Tuesday in hosting the 2011 State of the Union-Brussels Think Tank Dialogue.

Leading experts and representatives of the 27 Member States demanded that in order to save the euro, the euro countries should work together more closely and with greater solidarity. The working group on economic coordination and the EU budget was drawn up to present recommendations on how to use positive synergies between the EU member states by combining various funds and financial facilities. The Polish Secretary for European Affairs and Economy Mikolaj Dowgielewicz brought optimism to the debate and noted that the euro was currently faring well. "After creating a euro safety net and strengthening economic coordination at the EU level, it is now time for EU member states to concentrate on more growth-oriented initiatives," he said. Thomas Fischer, head of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Brussels office, pointed out that the Europe 2020 Strategy of the EU Commission aims exactly at this goal by looking for new ways to foster smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. "However,” Fischer continued, "there is a risk that the strategy will remain a mere ‘policy of promises’ if the EU does not provide the necessary financial resources. The current budget debate should therefore not focus exclusively on austerity efforts of member state governments."

The immediate challenges facing the European Union, however, go beyond the future shape of European economic governance and the current budget debate. During the Think Tank Dialogue, policymakers, researchers and representatives of civil society developed concepts to address areas in which they would like to see improvements and they proposed recommendations for future action by Europe's decision makers.

The working group on climate and energy agreed that a policy allowing for an "energy mix" (renewable and non-renewable energy supply) would be better than setting an unrealistic date for when a purely renewable energy supply would be available. The Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi noted that there is no internal market for energy. "We should change that perception and develop an ‘energy mix’ policy," he said.

Martonyi also shared the opinion of the participants of the workshop on migration who regard immigrants not only as workers, but first and foremost as people with families. The participants called for a different perspective on migration as a natural phenomenon in a globalized world and as a part of a policy package that would address labor shortages as Europe’s population ages and shrinks on average.

The workshop about the new European External Action Service established that although the European External Action Service was established through the Lisbon Treaty, the Union does not currently speak with one voice. The recommendation of the working group was that the member states and the EU would have to agree on the role of the External Action Service and how diplomatic competence is shared. After the failure of the member states to speak with one voice on the revolution in Tunisia, the service should strive to become a more effective diplomatic player in the coming year.

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, stressed that he is completely content with gradual, step-by-step progress. He rejected criticism from the European Parliament that the actions of the EU government had regularly been "too little, too late." He emphasized that the agenda of European think tanks should include constructive support in order to address important challenges. The experts working in think tanks should help to identify major challenges such as the economic crisis at an early stage and develop solutions to these challenges. At the same time think tanks should make recommendations on how to strengthen competitiveness and social cohesion in Europe. Additionally, Barroso asked the think tanks for their active participation in shaping the future European Union. "Do not forget to put pressure on us policymakers," he said. "We often work better when we are under pressure."

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