Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a panel talk in front of a most illustrious audience in Vienna, which became Davos for that week as it hosted a session of the World Economic Forum. This extraordinary organization aims to bring together world political, business and intellectual leaders to discuss contemporary matters of the global economy and our societies. It was a very stimulating experience: every word has a special weight when the audience is responsible for such a big chunk of the world’s GDP, either economically or politically.
As we were supposed to talk about the future of Europe, the omens could hardly have been any gloomier: Austria temporarily reinitiated border control suspending the Schengen practice, in order to ensure the security of the event. The Treaty of Schengen, the actual elimination of the internal borders of Europe and the common European currency are the two most spectacular accomplishments of the European integration. I was there in Vienna, the borders were back around us, and we came to discuss the chances of survival of the Euro amidst all news coming up on a daily basis about the debt crises of the monetary union. Well, I would not have expected the talk to go in the optimistic way it did eventually.
My panel was called “Stress test for Europe”, and the people I sat with included a bright foreign policy expert from Britain, an Italian financial expert and a renowned Dutch economist, of whom only the latter was over his forties. As the end of the fifty-something minutes under the spotlight drew closer, the moderator, representing Associated Press, expressed his surprise (flavoured probably with a tiny bit of disappointment) that we did not bring up our own doomsday scenarios and sinister prophecies.
In fact I came with the opinion that the problem of Europe is not the economy, it is something else – which is in one sense good news (as economies almost always heal slowly and painfully from big busts), but in other sense it is bad, as in order to provide a remedy, people first have to settle over the diagnose. I think Europe is stress-tested, as the name of the panel suggested, not much in a financial way, but in terms of visionary power and political leadership. The fundamentals are intact; history just requires Europe to follow a common rhythm: choose unity, innovation and competitiveness over dissension, anxiety and falling behind.
Though each of us formulated it according to his own subject, we were in agreement over the main message. Very valuable thoughts were developed: It was mentioned that the main problem is political legitimacy, that leaders are supposed to solve an economic distress without a clear political mandate and they fail to outline the possible choices to the voters who are supposed to pay the costs eventually. People keep talking about a crisis of Europe when the debt problem affects a part of Europe whose economic weight accounts for a proportion of the EU’s economy similar to that of the state of Wyoming to the United States. The wealth at stake is incomparable to the wealth created by the common market. In sum: all numbers say that Europe is strong. It is the biggest market, and a “club” of the most developed societies. The economy can be fixed on the short term, but what Europe needs on the long term is a vision for a common future. A more open Europe, where decisions are not made over voters’ heads; policy choices are very well explained to voters who make the final calls. A Europe, which as a political community of independent nations can live up to its joint economic strength on the world political scene. This is what people at the panel envisaged, and, which is more, expected. This is the kind of Europe Montenegro wants to join. And this is the kind of Europe Montenegro wants to contribute to through its economical performance, and social and cultural values. Only a stronger and more open Montenegro can be a strong part of a more open Europe. That’s why we have to restructure our society by implementing reforms and strengthening our competitiveness.
In one sense we are reassuring Europe in these hard times. The fact that we want to, and will join the club shows them that they still are a community which offers enormous advantages to its members, in terms of peaceful coexistence, cultural richness and economic progress. As the great goal of peacefully bringing together the nations of Europe is not yet achieved entirely, enlargement is a genuine vital sign of the European integration. Now with the progress Croatia made, the renewal of Serbian hopes to get candidate status by the end of the year, and of course, with the confirmation that accession talks with Montenegro may start very soon, Europe has shown its vitality. Optimism about the common future is more than justified.