“EU lacks leadership” say delegates at Swedish global forum

Lacking political leadership could spell the European Union's downfall, according to high-level delegates attending an international globalization forum in Sweden this week.

“We lack leadership. We lack leaders to explain to the people what the whole story is about. Instead we have political discussions about percentages and net payments. We have discussions about labour market restrictions,” Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka told AFP on the sidelines of the Tällberg Forum.

“I can understand these as a politician but it takes a statesman to explain all of this to the people,” he said.

The future of the EU was thrown into doubt after French and Dutch voters rejected the new European constitution in May and June.

According to EU rules, the treaty must be approved by all of the 25 member states.

That crisis was then followed by the failure of EU leaders to agree on a budget for 2007-2013 during a June summit in Brussels which was described as a fiasco.

The task of getting the bloc out of the present crisis falls to its current president, Britain, which took the reins from Luxembourg at the beginning of July.

Belka said he was optimistic that Europe’s leaders would be able to work out their differences and continue to develop the European project, noting that “this is not the first crisis in the history of the European Union.”

“But what Europe obviously needs is reform,” he stressed.

The Lisbon Council, a think tank in Brussels, believes British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be able to turn the EU crisis around.

“This crisis is healthy, this crisis is an opportunity. The absence of crisis does not mean the EU is moving ahead, quite the contrary this is a needed change. I think the United Kingdom has exerted much needed leadership in this crisis,” according to Anne Mettler from the Lisbon Council, who also attended the forum.

Mettler believes the crisis now paves the way for a two-speed Europe.

“This means integration in certain policy areas while others stay out. I think we are going to see more of that in economic policy making,” she said.

However both Belka and Mettler believe that in order to save the EU from further demise, Germany and France must get their economic houses in order.

The two biggest eurozone economies have public deficits exceeding the limit of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) imposed on the 12 nations using the euro single currency.

“People are worried about their jobs. We have collapsing budget deficits. We have a demographic crisis. These two countries cannot drag everybody else down,” Mettler said.

“There are highly competitive successful economies in Europe. They want to move ahead. A two-speed Europe is the only way out for the time being,” Mettler said.

Meanwhile, the Polish leader believes that when the European economy picks up and the euro weakens a bit, life will seem less insecure for some people.

“Obviously this has to be helped by internal reforms in some Western economies, without this the European fiscal policy is doomed,” he warned.