Monday, October 24, 2016

Speaking for Europe

Guy Verhofstadt

In the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, is “ever closer union” now an impossible ideal for Europe? How should the EU defend its fundamental principles, such as fidelity to the rule of law, when member countries, such as Hungary under Viktor Orbán, betray them? Is Germany’s influence over EU policy too strong? What would a collective EU foreign policy look like?

Ever since the global financial system’s near-meltdown in 2008, the European Union has lurched from crisis to crisis. EU policymakers have managed to muddle their way through all of them, so far, but at the price of allowing populists to target the Union’s inefficiency and supposed “democratic deficit.” With anti-European parties on the rise in almost every EU member country, is the idea of European unity, which helped deliver peace and prosperity to the continent for seven decades, now doomed to decay?

Not if Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, has anything to say about it. As Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008, Verhofstadt fought those who would divide his own bi-national country, as well as against efforts to dilute the promise of European integration. Rather than seeing Britain’s desire to leave the EU as the first step in its unravelling, Verhofstadt considers it an opportunity for the 27 countries that remain to reaffirm their vows of solidarity.

In Britain’s darkest hour, following Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler at Munich, Leo Amery cried out “Speak for England!” to a Labour MP who rose in opposition to Chamberlain’s policies. Every month in Speaking for Europe, written exclusively for Project Syndicate, Guy Verhofstadt addresses the challenges confronting Europe – and the EU’s ability to address them.

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