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close this bookThe Courier N 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)
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View the documentJacques Delors, President of the European Commission

Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission

'Without confidence, people can never work together for any common cause

Jacques Delors, erstwhile Minister of Economic Affairs, Finance and the Budget in the French Government, former professor at the University of Paris Dauphine and an ex-Member of the European Parliament. has been President of the Commission of the European communities since January 1985.

For nearly ten years now President Delors has been active as one of the architects of the abolition of the Community's internal frontiers, the resumption of the social dialogue. the establishment of the integrated Mediterranean programmes. the accession of Spain and Portugal. the adoption of the Single European Act. the coordination of aid to Eastern Europe, the negotiations on the Uruguay Round, the creation of the European Economic Area, the drafting, negotiation and putting into effect of the Maastricht Treaty, the adoption of the White Paper on 'Growth, Competitiveness and Employment' and, lastly, the negotiations on admitting four new Member States to the Community. It was also during his presidency that the European flag was adopted by the community institutions and flown for the first time - a highly symbolic act - in Brussels on 29 May 1986.

As the Treaty on European Union comes into effect. The Courier also felt the time was ripe to ask President Delors about his policies in the economic. social and institutional fields and his ideas on international and development policy.

· How would you sum up your achievements as President of the European Commission?

- This is early days to be talking about summing up. I still have eight months to serve at the head of the Commission, and you can rest assured that I still have a great many plans, and I have no intention whatsoever of slowing down on the work! On the contrary - I don't only want to leave the place in proper working order for my successor, I also want to popularise some new ideas and, most of all, push ahead with a number of major projects.

What are these major projects?

- As 1 see it there are four of them, which is already an impressive total. First, there's the European economy. where momentum has been lost, competitiveness has taken a knock and there has been a dramatic surge in unemployment. Next comes organising the wider Europe, expanding to take in new members, though that isn't all. Then we come to striking a new balance in our relations with the countries of the South - and ´'m not just saying that because I'm talking to you, I've always been a proponent of that idea Lastly, we need to make Europe's institutions stronger, because without strong institutions high-minded aspirations seldom turn into practical action.

Can we look at each of these priorities in turn 7 Starting with unemployment - what can the European Commission do?

To start with, it can get people talking. The Commission is less at the mercy of short-term political deadlines than governments are, which means it can afford to stand back a bit and say things which may upset people. That's what happened with the Commission's White Paper which the heads of state and government adopted last December.

What is the basic issue here 7 It's a matter of whether there is a peculiarly European disease of unemployment, which would explain why, for example, Europe creates fewer jobs for the same amount of growth than the United States and Japanese economies. Is Europe too rigid, is it growing too old. is it doomed to decline in a rapidly changing world? The White Paper was an attempt to answer these questions and suggest some avenues for reform.

· How far have we got towards putting it into effect 7

- In June the heads of state and government will be launching a first batch of ten major works projects involving trans-European infrastructure networks. These networks are vital for company competitiveness. regional development and links with Central and Eastern Europe. We're also making progress on the matter of the 'information society', in other words fusing data processing and traditional communications technology. which can have highly practical consequences when it comes to the way work is organised and our societies are structured.

Lastly - and this may be the nub of the matter - the White Paper prompts each of the Member States to think hard about its own employment and training policy and learn from what works for its neighbours. There's no miracle cure, make no mistake, but we do need new ideas and cooperation. What isn't acceptable is that, out of selfishness or because it's an easy answer, as the years go by we should get used to the idea of part of Europe's workforce being 'sidelined', either being sent into early retirement, so-called, or struck off the unemployment lists in return for guaranteed social security assistance.

And then we mustn't forget that unemployment isn't just the sum total of individual hardships. Unemployment saps the confidence of whole nations, and without that confidence people can never work together for any common cause.

When you say working for a common cause, you mean building Europe, and more and more countries want to get involved in that But aren't you afraid that enlargement without consolidation may undermine the whole undertaking from inside?

- You're right, that is a question we have to ask. I have just two things to say about that. First, to hear people talk about the European Union these days, all is doom and gloom. Yet there are lots of countries knocking on the door. which shows that it isn't all going so badly. And you mustn't think the only thing that spurs these countries on is the material aspects of joining Europe, which is a thing we hear too often. Look at the central and eastern European countries The reason why they want to join isn't just that they see it as support for. and the culmination of. the work they have done to transform their economies. It's also, in fact more than anything else. that they need security and want to chase away those 'false prophets' rejection of others, glorification of the ethnic group, the confusion of religion and politics, and so on. It's all these evil notions which lie at the heart of the tragedy in Yugoslavia, and threaten the whole of eastern Europe and part of the former Soviet Union It's a very contagious illness, in fact it's the post-Cold War disease, and none of us can feel safe from it. So if I had to cite just one success of European integration, it would be peace and mutual understanding between peoples, the fact that we have been able to overcome historic rivalries and hatred between neighbours through a common undertaking in which everyone, however small, has a say. And undertakings like that aren't two a penny worries me about the way the negotiations on admitting Sweden, Norway, Finland and Austria were concluded is that no one dared to raise the questions of how effective, simple or easily understandable the Community institutions would be - as though it were a taboo subject. But you can't load the ship higher without strengthening a few of the planks, without firming up the framework here and there Anyway I have always fought. and I will go on fighting as an 'activist for Europe' once my term of office ends. to get that taboo lifted and make people look those questions in the eye. After all, look at all the experiments there have been with trying to bring nations closer together and lay down rules collectively: the only ones which work - and you can count them on the fingers of one hand, alas - are the ones which have strong and effective institutions. That is a vital bequest from the 'founding fathers' of Europe and we must hold on to it.

· A moment ago you talked about striking a new balance between East and South Does that mean you think the countries south of Europe have been overlooked in recent years?

- I'm very familiar with that criticism, as I hear it regularly whenever I receive leaders from the Maghreb or ACP countries.

But it isn't so easy to follow when you look at the figures for each country Leaving aside the bilateral aid from each of the Member States, in 1994 the European Union is putting about FCU 4 billion into development cooperation. All the five year allocations have gone up considerably compared with the preceding period, and that goes for the ACP countries, the Maghreb, Asia and Latin America. So when people talk to me about the South being neglected, I point out that our operations to help the ACP countries come to 38% of all external operations by the Union over the past five years.

There is real concern, though. I think it's largely a matter of perception, due to the fact that at the end of 1989, for example. the Community reacted to requests from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia very quickly, while the negotiations over LomV were going ahead laboriously, or because instruments which used to be reserved just for the developing countries have been extended to Eastern Europe. But the actual figures belie the idea that the South has slipped to second place in our list of priorities.

What seems most important of all to me is that now people are talking about effectiveness of aid as much as about the total amount, and about opening up to trade as much as about assistance.

What do you think, in fact, about the changes the Union proposes should be made to the Lomonvention?

To begin with. I'm very glad that there's to go on being a special Lomrrangement. It's worth reminding people that such a broad palette of instruments, set in a contractual framework involving so many countries. has no counterpart in any other cooperation policy In fact it's certainly the most structured and ambitious of all international cooperation agreements, and the whole thing is to be preserved in its entirety. The point of the changes the Commission wanted to see made to it, at the suggestion of Vice President Marin, is to bring Lomp to date, because the Convention is showing its age in some respects and the whole framework could collapse if the necessary adjustments aren't made in good time. I'm talking here about greater flexibility in planning; stepping up action to promote sustainable development, support institutional reforms and encourage the private sector; and reforming procedures so as to make the decision making process less cumbersome and shorten implementation times. I have given my backing to these proposals but at the same time made sure that the partnership principle won't be called into question. I have also proposed setting up genuine dialogue between the European Union and the ACP countries on matters of common concern: Rwanda and Somalia, of course, but also Bosnia or United Nations reform. It was time we moved on from just talking about managing the instruments set up by the Convention.

· Do you subscribe to the currently fashionable Afro-pessimism?

I'm glad to say I see lots of reasons to be hopeful. Firstly, I think we are getting over our old ideological quarrels and reaching a sort of new consensus on the policies we should be following: to put it briefly, that means setting up a stable economic framework with consensus backing; pursuing a policy which is open to the outside but redistributes resources internally; rejigging structural adjustment policies so as to limit their adverse effects on the least privileged sectors of the population but also safeguard the future by taking care not to sacrifice the vital sectors, education and health, on the altar of short-term expediency; liberalising economies and promoting democracy in tandem, while taking account of the distinctive conditions in Africa; reforming the structures of government and the administration, while at the same time relying on new operators - firms, local communities, families and, especially, women; and going for 'sustainable development', with all that implies in terms of paying attention to demographic and environmental balance.

To be more specific, I would point to two developments which I have been following closely and which I think are moves in the right direction. The first is the growing interest being shown in questions of education I chair a UNESCO committee on this - it's been a keen interest of mine for years - and at a meeting in Dakar I was pleasantly surprised not just to hear people talking in ways which were much fresher than what I was used to hearing. but to hear very practical accounts of experiments in the field which had worked because everyone in a village had been involved - incidentally, it was practically always women who were the driving force It was a great comfort to hear that, I can tell you.

The other development is regional integration. which is making progress particularly in Africa in the aftermath of the devaluation of the CFA franc. I see it as a sort of European integration back to front, where you start with a single currency, the CFA franc, and move on to setting up a regional financial area and then an African internal market Developing genuine internal markets within regions is. l think. the essential middle stage on the way to getting access to the world market. The European Union has thrown itself wholeheartedly into that process, since it has some experience of it And the approach needs to be extended to other regions of Africa, and to the Caribbean and the Pacific

A so you're not an 'Afro-pessimist'. But to end our talk by getting back to Europe, are you a 'Euro-optimist' for the future?

- I he European Union is going through a crisis, there's no doubt about that: the economic recession, which luckily is showing signs of being over, makes it difficult for us to feel comfortable as a group of twelve when every Member State is weakened; the rifts tearing Yugoslavia apart impact on public opinion and simply leave an impression of impotence and procrastination; the differences between the Member States over their concept of European integration, particularly as regards how far it should be allowed to go, are still sharp. But I think it is a crisis of growth, like many others the Union has been through since it was set up 38 years ago, and from which it has always emerged unscathed in the end.

What has changed - and this is the real sign of maturity is that with the discussions about ratifying the Maastricht Treaty in various countries, public opinion has made itself heard in what has tended to be an over-technocratic exercise. From now on we will have to take the public into account, explain things, ask them for their support which is obviously a very good thing, even if it makes matters more difficult. And let me say again, when we talk about European integration. we must get back to a number of 'basics' without which we forget the main objective: rejecting decline. uniting nations and peoples and working for peace and mutual understanding.