There are certainly many plausible reasons to conceive of the current situation in the EU as the critical juncture, at which failures of the past come to the surface and, in the meantime, very few things seem to point to a much better perspective. Many people across the member states arguably think that the economic crisis and the booming unemployment are the inevitable by-products of the way the EU institutions used to pursue essential policy tasks ascribed to them.
To give an example, at the dawn of the new millennium the Lisbon strategy for employment set the target of 'more and better jobs' for European citizens yet, the rate of unemployment is rising not only in states severely hit by the crisis but almost every single state. For all their shortcomings and failures the EU institutions should be held accountable in accordance with competences transferred to them.
Certainly, significant part of the responsibilities for the crisis still remains with both individual governments as much as with intergovernmental EU bodies. Having said that, one should not overlook the political situation emerging across Europe, with a view to the forthcoming European Parliament elections in May 2014.
It seems that the crisis has being exploited by those opposing the very idea of European integration. This kind of opposition does not stem from those citizens who are critical of certain aspects of EU policies. Instead, it is the EU fundamentals that are being challenged and, in particular, the many historical achievements in the field of political cooperation, peace, prosperity, human rights and democracy across Europe.
Indeed, some political groups attempt at pushing forward an agenda that aims at the disintegration of the EU and subsequently the return to an old regime of states and peoples separated by irreversible borders, strong discriminatory stereotypes and mutual mistrust. It is no surprise that many of the EU-phobic groups diffuse their ideas in countries which are not the most severely hit by the crisis. They are trying to subvert citizens who question the current EU situation into citizens, who oppose and reject the EU fundamentals. We should not let people succumb to the Charybdis of nationalism and populism.
We have to stay vigilant against this kind of political thinking and forge a strong alliance of EU-philes who, in spite of their different visions and ideological tenets, they remain fully committed to the common purpose of growth, welfare and democracy within a Europe that brings together states and peoples.
As a matter of fact, this is possibly the first time that European Parliament elections will be held in a political context of awareness about commonly felt across Europe concerns, about how to safeguard levels of growth we have achieved and thought as given in the past decades. At the time voters will cast their votes, they will be essentially informed about what is at state in the EU, what options different political parties offer. Hence, voters can make their own judgments and, therefore, can make a difference.
The balance of seats in the next European Parliament will be decisive for approving the members of the new European Commission. Moreover, as the EU legislature has attained significant co-legislative powers, the quality of representation really matters. The consequences will be very negative, if the Parliament becomes an arena for voicing the most ethnocentric if not extremist, perceptions.
Furthermore, the coming elections should be seen as a turning point for reversing all those policy shortcomings that increased rates of public debt and fiscal imbalances, undermined competitiveness, led to job-cuts and the vicious circle of recession and austerity. This is not going to be an easy task but we need a strong mandate in order to seek the best solutions supported by a stable consensus.
I ask European citizens to bring forward their own concerns about how the EU may become even more efficient, to resume its place at the global stage and, thereby, to secure prosperity for the generations to come. Furthermore, governments should work harder to avert all the consequences of unemployment and recession by virtue of their individual powers as much as within the European Council. The Greek Presidency that kicks off in January 2014 may well facilitate a considerable policy shift within the EU by which decision-makers will become more prone to providing efficient solutions that will reverse any even more negative scenarios and in the meantime act as catalysts for sustainable growth.