Brussels, 22 October 2015 – Politicians face an urgent task to overcome both public distrust and tensions among governments that threaten the future of Europe, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans warned Thursday at the opening of Friends of Europe’s annual State of Europe debate.
“The challenge to the European project today is existential,” Timmermans said. “The refugee crisis has brought that to light. What was unimaginable before now becomes imaginable, namely the disintegration of the European project.”
Timmermans was the main speaker at the opening session of the Friends of Europe roundtable which gathered senior officials and experts under the theme of “Sickly Europe: Diagnosis and Cure.”
The debate covered issues ranging from Greek debt restructuring to the dangers of radicalisation among European youth, but there was a clear focus on the impact of the refugee influx and the long financial crisis on relations among the European Union’s member states.
“There is quite a strong lack of trust between member states,” Timmermans acknowledged. “We need to get out of this … We’ve lost track of what we share or the common destiny we should be building and we’re looking ahead especially at the differences between us. This is an old European illness.”
Timmermans said Europe needs to re-focus on its core values to win back public trust and rebuild solidarity among the European Union’s 28 member states.
“I believe that the European ideals still have very strong support among the population across Europe, what does not have strong support is European politicians and European politics,” he told the roundtable. “We have something to work with, namely the belief that Europe is still something that can be a positive contribution to our future.”
Timmermans laid out a series of measures to deal with the refugee crisis in Europe including a better system of legal migration: global resettlement arrangements involving countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia; a tougher return policy for those seeking to abuse the asylum system; and tightened border control, including through a European coast guard.
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