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How 2014 will arrange the European puzzle

10 September 2013 / 17:09:31  GRReporter
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2014 will be a crucial year for the European Union because, for the first time after the outbreak of the debt crisis in the euro zone, its citizens will go to the polls to elect a new European Parliament. As of 1 January, the presidency will be assumed by Greece, the country where the crisis began and which has become the symbol of the failure of the financial experiment called a monetary union.
    In this regard, the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP had organized a discussion on the type of Europe we want, on our vision for the European Union and on the European Union we want in 15 or 20 years. "I am part of the so-called European generation that grew up with the image of a Europe of open borders and unlimited opportunities which were the result of open markets," recalls George Pagoulatos, a professor at the University of Economics in Athens. He was also Economic Advisor to caretaker Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and one of the experts who participated in "Greek Economy in Crisis", a film by GRReporter.
    According to professor Pagoulatos, "Today's young generation associates Europe with the lines of the unemployed, the mass protests and limited opportunities. The crisis has made the European Union a symbol of failure." In his opinion the reason for this is that the European Union is trying to deal with the crisis with national rather than European means. "It is clear that the national governments of the South have made mistakes but they have made them along with the mistakes Brussels has made. Why does the plan for economic integration in the euro zone remain on paper? It should have been applied immediately after the monetary unification," states the professor.
    Thassos Yanitsis, a professor at the University of Athens, talked about the lack of leadership at both national and European level. He was also a minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and in the government of Costas Simitis in the late 1990s and is known in the circles of PASOK as one of the reformers. "The European Union was founded in the name of democracy and the welfare of its citizens. Today, more than 60 years later, it can guarantee neither prosperity, nor democracy. For example, the incomes of the Greeks have returned to the levels of 1991," recalled Thassos Yanitsis.

    The reason in his opinion was the misunderstood European integration and the abuse of it. Regarding the term "solidarity", which has been widely discussed since the outbreak of the crisis, it should have been replaced with "stability" because the European Union will not be stable if the states do not develop in parallel and at a similar pace. "What is the difference comparing today's Europe with that of the 1980s when it was expanding to the south or with that of the 1990s when it was expanding to the east, or even with that of 2000 when the euro zone was created? There were ambitious goals then and steps were taken for decades ahead. Today, nobody offers a vision of how he or she wants to see Europe in 20 years," said Thassos Yanitsis.
     The professor believes that the reason for the current crisis is the fact that these ambitious goals have not been completely achieved and that there were no prerequisites for the creation of the euro zone, they are absent now and it is not clear whether we will ever achieve them. "No country is able to carry the European Union on its back. Germany is big, it is very big but even it cannot do so alone. We must all together set to work and help the Union emerge from the crisis," he said in conclusion.
    Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Dimitris Kourkoulas admitted that this is the most significant crisis in the history of the European Union when its leaders have to deal with high budget deficits, reduce the recession and unemployment and, at the same time, meet the citizens' expectations of a welfare state." My view is that Europe can survive only if it turns to the individual persons and their problems. I know that the welfare state is accused of the large deficits but its underestimation will lead to scepticism about Europe’s future. Its role is not only to help the poor but also to give each citizen a proper role in society," said the diplomat.
    He recalled that many people blame the crisis for the growth of racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi movements, stating that the Great Depression in America gave rise to Franklin Roosevelt’s economic policies known as the New Deal. Therefore, in the elections in May 2014, the citizens must vote for European development rather than for national parties and issues. Dimitris Kourkoulas declared his support for power decentralization in Brussels and for easier access of citizens' initiatives to the European institutions.
    According to George Pagoulatos, Europe cannot wait until the elections in May 2014 because if we do not act immediately the elected Parliament will be the worst ever as it will be full of extreme movements and parties. "The Union must act immediately. It must take urgent measures to reduce unemployment by investing fresh money in the market. The European Union must find tools for direct financing of healthy small- and medium-sized enterprises because only then will it reduce the recession. Thirdly, it should immediately proceed to a bank union to make equal the cost of lending," suggested the professor. He believes that right now, the entire burden of the crisis is falling on the middle class and this is a mistake because the burden of emerging from the crisis has to be balanced between all members of society.

Will you vote in the elections for European Parliament in May 2014?
Tags: European UnionDebt crisisElections for European ParliamentGreece's PresidencyGeorge PagoulatosThassos YanitsisDimitris Kourkoulas
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