Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, addressed major global issues ranging from problems with the euro to the conflict in Syria at a World Leaders Forum event on Tuesday.
In conversation with history professor Victoria de Grazia in the Low Library Rotunda, Van Rompuy focused on the eurozone crisis, which has slowed economic growth in Europe since 2009.
“We launched the euro without realizing that when you have common currency, you need common policies,” Van Rompuy said. “What we are doing now is more inspired by long-term policies.”
European leaders have proposed creating a central fiscal union for Europe or establishing a united process of bank recovery.
“My first job is to get the agreement among those leaders,” Van Rompuy said. “We need unanimity.”
Although Van Rompuy did not discuss specific ways to end the crisis on Tuesday, he noted that European countries have been making strides in economic growth.
The European Council—a body comprised of the heads of state from European Union countries that has no formal legislative powers but determines the union’s priorities—is focused on solving the problem of unemployment and addressing ways to create jobs.
“The ultimate goal is employment and jobs,” Van Rompuy said. “That is the long-term objective.”
According to Van Rompuy, things are looking up for the continent.
“In 26 out of 27 countries, we will have positive economic growth this year,” Van Rompuy said, adding that he expects unemployment rates throughout Europe, which are particularly high in Spain and Greece, to decrease. (The only country expected to have negative growth is Cyprus.)
While Van Rompuy said he believes the crisis is coming to an end, he added that moving ahead, European countries need to restore confidence in their citizens.
“We have to restore confidence first,” he said. “It took us more time than we thought” to overcome the crisis.
Van Rompuy also answered questions about data surveillance in light of the recent revelation that the U.S. National Security Agency has been spying on private citizens’ communications, including those of Europeans.
“It is a highly sensitive issue in our countries,” he said. “Don’t forget that some of our member states left systems in which everybody was spying on everybody.”
De Grazia also asked Van Rompuy about the possibility of European military intervention in the conflict in Syria—a situation that Van Rompuy said is not comparable to the international air attack on Libya in 2011.
“You cannot compare Libya to Syria,” he said, adding that there was division among EU member states about how to deal with the problem.
Students who attended the event said they appreciated Van Rompuy’s perspective.
Agnika Kumar, a graduate student in SEAS, said that she had wanted to come to the event “because his opinion will be shaping many of the policies” of Europe.
Kumar added that Van Rompuy was “very diplomatic when it comes to Spain and Germany.”
“I was looking forward to his views on foreign policy,” Kumar added.
For Carolyn Kegel, CC ’17 and a Spectator copy staffer, the structure of the discussion kept it interesting.
“I’ve heard that coming to World Leaders Forum events is something you should take advantage of,” she said. “I liked that this was a conversation as opposed to a speech. It was more engaging.”