Dear readers, we wish you a happy new year with lots of joy, happiness, success and good health!
At the start of another year full of challenges and opportunities for Europe, I would like to share with you a few thoughts over the developments of the past year and over my hopes and expectations for 2014.
In Europe, once more, the doomsayers have been proven wrong: the Eurozone is still intact. The cost of maintaining it together is quite high for the people in Southern countries, but I remain convinced that an exit of the Eurozone would be far worse for them and that there is no alternative to recovering the competitiveness and fiscal discipline that were lost over the past decades. We were bound to pay at some point the errors of the past: the crisis in the past years only accelerated the moment of paying the bill, it did not create it. And there will be more tough decisions ahead, as our demography requires a courageous reform of our generous welfare systems. I am not an ultra-liberal, but it is a fact that powerful vested interests are hindering highly-needed reforms and, where they are voted, their implementation (see, e.g., tax evasion in Greece). Progress is slow, but there is some: on the banking union, on fiscal discipline and on increasing the coordination between Member States. Growth in Europe, and even in the Eurozone, is anaemic, but it’s already a progress compared with the recession over 18 months (admittedly, the worst hit Member States are still experiencing a hard recession).
That being said, much remains to be done in 2014 and the following years. I firmly choose to be an optimist, but I am no utopian, and I know many reforms won’t be done this year either. 2014 is going to be a challenging year, in particular with the European elections taking place in May 2014. This will be the occasion for a wide democratic debate, not only on the policy for the next 5 years, but on much more fundamental issues: which kind of Europe do we want to build? What should be the role of the State? What can politics do? Which kind of societies do we want to live in? I do not believe in a “tsunami” of Eurosceptics, populist extremists, etc. in the next European Parliament, but we cannot ignore how divided our European societies are between those who are open to new experiences and foreign friendships, and those who dream of a closed, inward-looking society, afraid of strangers. The Economist compared Europe’s situation in 2014 to that a century ago, months before the First World War. I think it is exaggerated: history does not repeat and there will be no war in Europe in 2014. But it is true that the situation, also within (rather than between, like in 1914) Nations, is tense. Change is needed, and I hope it will go in the right direction (a deepening of the European integration). By the way, it is quite funny to see how diverse Eurosceptics are: French ones criticise Europe because it does not “protect” enough (they have the ridiculous French view of the State controlling nearly everything), while British Eurosceptics criticise Europe because it regulates too much (although the liberal discourse is seriously tuned down when it comes to free movement of people to the UK…). Maybe The Economist has a point: the political elites are a danger for Europe in so far as they do not assume their mistakes and their decisions, and they stir up citizens’ unfounded fears about Europe, foreigners, etc. Another irony: while The Economist publishes this editorial comparing 2014 with 1914, it edits The World in 2014 in which it predicts that “America, Europe and Japan will thrive, as emerging markets will struggle” (this may well be true in 2014, as the Fed will start tapering its quantitative easing policy). So, it seems Europe’s situation is not that dramatic either…
Last but not least, we will do our best to keep you informed ahead of the European elections and to provide an interesting coverage of the campaign, so keep an eye on our blog over the coming weeks and months! And thanks a lot for your trust and your loyalty to the blog!