14 Oct, 2021

Op-ed: Winning Europe's future

In this op-ed, Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas and Maite Pagazaurtundúa MEP share how, facing challenges from all sides, the Conference on the Future of Europe is a decisive moment for the European Union.

The common European project is a remarkable story of collectively-achieved success. More than 60 years ago, the seed was sown for this magnificent economic, political and social tool, which has turned a continent of war and struggle into one of peace and freedom. We can be proud of the work done by the generations before us, who have created a better Europe. Thanks to their intelligence, generosity and hard work, we have enjoyed the longest period of peace and prosperity in the continent's history. Their efforts showed us that collaboration is better than confrontation, and that we are united by much more than what divides us. This invaluable work advanced the project over some difficult decades, to forge the supranational alliance we enjoy today.

Spanish people are well aware of the importance of the EU in transforming our country. Its help has been crucial in consolidating our democracy, enabling our economic take-off, and making our journey towards modernisation possible in record time. We owe much to Europe, just as Europe owes much to Spain for its contribution to the common project. We are better and stronger together.

Now, 64 years after the Treaties of Rome and 29 years after Maastricht, Europe finds itself at a decisive moment. There are numerous challenges and threats in our rapidly changing world, where China and the US compete for economic and technological supremacy, and where the EU continues to be a major market power despite representing just 7% of the world's population and with an ageing citizenry. In addition to testing geopolitical dynamics, we face challenges arising from Brexit and its impact on the single market and our customs interests, the fight against climate change, the digitalisation of the economy, among countless others.

One of these challenges, of course, is the rebuilding of societies and economies devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. To meet this need, the EU has already provided us with two of the best possible tools: vaccination and funds for reconstruction. Can you imagine what it would have cost Spain to cope with such a crisis outside of the EU? What it would have cost to procure vaccines and help families, small businesses and the self-employed to survive? Not to mention the impossibility of designing a reconstruction plan that could rival the opportunity presented by the European funds for reconstruction.

But with many more challenges ahead, it is essential to realise that the European project must continue its consolidation, if it wants to retain and build upon its impressive achievements. It is much like a plant that needs to be watered, pruned and tended to on a daily basis. After all, the EU is not short of enemies, inside or outside, eager to bring about its failure. Nationalism of all stripes, which the European project was formed to banish, as well as the populism that run counter to the EU’s founding values of solidarity, equality, union and freedom, have all been relentless in their efforts to erode our shared community.

However, there can be no hiding from the fact that many Europeans today, and especially young people, are asking themselves whether the EU will be able to respond to their problems and challenges. Whether it will be able to offer them a future full of opportunities, in a world radically different from the one in which the European project was born. When responding to this legitimate concern, Liberals have no doubt that about the answer: yes, it can. In fact, not only can the EU offer this world of opportunity to future generations, but it stands alone as the only institution capable of delivering them the best possible future. The European path is one of hope, possibility and opportunity. But to take this path together we must reform, relaunch and firmly defend the project against those who wish to dismantle it.

The way forward lies neither with the magical remedies of the populists - old, failed policies repackaged - nor with the identity politics of the nationalists. Europe remains the solution. To recognise this, the Conference on The Future of Europe has been convened. This innovative forum for public debate and discussion will allow us to set the priorities and design the proposals that will help us to build a common future together. Liberals have been heavily involved in this initiative, having already set up a series of meetings in countries across the Union to imagine this shared future with our citizens.

We believe that all citizens must be involved in the future of Europe. This must be done by looking at the world with an open mind, accepting the difficulties that must be overcome and debating with purpose, maturity and a sense of responsibility. As Jean Monnet said, "we are not forming coalitions between States, but union among people".

The Spanish liberals were excited to host the most recent of these citizen-oriented meetings, which took place in the Spanish capital on 3 October and brought together the foremost leaders of European liberalism to the headquarters of Ciudadanos. We know that we have a significant responsibility to assume in the new age facing the European Union, and we are ready to take it on. We demand a lot from our citizens, but we demand even more from ourselves.

The occasion was also an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic national election result achieved by our colleagues in the German FDP last month. After enduring some difficult periods, as any liberal project must, the FDP have assumed a strong position in the Bundestag and are very close to deciding the next government of Europe's leading economic power. This is excellent news for all of us who believe in the EU, and by extension, believe in freedom.

This was not the only good news to come from these elections: the fall of extremist parties on both sides - Die Linke and AfD - is another sign for hope. It shows that when alliances form between the centrist and democratic forces, offering real solutions to the real problems of its citizens, the extremes are left with no breeding ground for their dangerous populist rhetoric.

The same trend is seen in the European institutions, where liberals, conservatives and social democrats work together on Union legislation. We do not allow nationalists or populists from either extreme to gain control in any of the proceedings. Our political family has a decisive say in European governance. We guarantee not only to defend European values and liberal ideas, but to exercise our deciding influence with the interests of the Spanish people always in mind.

In the same way we celebrate a sense of community in Europe, we hope to one day celebrate a sense of State prevailing in Spain, where we make headway with major national agreements and approve national reforms in the areas of pensions, birth rates, the labour market, education and environmental protection. Just as we work with the parties on the continent that believe in Europe, Spanish parties that believe in Spain must also work together.

Ciudadanos will continue to tirelessly pursue this objective. We are the representatives of Spain in the family of European liberalism, and the leading representatives of liberalism in Spanish politics. The defence of democracy and the fight for freedom is in our DNA. We will continue to use our influence to promote the values that forged the European project, which belongs to all of you as its citizens. Ensuring that we can win the future together and continue to enjoy the extraordinary creation that is the European Union.

This opinion piece was originally published in Spanish in El Mundo, 1 October 2021.

Photo credit: Ciudadanos

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