The former Belgian Prime Minister (and JLA speaker) Guy Verhofstadt now heads one of the main groupings in the European Parliament: The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats. He’s also a leading candidate to take over when José Manuel Barroso steps down this Autumn as President of the European Commission. We’ve spoken to Verhofstadt about his vision of a federal solution to Europe’s woes.
How would you characterise the challenge for Europe?
Europe is stuck at zero growth while the world recovers. It’s nearly 3% in the US, 2.5% in Australia, 4% on the African continent and 5% in Asia. But the economic struggle is also political. The only solution is a federal Europe, united in managing its public debt and pumping money into the economy. A common currency demands a unified political strategy, a Treasury, a real Government and a Parliament with full powers.
Should we expect a change of direction from the ECB?
When we created the Euro we opted for a central bank organised the German way, with strong focus on inflation management rather than broader economic targets. This is a good thing when you have other strong institutions that aim for economic growth, but this is not the case. The ECB helps where it can, but it’s very limited in its mandate and competencies.
What do you expect in Angela Merkel’s third term?
I hope we get to see a more relaxed Germany. I hope it will be less afraid of playing the European card and choosing solutions that are supranational instead of endless consultations between member states.
What lessons do you take from this year’s European elections?
Everybody agrees that the EU we have today is not working. If something is broken, you should fix it – but how? The Eurosceptic parties across Europe that have made gains argue that we should break up the union, retreat behind national borders and only keep a free trade area. The pro-Europe answer is for member states to integrate further and play a political and economic role on the word stage. This is the debate.
Can the EU continue without closer integration?
Imagine the United States cleaning up the banking sector, or taking action against Chinese dumping activities, by assembling 50 Governors every time they need to make a decision. Imagine the US dollar being endangered, without a President or Congress to support it. Everybody would consider it extremely inefficient and downright dangerous. Yet, this is the reality in Europe today.