A passion for Europe

For better or worse, my generation, inheriting from Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and many others, managed to develop the most amazing project in history: a union between Nations who had fought against each other for at least half a millennium and had just inherited the ruins of a second World War that had been as devastating as it had included one of the most heinous crimes against humanity: the Holocaust.

 

Like most of my contemporaneous thought leaders, I remain amazed and proud of this political, economic, social and cultural adventure that we have realized. Already at University, we were a group of students who shared that common passion for Europe. Its roots were different, its incarnation was diverse, but Europe has been for most of us the political passion of our lives and a treasurer that we try, in different ways, to save from the claw back of nationalism by its Member States.

The recent developments of the European Union have been an accumulation of disappointments: dealing with migration, international leadership and more recently the Brexit. Hopefully, these circumstances will be the wake up call that Europe needs to realize that it is to big to move forward and needs to accept the reality that only a few Member States are willing to embark in the fiscal and political integration that will create a European Federal State.

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The European Monetary Union: the Euro

It is so easy to deride the Euro. It is a stroke of genius and we did it knowing full well that it could not survive without an economic and political integration. It was also clear that we needed to give Europe an irreversible integration engine: a common currency.

However, it has not been followed by the promised fiscal integration and limits its ability to be a united voice.

 

What is happening today was perfectly predictable: if the Euro did not exist, we would not have rescued Greece, Ireland, Portugal or Spain. It was clear that with a single currency the only differentiating factor would be interest rates, indebtedness and budgetary discipline. This is why the European Growth and Stability Pact was indispensable, and would have taken care of huge deficits, had the Member States had the courage to apply it. I took part a dozens of meetings at all levels to look at the initiatives that needed to be taken. In Belgium, the appetite for bonds denominated in the European Currency Unit (the predecessor of the Euro) put the three largest banks in the leadership of the development of an ECU bond market.

It is also on this topic that I published my first articles for magazines, and made me contribute to what would become the leading financial magazine: Euromoney.

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The European Investment Fund

When I became the President of the European Investment Fund, a creation of the European Investment Bank, the European Commission and 76 European banks at the Dublin Summit, it was allocated a capital of two billion euros that served as the basis for the issuance of guarantees backing Trans European Network financing and Small and Medium Enterprises loans.

 

Transforming it into a business was my task. Mario Draghi and a few other senior officials of the European Member States had landed a concept. It had to become a reality. Something, however, was missing: it was all about debt. We added equity in the form of investment in European private equity funds that remain the only successful equity initiative of the European Union.

It has been a unique opportunity to understand how Europe works, and how difficult it is, sometimes, to make sure that the European Union would be at the cutting hedge of growth.

The initiative of the Capital Market Union requires focus and liquidity to work. As it is proposed, it has none of those two clear conditions.