Euroscepticism used to be a very English phenomenon. But, as this year's European elections demonstrated, it now has much wider credentials.
Few EU member states have been left untouched by public protest over Europe, either on the streets or at the ballot box. The fall-out from the financial crash exposed political and economic failings in the EU system, which even the Union's most ardent supporters cannot ignore. So while many politicians can be found bleating about the need for 'reform', it is high time that some of us began to advance concrete proposals to modernise and strengthen the European Union.
It is clear that the EU cannot begin resolving a complex web of economic, political, social and global challenges without first restoring public faith and trust in itself. This key concern is underlined in a new report by leading EU thinkers and players called New Pact for Europe.
The top priority for Jean-Claude Juncker, the new commission president, and Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is to regenerate economic growth. That in turn will boost public confidence in the European project. But what then?
New Pact for Europe - organised and supported by a consortium of 11 European foundations led by Belgium's King Baudouin Foundation and Germany's Bertelsmann Stiftung - has investigated the options. The study even considered abandoning the holy grail of 'ever closer union' included in the EU Treaties. The resulting report rightly rejects this reactionary approach, but nor does it favour the other extreme - leaping forward immediately into a fully-integrated economic, fiscal, social and political union. The study also rejects mere consolidation, 'putting the gearbox in neutral while the EU vehicle continues to move'. Simply consolidating past achievements will not turn the tide of public opinion.
Instead, the New Pact suggests building three pillars of integration - an 'enabling union', a 'supportive union' and a 'participatory union' - involving more public and private investment to generate growth, the setting of minimum social standards including a European unemployment scheme, and the building of better links between EU and national law-makers and citizens. A new grand projet - an Energy Union - should be driven forward immediately to address one of Europe's most common and pressing problems.
The New Pact study argues that almost all its proposals could be implemented on the basis of the EU's current treaties. Whether or not that is right, I agree that the prospectus of this useful report should be put to the test before it will become possible to make the bold moves to federal union.
The plan is now being road-tested with politicians, businesses and the public in many EU countries. It deserves to succeed. New Pact for Europe is a good way to address public concerns about the EU's abilities and intentions, find solutions to the many serious challenges facing us, and demonstrate real, not just rhetorical, benefits for the citizens in whose name the European project was originally conceived.
Even the Conservative Party should pause to reflect on these proposals before rushing headlong into their divisive referendum in 2017.Suggest a correction