09 May 2014
Category : Entrevista
Today, 9th May, is Europe Day, a date on which 28 EU countries celebrate their desire for and sense of belonging to a common project. In this interview, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, Secretary of State for the European Union, talks to us about the present and future of the EU and the role of Spain in Europe.
We’re about to elect our representatives to the European Parliament for the next five years. With the European elections just a few days away, what do you believe the European Union has meant for Spain?
The accession of Spain to the EU helped in the consolidation of our democracy, in modernizing our economy, in attaining greater international relevance. Similarly, the structural funds received, the liberalization of the domestic market and the adoption of the single currency has led to the modernization of Spain’s productive structure. Our country could not remain isolated in the face of the new challenges presented by globalization. Becoming part of the European Union has helped us to adapt to this and to improve Spain’s situation at all levels.
What role has Spain played in the construction of Europe?
The construction of Europe is patient work that is being done little by little based on a solid and firm foundation of common culture. And Spain has contributed to this. The contribution of ideas and initiatives by Spain has helped to strengthen European institutions, we’ve led proposals on immigration, the fight against terrorism and gender violence; and we’ve created favourable conditions for Europe to become closer to Latin America and to the southern Mediterranean countries.
Spain, moreover, is strongly pro-Europe. It advocates for the growth of the European Union. The more countries that adopt all the social, cultural, environmental, economic, security and other policies applied in the EU, the more peaceful, social and democratic the environment we count on to achieve greater growth opportunities will be. One example of Spain’s commitment in this sense can be seen in the work being done through the FIIAPP, which has assisted almost all the countries recently incorporated into the EU with twinning projects between public institutions which have enabled them to adapt their legislation and administrations to European regulations.
The European Union today has nothing to do with the first step towards economic and political union taken by six countries on the continent in the 50s to create the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)
Europe has evolved greatly since then. Not only has it grown in terms of composition, from the six founding countries to the 28 that currently comprise it, but it has progressed towards a real union in all senses. Physical borders between our countries have been abolished thanks to the Schengen agreements. We have a common market and a single currency. There is also greater judicial, penal and police cooperation; and, as an example of this, we can cite the formation of Europol and the creation of Eurojust. Training and mutual knowledge has been promoted amongst Europeans with programmes that encourage travel, language learning, cultural exchanges, common work between universities. We have the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. There is still much left for us to do, but we continue working on it. European integration is still the most beautiful utopia of the twenty-first century.
Is there a sense of a European identity amongst the citizens of the EU?
According to a recent poll, only 43% of the subjects consulted knew the meaning of belonging to the European Union, and 48% stated that they did not know their rights. Europe needs to create a new narrative that is attractive enough to engage citizens. It needs a message, and this would have to emphasize the value of the achievements of the last six decades in terms of liberties, justice, respect for fundamental rights and progress. A new narrative that joins conviction and heart, two powerful motivating forces. We have to insist on this aspect because, as Salvador de Madariaga said: “Europe will not become a reality until it exists in the minds of its citizens”.
What do you think of inter-regional cooperation and cooperation with neighbouring countries?
Europe is still under construction and, in this sense, is not losing sight of other countries that could join the EU. But, also, it has been demonstrated that community cohesion policies can be expanded to other countries in the area. Right now the EU is carrying out programmes to foment democratic values and the rule of law in these neighbouring countries, and it is going to cooperate more with them. Spain, in this sense, is very active with cooperation projects with our southern, and even eastern, neighbours, with which historically we have not had bilateral relations but which we have become closer to thanks to multiple programmes financed by the European Union.
Spain, likewise, has fought to get the EU to maintain cooperation with Latin America, which, having achieved certain established standards of development, is no longer considered a priority zone for action. Our country, despite this, has defended maintenance of the action in this region, as it considers that great inequality still exists.
What are the main challenges of the EU for the future?
The economic crisis made it clear that while the monetary pillar of the European Union was organized, the same was not true of the economic pillar. We have learned from this, and steps are starting to be taken towards greater integration and economic convergence, which involves a banking union and, as a result of this process, a tax and budgetary union, with the ultimate goal of achieving political union. This is the port of arrival in the long voyage of this lovely adventure called Europe.
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