CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – As the former Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana presided over a decade of dramatic growth.
From 1999 to 2009, he was the face of the EU and the spirit of a bold assertion of the idea of a nascent body that was in the process of defining itself.
And, well, let’s just say a lot has changed since he left the helm.
The European economic crisis has put the EU in a very uncertain place with many questions swirling about its fate and its future.
Solana, who is now President of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and President of the ESADE Centre for Global Economics and Geopolitics, has spent the last week trying to answer some of those questions at Harvard University. He came to the campus at the invitation of the Kennedy School’s Future of Diplomacy Project headed by former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and former US Ambassador to NATO, R. Nicholas Burns.
GlobalPost was offered an interview with Solana at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, where the graduate students and faculty greeted him like a rock star. I covered Solana as Europe Bureau Chief for the Boston Globe from 2001 to 2006 and had a chance this week to catch up with him. Here are five questions GlobalPost put to Javier Solana on the current and still-unfolding crisis of the EU.
Q: The EU is in a particularly challenging moment. Is it a crisis, a turning point, or how would you characterize the moment?
A: The EU is in the middle of a crisis. There is no doubt about that. And the outcome of this crisis really has two possibilities. It is a kind of fracturing. Or it is a further integration.
Q: How does the EU get through this, and how does it return to growth?
A: The only way out is through more and deeper integration. The return to growth, well, that is a harder question and one that would take a lot of time. The return to growth is going to be a big challenge. One way to start this process is to establish a European fund, a collective investment that would be strategically applied to growth. By only cutting and austerity measures, we will never come out of this situation.
Q: Can we focus on Spain specifically since this is your country? There is 25 percent unemployment there now. How do you possibly turn the corner to growth with that high an unemployment rate?
A: Well, first of all some context. What is considered ‘full employment’ in Spain is always at about an 8 percent. That is because of the nature of the jobs in tourism and in construction, which are temporal and seasonal and fluid. There is a lot of fluidity in the job market and that has always been true. But 25 percent is too much. We risk losing a generation here. A big consideration in this is the fact that Spain has had a dramatic increase in immigration during the last 10 to 15 years. From North Africa and also from Latin America. But what is clear is that a very large number of the unemployed are immigrants. If the jobs are not there for them, they will, I guess, return and they have not returned as yet. But again the key will be growth and finding the way to stimulate the growth.
Q: The labor unions in Spain and across Europe seem weaker than ever. Is that the case and is that an important consideration in understanding the crisis in which the EU finds itself?
A: First of all, yes, labor is weak. True. The working class is disappearing. The big factories that were the basis of the power of the unions no longer exist. At least, not at the level they did in the days when labor was very strong. Smaller companies do not have strong unions and what we see in Spain are small companies. So their potential political representation is also weakened. Another factor to consider here is that the unions were always very national in their focus and the EU is a coordinating body of nations, many nations, and so they (the unions) are weakened by this structural reality as well. I would say in Spain they continue to be important, but, yes, they are weaker. That is not as true in northern Europe, of course, where they are still very strong.
Q: The European Union’s economic instability seems to undercut its diplomatic authority in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fighting in Syria and the situation with Iran. How does the EU address these issues in the context of crisis?
A: The problems existed before the crisis and will continue to after the crisis. The EU continues to be an important player. The crisis is very difficult but it will be overcome. We will back and learn lessons. And I think one of them will be a recognition that the there really is not a global economic crisis, but a crisis of the rich countries. And when we emerge from this current EU crisis, we will find ourselves in a different world with new challenges. Historically, we have seen a divergence of growth between rich and poor countries. And what is ahead in the future is a convergence of growth. Right now European countries represent 4 out of 10 of the largest economies in the world. In twenty years, they will represent only two. But if the European Union is taken as a whole is in the top two or three and will be for a very, very long time. So again, the idea for the EU is to further integrate and that is the way out of the crisis. And we get out of the crisis, the diplomatic issues will be there and we will always be part of finding solutions to them.