EU warned over rising xenophobia and disunity
THE European Commission's most senior civil servant has warned of growing disunity as Europe emerges from the economic crisis.
Dublin-born Catherine Day maintained the euro survived because members stuck together, but fears some states might go back to "the bad old days".
She said it is worrying to see that as the economy improves, the appetite for doing more together, balancing responsibility and solidarity is going down.
"So we have to hope that the member states who have drawn their own conclusions from the crisis, that they are determined not to go back to the bad old days," she said.
Ms Day, secretary general of the European Commission, told the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin that this was a crucial year for the European Union.
While a return to growth is urgently needed in the wake of the economic crisis, she warned the results of the upcoming European Parliament elections will be "uncomfortable" for the mainstream political parties.
"We already see in some parts of the union that the debate is taking on a very nasty, populist and even xenophobic flavour," Ms Day continued.
"But I think we have to hope and work to make sure that when the centre mainstream pro-European parties work more closely together in the next parliament and that they form a sort of grand coalition, at least on the big European issues."
On Ireland, Ms Day said coming out of the bailout programme was a "badge of honour" and that 2014 should be a year of back-to-normal.
"It was also a very important exercise in European solidarity to come to the help of a member state in difficulty.
"Sometimes it is tough love when you have to recommend policies that are difficult."
Ms Day said Europe's incoming politicians and commissioners will have three key areas to face – financial stability, investment, and how to deepen economic and monetary unity.
She said reaching agreement on the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) – European rules for dealing with failed or failing banks – was the most important thing to be done before the election.
"We need to have the banking union in place as part of the credibility of the euro, but also for the public credibility of being able to say to people that the taxpayer will not be asked again to bailout the banks if and when there are problems in the sector in future," she said.
Investment also needs to be ramped up across Europe, Ms Day added.