Since 2011, the European University Institute has organized the annual Conference on the State of the Union, which occurs during the celebration of the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, which created the European Coal and Steel Community, the first brick in the creation of the European Union, on May 9, 1950. The conference convenes important political leaders to discuss the status of the European Union and its current challenges. Discussing the State of the Union has never been easy. It was particularly challenging this year, as the conference was held the day after the UK elections that confirmed David Cameron as Prime Minister. His agenda includes a referendum to discuss the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Additionally, the UKIP, a Eurosceptic party, was the third most voted party in the United Kingdom.
Professor J. H. H. Weiler, President of the EUI, took the floor after the introductory remarks of the Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella. Weiler explicitly said that “the State of the Union is not as it should be and is not as could be.”
This year the State of the Union revolved around two main themes: surveillance in Europe, one of the major challenges for European society, and the role that Europe “is playing, should be playing and could be playing” within the international community. In his address, Weiler stated how these two issues are strongly correlated, explaining how the issue of surveillance is broader than it seems. “There is a deep theme to that project because we, democracies, when we fight our enemy, we fight with one hand tied behind our back, and that is how it should be, because the hand tied behind our back is the hand committed to values of human dignity, human rights, the liberal values of democracies. And they are only put to the test in times of emergencies, in times of need. That is when we can really prove if our commitment is at the surface, or if it runs deep. But what we learned from the surveillance project is not only about surveillance, it is about democracy at a time when it is being tested.”
Critical emergencies and human rights were also topics during an interview with the first Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, as well as in Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s speech. The current situation in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of people are attempting to cross to Europe, naturally came up. During the interview with Timmermans, Weiler stressed that people are migrating to Europe, not to Italy, France or Germany. This should indicate to Europe that it needs to adopt a common European migration policy as it promotes the free circulation of people around the continent. The respect for human rights was at the center of his interview with Timmermans. Although the recent request for the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was rejected by the European Court of Justice in its preliminary comment, Timmermans said this request is crucial to “protect ourselves from a slow dehumanization process.”
According to Renzi, many see the European Union as a giant structure ready to work toface of emergencies, but not to play the important role in the international community that the European founding fathers imagined. The emergency in Greece, the emergency in the Mediterranean and the Ebola crisis are examples of Europe effectively facing emergency situations, but Renzi said Europe lacks, and desperately needs, a longterm perspective and a plan for the future.