Blog post

After the elections: New European leadership needs to focus on results

Voters across the European Union have given a loud signal in the European elections that they are unhappy with their economic and social situatio

Publishing date
26 May 2014

Voters across the European Union have given a loud signal in the European elections that they are unhappy with their economic and social situation. The low turn-out reflects the mistrust between the citizens and their Union, and especially in France the voters’ message has been strong. Brussels is perceived as far-away, technocratic, wasteful and ineffective.

As European leaders meet this Tuesday at the European Council meeting for an exchange of views, we therefore believe they should focus their discussions on issues that are central to delivering better results to citizens.

The EU and in particular the euro area suffer from two key problems.

  1. Growth and job creation is unsatisfactory and one can therefore not say that the crisis is over.
  2. The governance of the European Union is still far too complicated and ineffective to address crises and respond to citizens' needs.

A key message and mandate EU leaders should give to the post-election EU would therefore be to focus on what can actually be accomplished.

The new European leadership consisting of the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Parliament should be able to act forcefully on growth. This will require the three individuals and their institutions to work together effectively. They will have to constantly remind the national leaders about the importance of enacting national reforms that not only create jobs but are also consistent with the prerogatives of monetary union. Putting public finances on a sound footing is one of the many challenges.

But without a European growth initiative it will be hard to deliver on domestic fiscal targets. Therefore, the new EU leadership should develop a convincing European growth strategy. The EU heads of state and government therefore should not only elect a leadership that is able to deliver results but it should also give a strong mandate to the new EU leadership to focus on results. For this, a reform of the European Commission is indispensable so as to better coordinate European initiatives across different policy areas.

The second prerogative is to initiate a reflection process on how to reform further the European governance and the distribution of competences. Concretely, the leaders will have to re-assess the fields of shared competences and national competences. The UK and others are right in fostering a review of competences. Too many directives, regulations and confused communications come from Brussels and are of little value to the citizens of the EU. Brussels will have to focus again on those policy areas, where EU spillovers are large.

So the mandate for the new leadership should be about reflecting on which areas should be deepened with more European decision making necessary while at the same time accepting that in other areas the reformed EU should play a smaller role. We believe that eventually the euro area will need a small fiscal union with strong democratic foundations. However, this fiscal union can only be credibly called for if the current EU budget is radically reformed to focus on growth and jobs instead of ineffective redistribution.

About the authors

  • André Sapir

    André Sapir, a Belgian citizen, is a Senior fellow at Bruegel. He is also University Professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Research fellow of the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research.

    Between 1990 and 2004, he worked for the European Commission, first as Economic Advisor to the Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, and then as Principal Economic Advisor to President Prodi, also heading his Economic Advisory Group. In 2004, he published 'An Agenda for a Growing Europe', a report to the president of the Commission by a group of independent experts that is known as the Sapir report. After leaving the Commission, he first served as External Member of President Barroso’s Economic Advisory Group and then as Member of the General Board (and Chair of the Advisory Scientific Committee) of the European Systemic Risk Board based at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

    André has written extensively on European integration, international trade and globalisation. He holds a PhD in economics from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked under the supervision of Béla Balassa. He was elected Member of the Academia Europaea and of the Royal Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts.

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff is a Senior fellow at Bruegel. He is also a Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. From 2022-2024, he was the Director and CEO of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and from 2013-22 the director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy, climate policy, geoeconomics, macroeconomics and foreign affairs. His work was published in academic journals such as Nature, Science, Research Policy, Energy Policy, Climate Policy, Journal of European Public Policy, Journal of Banking and Finance. His co-authored book “The macroeconomics of decarbonization” is published in Cambridge University Press.

    An experienced public adviser, he has been testifying twice a year since 2013 to the informal European finance ministers’ and central bank governors’ ECOFIN Council meeting on a large variety of topics. He also regularly testifies to the European Parliament, the Bundestag and speaks to corporate boards. In 2020, Business Insider ranked him one of the 28 most influential “power players” in Europe. From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister’s Conseil d’Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed member and co-director to the G20 High level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response under the co-chairs Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Lawrence H. Summers and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. From 2013-22, he was an advisor to the Mastercard Centre for Inclusive Growth. He is a member of the Bulgarian Council of Economic Analysis, the European Council on Foreign Affairs and  advisory board of Elcano.

    Guntram joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he worked in the research department at the Bundesbank, which he joined after completing his PhD in economics at the University of Bonn. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund. He is fluent in German, English, and French. His work is regularly published and cited in leading media. 

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