Spanish politician discusses European challenges

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Photo by Selen Uman.

Former Spanish foreign affairs minister Ana Palacio argued Tuesday afternoon that the European Union must address cultural shortcomings and revise its strategies for dealing with the current economic crisis.

Palacio, who is a also a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, spoke to a group of over 40 students and faculty members in the International Room of Sterling Memorial Library about European public policy. European leaders must not only implement policies that lead to economic growth, Palacio said, but they must also adjust the outdated structures formed during the Cold War and accept their current position in the world.

“The economy is part of the crisis, but it is not the whole story,” Palacio said. “There is a lack of focus on the more fundamental problems in the European Union. There is an ideological message that we have to address beyond economics.”

Austerity, Palacio claimed, is not an solution by itself to the economic crisis, as some have suggested. Without economic growth as well, struggling European countries will not be able to repay their loans. She added that countries need to develop credibility for any fiscal plans to be successful.

Besides recovering from the economic crisis, Palacio said, the European Union faces other challenges in remaining stable. Since the European Union formed during the Cold War, its structure is not entirely appropriate for today’s needs, and she suggested that the current system often slows the process of implementing policies.

Palacio, who called herself a “diehard optimist,” also said European people should assume a more positive outlook and learn to appreciate their assets.

“[Europeans] are plagued with all kinds of ‘isms’ — we are the kings of ‘isms,’ all these bad ‘isms,’” she said. “The European attitude is one of skepticism against the backdrop of entitlement.”

On top of addressing its internal economic challenges and cultural problems, Palacio said Europeans must “find [their] place in the world.” In discussing Europe’s relationship to the United States, she said Europeans must accept that the United States’ focus has shifted away from Europe and “embrace [the fact that] America is looking East.”

Palacio called for European countries to turn to each other and better integrate their cultures and policies.

In response to a question from the audience, she added it is a mistake to forget European countries’ violent history with each other since that same history forms bonds between them.

“We are the Europeans of the 21st century,” she said. “The future is a future of more integration [of our cultures], without forgetting that we each have our particularities.”

Five audience members interviewed all said they appreciated the chance to hear the views of a European politician, and some added that they were struck by her positive outlook. Eva Guadamillas ’14, an international student from Spain, said she enjoying hearing a perspective other than those of American economists. Matt Williams ’13, a global affairs major, said Palacio offered “a good overview of the thought process of politicians.”

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