We Europeans can preserve our way of life by better harnessing our crises

Europe's World

Citizens' Europe

Picture of Sebastian Kurz
Sebastian Kurz

It’s now 20 years since Austria joined the European Union, so under-30s like myself can hardly remember life before then. Europe has become as natural a part of our identity as Austrian citizenship. A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that while in 1995 only 11% of Austrians considered themselves to be Europeans, by the end of last year that had risen to 87%.

Yet public opinion all over Europe is increasingly critical of European integration. With migratory pressures mounting and economic recovery slowing down, the imperfections of the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union have been mercilessly laid bare.

Our way of life in Europe is characterised by excellent social security and healthcare systems, comparatively comfortable living standards and high levels of public security as well as high environmental standards. But as regions beyond Europe become more and more competitive, we are facing new pressures. Forecasts suggest that by 2030 the EU’s share of the world population will fall from 7% today to only 4%, and Europe’s share of global GDP from 25% to 15%. At the same time, around 30% of global social security costs will still be paid out in Europe in 2030.

Citizens right across Europe have grown accustomed to high living standards, and not only expect them to be maintained but even to improve. Our primary task as policymakers in the coming decade will therefore be to do whatever is necessary to ensure that our way of life can be maintained and safeguarded for future generations.

How can this be achieved? What we need most of all is a strong sense of common purpose among the EU member states! Faced with the challenge of globalisation, we can only safeguard our way of life if we stick together, agree on common objectives and join forces to attain them. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be dealt with at EU level. We Austrians remain convinced that subsidiarity and proportionality are key principles; they help avoid unnecessary harmonisation at the lowest possible level and maintain necessary competition.

We need to focus on those pressing issues that require a European answer. A case in point is migration. Migratory pressures are rising disproportionally in some EU countries, and are weighing heavily on their social security systems. If we want to find a fair answer to this challenge, we have to look at each member state and take into consideration the number of migrants it has accepted in the past. We must also remember that migration without integration will lead to societal problems and to widening gaps within our societies.

Another case in point is the stabilisation of Europe’s wider neighbourhood. The prospect of EU accession for Western Balkan countries is a driving force for reform, so we have to keep this goal alive. We also have to improve our own European Neighbourhood Policy for regions to the east and south of the EU. Developments in Ukraine and in North Africa show us that the neighbourhood policy needs to become more flexible and should take into account each country’s situation. It should also be made more political by becoming integral to the EU’s foreign policy.

The European Union has often taken its greatest leaps forward in times of crisis, as crises tend to create a sense of common purpose and solidarity. That’s what we need now; a common vision of the future and an awareness of what is politically feasible will help us to safeguard our way of life.

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