Pleas for pragmatism as EU charts post-Brexit future

By: | Published: July 3, 2016 10:34 PM

Senior European political figures appealed today for the EU to set aside lofty debate as it struggles with Brexit-style populism, and instead to focus on measures which clearly benefit citizens.

Senior European political figures appealed today for the EU to set aside lofty debate as it struggles with Brexit-style populism, and instead to focus on measures which clearly benefit citizens.

Leading the charge, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble — a linchpin of the Berlin coalition government — scorned “political sermons,” institutional reform and changes to EU treaties as proposed fixes for Europe’s faultlines.

“This is not a time for grand visions,” the 73-year-old veteran minister, long a passionate supporter of the European project, told Welt am Sonntag weekly.

“The situation is so serious that we have to stop playing the usual European and Brussels games,” Schaeuble said.

“The EU is facing an acid test, perhaps the greatest in its history.”

Schaeuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said the EU had to work “with speed and pragmatism” to unlock growth and thus create jobs.

He sketched initiatives from a common energy policy to job training to harmonising national defence procurements.

The CDU’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats, meanwhile stressed strengthening the safety net for the poor or unemployed — two big factors in the perceived collapse of confidence in the EU.

The goal must be to “not only create competition but also social security,” said Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, describing the crisis in Greece as a pointer of a possible north-south split in Europe.

In the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, the European commissioner for economic policy, Pierre Moscovici, called for “strong initiatives… to reinvent Europe.”

“Status quo cannot be a reply to Brexit,” he said, referring to the June 23 referendum in which a majority of Britons voted to leave the EU.

The vote dealt a body-blow to European federalists, who want the bloc’s states to come into an ever-tighter embrace.

Critics of federalism argue many citizens are hostile to Euro-centralism. They contend Brussels is not addressing concerns about jobs, living standards and migration.

Moscovici threw his weight behind widening and extending the so-called Juncker Plan — a scheme named after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which uses EU funds as a lever for investment in areas such as energy, infrastructure and research.

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