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Europe: The Dream and the Choice
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by Romano Prodi 07 the future of Countries & Democracies

Translation of Romano Prodi's contribution to the debate on the future of Europe, published in Italy on 12 November 2003

Europe is a dream, and Europe is a design. It is a dream of a world that is freer, fairer and more united. It is the design we want to carry through in practice day by day. Conscious of our history, we can look at the world in a spirit of openness, and aspire once again to take a leading role. For Europe the time to make choices has come.

1. The challenges of the twenty-first century

There are times in history when peoples are called upon to make decisive choices.

For us in Europe the beginning of the twenty-first century is one of those times.

We have to respond to the powerful shifts that are changing the world and Europe, and facing us with new challenges.

Progress and innovation in transport and communications are bringing about a revolution similar to the one sparked off five hundred years ago by the discovery of America.

The Earth has become both bigger and smaller.

Bigger, because there are no longer any bounds to the movement of goods, people, ideas and images of the world.

And smaller, because everything that happens has implications for the interests or for the conscience of every one of us.

The countries of Europe are too small to be able to guarantee their citizens' safety and welfare by themselves: they have to choose whether to try to hold out in defence of a scale of things that no longer matches the reality of the times, or to pool their forces in the higher, stronger and more competitive unit that is the European Union.

And like our countries, businesses and citizens too have to choose whether to open themselves to the new, or to close in on themselves in defence of the old.

Today, as five centuries ago, the peoples that come through will be those who prove best able to adapt to the new dimensions of the world.

Technological innovation
Technological innovation is transforming our personal and day-to-day lives, challenging systems of production and exchange, and rearranging the relationships and relative strengths of the regions of the world.

Europe is in a position of worrying weakness as compared with the United States, which is at the forefront of innovation, but also with countries such as India and China, which couple low labour costs with a great capacity to make the new technologies their own.

Population trends
In our countries we are living longer and longer, but there are fewer and fewer children, though some very recent figures give hope that the situation may be changing somewhat.

If we do not act in time we are heading for a Europe with a smaller and much older population.

This is a prospect that demands that we rethink all the policies we are pursuing, from family, work, welfare and social security to education, public budgets and immigration.

To offload the problem onto the generations after us, or to confine ourselves to a single aspect, however important, such as the sustainability of social security systems, would be an irresponsible option and a losing strategy.

Environmental degradation
Environmental degradation is quite literally changing the earth under our feet.

We are senselessly using up water, air, land and energy.

We are destroying the beauty of Europe, the fruit of generous nature and centuries of labour and artistic inspiration.

If we do not make the protection of the environment an absolute priority and incorporate “the principles of nature” into every area of policy, we will leave our society irreparably poorer.

Every generation has the moral obligation to leave those that come after the possibility of leading a better life.

Through our lack of interest in the environment we are failing in our human duty.

Democracies withering
It is more and more obvious that our democracies are weary.

They have difficulty resisting the pressures exerted by organised interests; difficulty in preventing the information media from being transformed from tools for monitoring the exercise of power into tools for controlling and dominating political life and the whole of society; difficulty in responding to the demand for participation by men and women who find no way to make their voices heard, and are no longer content with elections at preordained intervals.

The world’s north-south divide
In the face of the enduring imbalances between the north and the south of the world, and the appalling living conditions of entire peoples, we cannot remain inert.

This is a question of simple justice.

The individual choice of men, women and whole families to undertake the suffering and danger of emigration, and the growing determination of poor countries to stand up in defence of their trading interests, are sending a message to richer nations and societies that we cannot brush aside.

The strength of Europe
Responding to these great changes is not going to be easy.

But the difficulty of the choices to be made is matched by the scale of the opportunities that are opening up with progress in the sciences and in communication technologies, the liberalisation of trade, and the gradual spread of democracy and freedom throughout the world.

To be able to seize these opportunities we Europeans can count on great strengths.

With a level of international trade almost equal to those of the United States and South-east Asia together, we are already an unparalleled trading power, and with a population approaching 500 million we have a consumer market on the way to being almost double that of the United States.

We have a common currency, the euro, which is establishing itself alongside the dollar on the international financial markets, and a network of small and medium-sized enterprises that the whole world envies.

In industries as different as aerospace and mobile telephones we have shown that we can stand with the best in the world.

In fifty years of building Europe we have acquired the political and institutional experience that has enabled us to enlarge the membership of our Union from six members to 25, and maybe tomorrow to more than 30; the Union is the most successful and extraordinary example of supranational democracy ever.

In our nations, our regions and our cities and towns we have an unequalled wealth of history, culture and tradition.

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