EU reforms: Yes please, but not in my backyard!

Participants of BDI-KAS-Workshop on EU reforms © KAS

European citizens support EU reforms in general, but reject reforms that concern themselves. This was the outcome of the fifth joint workshop of BDI and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung on the European Economic and Monetary Union.

We discussed with Anna auf dem Brinke (Jacques Delors Institute Berlin), Renaud Soufflot De Magny (European Commission) and Ryan Heath (Politico) and 30 other participants on the topic “Public perception of the euro area – is there support for necessary reforms?”.

According to latest eupinions and Eurobarometer polls, Europeans realise the need for reforms in the EU. However, there is no consensus on the nature of the reforms. For instance, if the citizens are directly affected by a reform of the pension system that increases the retirement age, the support decreases significantly. Within the euro area, a majority (67 percent) still favours the euro as their common currency and can even agree on an European finance minister with an own euro area budget. But people disagree on the question which expenditures such a finance minister should fund.

Nevertheless, reform support does not go along with a common vision of Europe. The elder generation perceives Europe as a peace project, whereas the younger generation associates Europe with Erasmus and free movement. A common image of Europe does not exist – neither amongst the member states nor amongst politicians. This makes the debate on EU reforms particularly difficult. Especially when we consider that there is no trans-European debate, but 28 respectively 27 national discussions. Through no fault of its own, Brussels is too often made the scapegoat for national decisions by the capital cities. A better marketing of EU policies (Erasmus, abolition of roaming, etc.) that directly affect people, might help.

The generation “Erasmus”, the so called millennials, shows the biggest enthusiasm for Europe. But they do not campaign actively for Europe. They take Europe for granted. Regrettably, the enthusiasm of the younger generation decreases with their entry into professional life – mainly in the southern countries, where they are confronted with a very high youth unemployment. For the participants of the workshop, the middle course between austerity measures for budget consolidation on the one hand and additional fiscal spending to stimulate the economy on the other hand are structural reforms. They boost growth and productivity and create new jobs – and this contributes to gain trust in and enthusiasm for Europe.