European leaders discuss the future of the EU in Davos

Senior leaders from France, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands reiterated their countries’ commitment to the European Union, and pledged to do everything to reach a compromise with the United Kingdom that would keep it as a full member.

“What we need is more of Europe, rather than less of Europe,” Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. “I’m sure that Europe can move ahead and can mature and grow its policy … but it can only do so if it can face this challenge of security and if we can pool our means to fight against terrorism.”

Valls called for solidarity in solving Europe’s immediate problems, including the influx of refugees, which is straining the resources of Greece and non-member Turkey. “We look forward to working with Europe,” said Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, on addressing the refugee crisis. He said the burden should be shared by everyone in the European Union, including resettlement of refugees in member countries.

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said Europe has six to eight weeks to come to grips with the refugee crisis, which can worsen when winter ends. He noted that 35,000 people arrived in Western Europe in just the first three weeks of 2016. That number could quadruple in spring.

“We need to make a success of the EU-Turkey agreement, the reception facilities in Greece and Italy, and the relocation system within the European Union,” he said.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Federal Minister of Finance of Germany, noted the calls for a “Marshall Plan” to help deal with the refugee crisis. But instead of spending billions in Europe, he said the better course of action is to help rebuild the regions that the refugees are fleeing to reduce the exodus to Europe. Schäuble stressed the need for member countries to abide by all their agreements, if the European Union is to be kept intact and surmount the many challenges it faces. Amendments and changes can be made, he said, but asking national parliaments to approve them would be like “bringing a lit candle to a room full of dynamite.”

Tsipras responded: “I’m not in favour of trying to bring a lit candle in a room full of dynamite. But then again, I don’t think we have to keep members in the dark. The best possible solution is to make sure that you get rid of the dynamite that’s in the room and then light the candle.”

In addition to attending to the immediate crises, Europe should not forget fundamental reforms that would encourage sustainable growth, said Emma Marcegaglia, Chairman, Eni, Italy. The head of the oil and gas multinational noted that Europe now attracts only 17% of global investment flows, compared with 40% a decade ago.

“Europe should focus more on competitiveness,” said Marcegaglia, who is also President of the Confederation of European Business. She called for less regulation and more innovation. For his part, Rutte noted that only 35% of the European Union’s economy is part of the common market. If digital, energy, services and capital are injected as well, an extra €1.25 trillion could be added to GDP, an amount twice the size of the economy of the Netherlands.

Over 2,500 leaders from business, government, international organizations, civil society, academia, media and the arts are participating in the 46th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on 20-23 January. Under the theme, Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the programme comprises over 300 sessions, of which over 100 sessions will be webcast live.

PHOTO: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/ Di Domenico (Alexis Tsipras, Emma Marcegaglia, Wolfgang Schaeuble)