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The third era of European integration

[This editorial is also available in Ukrainian.]

Make no mistake about it, Europe is experiencing a new phase in its history.

While the continent recovered from the Second World War, and then as it witnessed the fall of the Wall and the USSR, and finally as it now faces war again, this time at the hands of Russia, the European Union has been undergoing constant change.

In its first period, the 1950s, it saw the Founding Fathers make a bold wager.

The second phase witnessed the creation of an area without borders.

We have now entered the third era of the European Union, that of geopolitical completion.

This means that many European resources must be reviewed in response to four major challenges that demand strong and urgent answers.

The democratic question comprises the challenge of ensuring the effectiveness of public policies and how they are perceived by the public. There is no point in drawing up fine policies if the public do not support them, and if populist rhetoric, with its extreme views and lies, can discredit them in a few sentences.

Then there is the economic question. Against a backdrop of demographic disaster, the economic gap with the two great continent-states, the United States and China, means that we have to break with traditional budgetary and monetary policies. These transitions call for risk-taking, huge capital-intensive investments and, possibly, borrowing for the sake of growth.

An almost philosophical problem plagues Europeans: they prefer regulation and constraint to freedom and incentive. This tendency on the part of the Member States is amplified in Brussels and Strasbourg. Yet none of the major inventions of the 19th or 20th centuries - of which Europe can be proud - were the result of a norm. They were born of the genius of an individual, a team or a company, never of a rule. Tomorrow's growth, including the success of the digital and environmental transitions, will come from inventions that only the human mind, freed from constraints, can imagine. Of course, their development will then require support policies. But instead of rules, we need to provide support and incentives. Before regulating, we need to imagine, design and produce.

Finally, the question of security could well overshadow all the others. Europe urgently needs to relearn how to defend itself and to spend on defence. This will require enormous efforts that will cut into the resources devoted to a comfort that has become a habit, a way of life that is among the most protected and pleasant in the world. Saying this will not be enough to convince people, but the fear of a return to conflict and its attendant misery could encourage them to do so.

These are the challenges that Europeans, and consequently their common institutions as well as their national states, must tackle head on.

To rise to them, new means have to be devised, new policies which, while denying nothing of past successes, are willing to take account of the reality of the new world.

These changes began timidly during the European term of office that is now drawing to a close. They will gather pace, and the European dimension will be more essential than at any time in the past. This is the purpose of the contributions from the highest European authorities to the Schuman Report on Europe, State of the Union 2024 which is to be published this week and very soon in English. An exceptional edition in terms of its content and the quality of its authors, who are resolutely turned towards the future.