The event, jointly organised by the Region of Central Macedonia and the European Committee of the Regions as part of the European Union's debate on The Future of the European Union: Citizens' Expectations , took place at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall last night and was a resounding success, with hundreds of people taking an active part.
The keynote speech was given by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, with contributions from the Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia, Apostolos Tzitzikostas , the President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula and the former Rector of the University of Macedonia, Ilias Kouskouvelis, followed by a public debate.
The break-up of the European Union, starting with its inner core, the euro area, will be the inevitable outcome if full integration is not brought about in the shape of a federal government subject to the institutional precepts of representative democracy, argued Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos in his keynote speech on The urgent need to complete European integration.
"The very survival and overall prospects of the European Union and the euro area depend not on economic and monetary progress alone, but also - and most importantly - on the solidity of the European institutional framework. Only the European institutions are by nature capable of guaranteeing not only stability, but indeed European integration itself, as a goal and as a process" , emphasised Mr Pavlopoulos.
He pointed to the need to act urgently to shore up the EU's fundamental supporting structures, indicating that Europe is underpinned by the European rule of law and representative democracy .
According to the Greek President, the following are crucial to the European rule of law:
promulgation of the necessary laws for the organisation and functioning of each of the EU bodies, and of its central core, the euro area;
provision for and effective imposition of penalties - primarily through the involvement of the relevant courts - in the event of infringement of such laws.
Apostolos Tzitzikostas, Governor of Central Macedonia , reviewed the huge challenges facing the European venture, the problems in the functioning of the EU and the changes needed if they are to be resolved.
"The forces of populism have been dreaming of new walls and barriers springing up across Europe, of retreating once again behind national barricades. They claim this would banish the ailments generated by globalisation. But these voices, with their simplistic proposals, superficial approaches and facile solutions, have been exposed as naive. The European Union, the largest political structure in post-war world history, has proved to have very solid foundations and to be resistant to powerful shocks . Those harking back to a purely national vision have failed to win the argument - but that does not in itself mean that the problems are not real" , he stressed.
Concerning the EU's problems, Mr Tzitzikostas said that "Europe is today struggling to cope with its unwieldy size and progress towards full and deeper integration has become bogged down. Fiscal and social inequalities are increasing, both between citizens and between the Member States. Therefugee and migration crisis has laid bare a glaring lack of solidarity. Insecurity and the wave of Islamist terrorism are stretching the resilience of the European way of life and European values to the limits. In the absence of meaningful powers and administrative cohesion, Europe acts small on big matters and big on little ones ".
The Governor of Central Macedonia emphasised that European must continue along its path in the future, but under new conditions.
As he put it: "Europe needs to show its determination:
to pursue a policy of radically reducing social inequalities;
to press ahead with consolidating economic and fiscal union;
to implement a common foreign and defence policy which isat the same time genuinely effective and genuinely shared;
to extend democratic accountability;
to introduce the direct election of a European president by citizens on the same day as the European Parliament elections;
to adopt the proposals recently made in the dialogue by the European Commission to strengthen the euro area's institutions : a permanent Eurogroup chair and the creation of a European Monetary Fund" .
Mr Tzitzikostas said that regional and local authorities can and must act as catalysts in improving the EU in the quest for deeper and closer European integration, urging them to play a more prominent role: “Now, faced with the task of strengthening integration, it is up to Europe to place even greater trust in us . Because this is the only way that Europe will be more clearly heard in society. Because this is the way for dialogue, instead of being choked off, to remain open and ongoing. Because the European Union has risen from its tradition of pluralism, from its comparative advantages and from the unique features of each of its regions. Because the European Union is the sum of all 27 of its Member States, not just the strong ones. The regions and cities are the drivers of future development” , said Mr Tzitzikostas.
The president of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula , said he was convinced that “ together we can build a Europe that will be close to its citizens ”. Mr Markkula outlined the role of the European Committee of the Regions, explaining that to promote dialogue with the people of Europe, more than 130 similar events had been held as part of the EU-wide campaign to listen to local communities through contacts with the regions and municipalities, but also by involving individual members of the public directly in the broader debate.
The aim, said Mr Markkula, is to inform the European decision-making bodies of the views of local communities on how to improve their lives in a united Europe, and how to build a better future for Europe.
“Our members do not just come to Brussels for plenary assemblies and committee meetings. They bring their ideas, the voice of the people they represent and their expertise to the centre of decision-making in the heart of Europe. In the aftermath of Brexit, the EU is adamant that it must be built on the voice of the regions, of the cities and of its people. Everyone can contribute to our common European future . Dialogue is all the more relevant given that 70% of EU legislation has an impact on the cities and rural areas where it is implemented. The elected representatives should decide on the future of the EU, and Europe should be built from the bottom up. The European Committee of the Regions encourages its members to work together and to use the EU’s financial instruments to create added value. We use all the of the cohesion funds, ensuring that proper use is made of the funding, something that does not happen in all the regions of the EU”, said Mr Markkula.
Although there had been funding cuts as a result of the economic crisis, Mr Markkula made the point that the Region of Central Macedonia is an example of the proper use of European funding , something he had had the opportunity to observe first-hand in the course of his visit to Thessaloniki. In fact he described the Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, as a model for all local representatives in this respect, as by exploiting the possibilities offered by European financial instruments, he is endeavouring to secure resources to implement the measures needed by the people of the region .
The former Rector of the University of Macedonia, Ilias Kouskouvelis, also spoke, describing the main problems facing the EU as being "excessive red tape and over-regulation, and the failure to make adjustments and corrections to keep abreast of changes in the times and in response to people’s image of the EU”.