Over the past ten years, the European Union has endured a series of unprecedented crises, the likes of which we are unlikely to see again. But other, no less daunting challenges lie ahead, and we would do well to remember the lessons learned along the way.
One lesson is that unity is not an option; it is a condition sine qua non of the EU’s economic prosperity and political relevance. It is remarkable that since 2004, when I became President of the European Commission, the EU’s membership has nearly doubled, from 15 countries then to 28 now.
There have been no defections. From 2004 to 2014, we enlarged both the EU and the eurozone. Most important, we have kept Europe united.
I fought hard for that unity, particularly when defending, often against the odds, Greece’s continued membership in the eurozone, as well as when arguing against splitting the eurozone, as some people proposed. The Commission remained attentive not only to the dramatic impact of a “Grexit” on Greece, but also to its possible financial, economic, and political cascade effects. Unlike others, we never lost sight of the systemic effects of decisions across the eurozone or the EU.
The EU is already an economic and political reality. This requires solidarity and responsibility – in particular, solidarity from the Union’s more prosperous countries and responsibility on the part of those countries in need of reform. The Commission has been equally firm in demanding both.
The same logic applies to another core concern that I faced throughout my decade at the Commission: the need to deepen the eurozone while maintaining the integrity of the EU as a whole. This will remain a critical issue in the near future, if only because of the uncertainty surrounding the United Kingdom’s status in our Union.