“The world is watching our European continent”

“The world is watching our European continent”
06 / 10 / 2023
By EU Council President Charles Michel - -

Europe and the world have faced global challenges in recent years: combating global warming, the pandemic, war on European soil, the energy crisis. We have also seen a temptation to turn inwards, and a questioning of the fundamental principles of peaceful coexistence and cooperation.

Over the last four years, huge leaps forward have been made in European integration in order to afford Europeans better protection from these unprecedented crises. The values of human dignity, democracy and solidarity are at the heart of our combined efforts.

In December 2019, we took the historic decision to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Since then, others have joined us on the same path. Our decision at European level has subsequently been implemented through the Green Deal, which sets out the practical way forward to achieve this transition.

In 2020, the pandemic caused a health crisis which came as an emotional shock, affecting each and every one of us, our societies and our economies. But the EU27 swiftly joined forces: we financed research and the joint procurement of vaccines, and we coordinated our efforts to shelter the public and businesses from the economic crisis. We then adopted a massive and unprecedented recovery plan, financed by the EU27 on a basis of solidarity.

After the pandemic, the war launched by Russia against Ukraine was a second major shock. I will never forget President Zelenskyy’s phone call at around three in the morning on 24 February 2022. ‘It’s a full-scale invasion,’ he told me. Nor can I forget the European Council meeting that very evening. As soon as Volodymyr Zelenskyy left the screen on which he had been speaking to us, I knew that we were facing a defining moment for Europe. It was clear to the 27 heads of state or government and myself that this was an attack not only on Ukraine, but also on our system of democratic values. We decided to support Ukraine with all means necessary: humanitarian, financial and even, for the first time in the history of the EU, military.

The pandemic and the return of war to our continent have marked a turning point. At a crucial European Council in Versailles, one month after the Russian attack, we decided to take greater joint responsibility for our security, enhancing our European sovereignty. We are acting on three fronts: bolstering our defence capacities, reducing our energy dependencies, and strengthening our economic base, especially in the area of technology.

We have also stepped up our engagement with the rest of the world. The purpose of the EU is to be stronger so that it can defend its interests and have a greater influence over how we manage global challenges. We are strengthening our strategic links with the other major regions of the world. In particular with Africa – whose development and green transition are vital – we have redefined the paradigm of our cooperation.

The EU has succeeded in consolidating its unity and developing its strategic autonomy as it has weathered the major crises of the last four years. But the international environment continues to become more volatile and more complex. The rules-based international order was already under pressure, and now it is being violated spectacularly by a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Competition for resources and technology is intensifying, sparking protectionist tendencies and even driving the world towards dangerous confrontations.

These challenges are too great for one nation to tackle alone. We are probably at a watershed moment for this century. Now more than ever, the EU needs to establish its position, with an approach rooted in collective action. The more united we are, the stronger we are, and the more we will be masters of our own destiny.

It is to prepare our strategic guidelines for the coming years that the 27 heads of state or government are meeting this Thursday and Friday in Granada.

How can we strengthen the competitiveness and resilience of our economies and harness the full potential of the climate and digital transitions while protecting the social market model that lies at the heart of our project? How can we boost our defence capacities and provide a robust industrial base for them? How can we imbue our international action with a level of influence that is commensurate with our economic power? How can we remain a continent open to the world while ensuring rigorous migration management that respects fundamental rights and values?

And finally, how are we going to prepare the European Union – its programmes, its budget and its decision-making methods – to welcome into the fold up to 10 candidate countries whose integration, when they are ready, will be an essential geopolitical imperative for both them and us?

In short: what do we want to accomplish together in the coming years, and how can we ensure that our means measure up to our ambitions? These questions will undoubtedly be at the heart of the democratic debate that will take place in the context of the European Parliament elections.

We will be continuing the discussion launched in Granada at each of our coming meetings, with a view to reaching agreement on the EU Strategic Agenda for 2024-2029 next June.

The world is watching our European continent. Some are hoping that we will fail. Others are counting on Europe to show them the way to a more sustainable, more prosperous, fairer and safer world. And this is what our citizens want: for us to be a force for change, to improve their daily lives. It is our responsibility, as leaders, to show that we can work together.

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