Leaders of the European Union lashed out at the forces that could bring it down in an emotive session at Davos, days after Theresa May revealed that Britain was heading for a clean break.
Martin Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament, said that European heads of state used Brussels as a scapegoat, failing to tell their citizens that they were responsible for the decisions made there.
“This double game is destroying the European spirit,” he said, adding: “The EU is as strong as the member states allow.”
“What happens (in EU institutions) happens on the basis of a treaty that was ratified by all 28 member states of the EU. All we are doing in the Commission, all we are doing in the Parliament, happens in the frame of a treaty defined by you,” he said, addressing leaders including Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who was also on the panel.
Schulz argued for leaders to rally around the EU, not allow its demise.
“All Europeans together, we are less than 5% of world population, Germany less than 1%. Could somebody tell me how a single country in the worldwide competition in which we’re living in, with perhaps a tendency to protectionism, could survive without the EU?”
He added: "Could we imagine today Poland, the Baltic countries, not being apart of the EU, taking into account what is happening in Ukraine?”
The European Commission, which is responsible for upholding EU treaties and managing day-to-day business, was represented by Frans Timmermans, the First Vice President. He also lashed out at the tendency to blame Brussels.
“Whenever someone has a flat tyre, whenever it starts raining when you’re walking the dogs, someone will say – that’s Brussels again,” he said. “My son says: good morning you faceless unelected bureaucrat.”
Striking a more serious tone, he spoke of the middle-class frustration at falling living standards, which is fuelling a populist rejection of the European Union.
"Unemployment is plummeting (in the Netherlands), and still at the core of society, people are disgruntled, the middle classes are unconvinced, you can’t convince them with statistics ... It’s so easy to blame the commission; we take the blame."
"The only way to get out of this is to remove moral hazard, stop confirming the image that we’re there to make life difficult, that it’s not the member states’ fault what happens in Brussels, that the North is imposing models that don’t work on the South, that the South is lazy. These are all lies, but they lead to a huge lack of trust within nations and between nations."
You can watch the full session below.