Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Forging Ahead Amidst Crisis

by Whitney Taylor

It is not every day that we at the University of Illinois are graced with a Consul General, but to have two in one day was a true delight. On October 16th, the European Union Center hosted a Panel Discussion with the Consul Generals of France and Germany to discuss EU-U.S. transatlantic relations.

Consul General Graham Paul of France and Consul General Christian Brecht of Germany were extremely receptive to our questions and treated us to a wonderful conversation. Not only were relations across the Atlantic discussed, but so too were those between EU Member States. As the ongoing euro crisis shows its stubbornness, some of us may begin to question if the EU has the political will to conquer both the economic and political infighting that has been unleashed on the EU stage.

There have been a myriad of suggestions lobbied at “Eurocrats” suggesting different methods for uniting Member States and reforming their individual and shared economic woes. Some have called for Greece’s departure from both the Euro and the EU while others have suggested that the European Central Bank’s authority be enhanced to act as a safety net in the event of Member State defaults. Whichever path the EU chooses will not be an easy one, but the Consul Generals gave us an indication of a possible course forward.

As the EU grows ever closer, it is clear that when problems arise, they can affect multiple Member States, the phrase “contagion” has become popular and aptly describes the swiftness of monetary instability recently seen in parts of the EU. However, we can also see some of these problems in the United States as well and here we may draw upon the idea of implementing federalism in the EU. As Consul General Brecht suggested, the goal of the EU today is to further develop the close relationship between Member States, bolster the power of the EU institutions and perhaps slowly move towards a federalist model. Consul General Paul of France echoed Mr. Brecht’s sentiments and noted that in the case of France, if they want to have a say and assist in shaping their future, they will need to come together alongside other Member States and act in a more unified manner for stronger integration. Instead of Member States falling out of the EU, they need to stay in, but work on reforming their national policies in order to work towards a stronger EU.

Although this is no small act, the EU’s Member States are not new to crises or difficult economic times. Today the world is equipped more so than at any other time, to pool resources and use globalization to its advantage. The EU is a great example of a union of countries that has benefited from close relations and now, more than ever, is another opportunity to come together in mutual support. As we witnessed a congenial atmosphere between the Consul Generals of two nations that used to be bitter rivals, it is hopeful that the EU’s recent Nobel Peace Prize award is symbolic of not just their past, but what the EU can forge by staying the course, united.

Whitney Taylor is a Master's Candidate in European Union Studies at Illinois where she is also pursuing a graduate minor in Corporate Governance and International Business. Her research interests include monetary policy, corporate social responsibility and trade.  

A video of the Consul Generals' discussion may be viewed here.

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