A leading, reliable and integrated Union in a multipolar world:
How Europe reinvented itself over the 21st century
Second Conference on the Future of Europe
Inaugural Speech by the 19th President of the Commission
Strasbourg, Europe Day, 9th May 2071
On this day, 50 years ago, the first Conference in the Future of Europe was inaugurated in this very hemicycle. In contrast with today’s plenary session, at the time many members were not physically present in the room as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Conference took place at a very challenging moment in the history of our Union. Beyond the virus that swept the Continent and brought much pain and insecurity, Europe was in the throes of a major economic crisis, was grappling with the dramatic effects of climate change, and was struggling to find a role on an international stage populated by authoritarian leaders and dominated by the US- China rivalry. Several opinion polls conducted at the time showed that few were optimistic about the future of Europe. One poll showed that the majority of respondents were convinced that the EU would have collapsed in the next 10 or 20 years. Since then, our instructions underwent a period of challenges, substantial changes, and rethinking. Not everything went the way our predecessors expected or hoped, nor were all the promises made at the time fulfilled. Yet, I speak to you today, on Europe Day, a day that commemorates the Schuman Declaration as the start of an era of peace and unity in Europe, as citizens, officials, and supporters of a strong, autonomous, principled and reliable Union. A Union that has never been more integrated and a Union that has managed to carve out for itself a leading role in the world. As I open this new Conference on the Future of Europe, I want to reflect with you, as someone who contributed to the process of change, on how our Union managed to reinvent itself from the last Conference and what were the fundamental steps on its journey. During my mandate as the 19th President of the Commission, in 2043, the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed. Its name was based on the homonymous treaty which fell through due to referenda held in France and the Netherlands. As you all know, among many other measures
the European Constitution introduced the principle of majority voting for all three pillars of the EU policy. While to laymen to European jargon that might have seemed like a minor change, it was, in fact, a crucial step towards greater unity and a more effective Union. It was my Commission that strongly pushed for the introduction of this measure, and while it took difficult treaty changes and many efforts to get everyone on board with it, in the end, we were able to do it. In this speech, I will explain why such change was so important and what consequences it had on the EU, both direct and indirect.
Honorable Members, the first and most important objective that our Union has achieved in the last 50 years is greater integration. As we all know, the history of European integration is dotted with setbacks and disappointments. In 1954 the proposal for a Common European Military through the establishment of the EDC fell through. As I mentioned before, in 2004 the first attempt to establish a European Constitution failed, albeit many of the measures present therein were passed through the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. In 2016, the UK left the European Union after a referendum vote. Yet, today European integration is greater than ever before. Many scholars of recent history believe that such progress would not have been possible if the UK had remained in the Union as it would have staunchly opposed any threats to its national sovereignty. Indeed, what initially seemed like a disaster for the Union, might as well have accelerated the process of European integration and paved the way for more united and effective institutions. Since 2043, all policy decisions, even on security and foreign policy are taken through the majority principle. This arguably has been crucial for our Union in tackling the challenges of our century. Whether it was on climate action, strategic autonomy, or human rights, the EU was since capable of acting quickly, functionally, and as one. This change also ensured that the European institutions followed a more democratic process, in which single member states would no longer be able to subvert the will of most of the other member states. While this change was mainly internal, it affected the EU’s actorness and its role on the world stage as well.
The second great achievement that our Union has made is becoming the world leader regulator, innovator, and exporter of know-how. Throughout its history, Europe has always been the home of inventors, explorers, and creatives. It is perhaps to no surprise then, that even in 2071, this is what our Union is known for across the world and that we were able to take advantage of our expertise. When the first Conference on the Future of Europe was held, the EU seems destined to become a battleground for the US-China battle over tech and industrial supremacy.
Yet, thanks to greater decision power and flexibility brought on by the European Constitution and an unmoved commitment to human rights and the interests of citizens, the European model started to become more attractive than the American and Chinese approaches. The EU was able to keep on relying on its undeniable regulatory power while at the same time becoming a tech superpower in its own right. While it is true that Europe missed the first wave of technological and digital advancement, its superior know-how, dominant regulatory framework, and principled vision meant that it takes full advantage of the other waves that took place in the years the 40s and 50s of this century. As of today, while Europe does not have the sheer size of investment power and resources that the US or China has, it managed to carve out for itself a role as a provider of expertise and regulator. As of today, most of the products that are the final output of increasingly complex Global Value Chains (GVCs) are at some stage designed in Europe. Indeed, while the size of the European market has decreased as a result of economic and demographic shifts, its standards are still followed and respected throughout the world given the globalization of production lines.
Honorable members, the third great achievement made by our European Union is coming into its own as a global player. This was achieved not through the conventional means of military capabilities, in which the US and China remain far superior, but through our unmatched “soft power”. The source of our soft power comes from its great economic and regulatory power, its clout in international organizations, and its unshakeable commitment to human rights. I strongly believe that European values of democracy and human rights are undoubtedly one of our greatest assets. Most of the 21st century so far has been dominated by the US-China rivalry. Both superpowers have gathered immense amounts of resources and have immense strategic and military resources. Although our role has been without doubt scaled back since Europe represents a fading percentage of the world population and possesses an increasingly smaller share of the world resources, we have managed to survive in this geopolitical era. In 2020, the year before the first Conference on the Future of Europe was held, the 14th President of the Commission Ursula Von der Leyen delivered a State of the Union speech in which she declared her Commission as the first “geopolitical” Commission and promised to reach the goal of strategic autonomy. Traditionally, the EU has relied on the US’ unparalleled military capacity for its defense. For a long time, their partnership has been based on shared values, objectives, and mutual friendship. After the election of Donald Trump, the relationship between Washington and Brussels soured. President Trump criticized his European partners and deemed their contributions to NATO inadequate for the protection the US affords. This unexpected
development in international politics accelerated the debate on strategic autonomy within the EU. Although Trump departed, it became clear that strategic autonomy was a long-term goal and was not abandoned. On the contrary, as the tensions between the US and China increased in the following decades, Europe came into its own as a valid “third alternative”. Indeed, this was made possible by the reforms introduced by the European Constitution and the principle of majority, which meant that the EU acts as one even in the field of foreign policy and security. While we are not a military superpower like the US or China, we have become a “human right” superpower and the influence of our values and courts extend far beyond the European borders. The EU of 2071 has demonstrated that it has the actorness and capability of standing up to violations of human rights and authoritarian regimes, thanks in great part to the swiftness it can now impose sanctions and retaliate with, thanks to the majority principle. Indeed, the still great economic importance of the European arsenal ensures that its retaliation power is considerable.
I am sure you will convene, Honorable Members, that for our predecessors, reunited on a similar occasion 50 years ago and in uncertain times, the progress we made must have seemed incredible. In 2021, the EU was an economic giant, a diplomatic dwarf, and military non- existent since it delegated its protection to the US. This was a natural consequence of the way the process of European integration first started, as an economic endeavor. Today, our Union has not yet achieved a united military force, nor has it achieved full statehood like many supporters of the idea of the United States of Europe hoped. However, the EU of 2071, has managed to maintain a role in an increasingly multipolar world, where the competition for resources has become very strong. Yet, we have managed to find a position for ourselves, thanks to the strengths that have always helped us throughout our history: our know-how, our and resourcefulness, and our values. I am convinced that these same strengths will guide us into the 22nd century. Much like 50 years ago, today we face a watershed moment as well. There are many more objectives that need to be achieved and many geopolitical, environmental and demographic challenges Europe will need to overcome. The challenge is great, and the stakes are high. However, the last 50 years have shown us that it is possible. If we stand together and confide in our strengths, we will manage to build an even stronger and more integrated Europe.
Long live Europe and the European Union!