Josep Borrell, Spain's Foreign Minister and former President of the European Parliament, spoke of the challenges of building consensus in Europe.
Josep Borrell was President of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007, during which time Romania and Bulgaria acceded to the European Union. During a discussion with European University Institute researchers and Tony Barber, Europe Editor of the Financial Times, Borrell was quizzed on his experiences at the EU's parliament as well as on more recent topics such as Catalonia, EU committments to development, and 'Europhobia'.
When he returned to the European University Institute (where he was also President) on 31 May, he told researchers that the European Parliament 'is no longer the same’ as a result of the englargement of the 2000s. More recent members of the EU have a ‘different mindset,’ said Borrell, which has had conseuqences on debate in the institution. On one side, the different perspectives have diversifeid debate in the EP, but ‘if Poland and Hungary applied to be members today, we wouldn’t accept them,’ he said.
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In this new context, Borrell believes the European Parliament faces huge challenges in coming to agreements. According to Borrell, the paradox of the European Parliament is that ‘the more power [it] has, the less people vote for it.' The reason, according to Borrell, is that debate about Europe in the European Parliament is not contentious or political enough. ‘The purpose of the EP is to build consensus’ but ‘to build consensus is not sexy. People look for a fight between government and opposition,' he said.
On the national stage in Italy, where the EUI is based, the European Union has moved to the centre of the centre of political debate in recent months. ‘Italy is a sign that Europe has not worked,’ Borrell told a gathered crowd. In Italy, ‘Europe has not delivered,' said Borrell. 'It has not brought shared prosperity.’
Meanwhile in his native Spain, the government of which Borrell is now a part has set itself apart from Italy's new government in making a clear commitment to the European project. Spain’s years within the European Union have been the ‘best since Trafalgar’ said Borrell. But in Spain, as well as in Italy, the younger generation ‘have only seen the years of the crisis’ he said, raising the proposition younger Europeans may also be primed for the now familiar 'Europhobia' in parts of Europe.
In order to keep Europeans engaged, 'we have to politicise the European Union,' said Borrell who, just three days later became Spain's Foreign Minister. 'The memory of war has vanished,' he said, 'young people have to find another reason to support European integration.'