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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 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 was the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). 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 to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He 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 was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

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