This moment is special: Europe has lost momentum, gripped by a economic, institutional crisis, and also a crisis of faith. With a new institutional season beginning – a new parliament, soon a new Commission, Europe needs to overcome some apathy.

Polityka weekly and demosEuropa – Centre for European Strategy, a Warsaw-based think tank, launched a reflection group with the purpose of drawing up a new agenda for the European Union. Its comprehensive report, called Europe Can Do Better, was unveiled in Warsaw on 16 July, with the aim to present it in selected European capitals also. Its message is clear: To go forward the EU must launch a new, demanding integration project matching to single market and single currency ones of the eighties and nineties.

The EU is not just a successful international organisation: it's a political and civilisational project. Its importance and significance are determined by the attractiveness of what Europe has to offer to itself and to others. Today, the European debate has stalled, suspended between a dream of a United States of Europe, which only recently still was a major talking point, and delusional pragmatism, which has come now to dominate the continent’s political life. This petty pragmatism is a virus weakening the Union, and one that undergoes various mutations in the process. It affects the most fundamental issues, including the functioning of the single market. Paradoxically, this kind of the EU’s ‘self-disintegration’ can be more dangerous than direct challenges to its legitimacy.

In their recent ruling on the Lisbon Treaty, the judges of the German Constitutional Court argue on 147 pages that European integration has gone too far in reducing the nation state’s powers. We must decide – it’s either a nation state or the United States of Europe. We can’t have both.

For some time now the term ‘G2’ has been in circulation, meaning the US and China. No European country alone is equal to these two. But couldn’t the EU make the G2 a G3? Because if it loses the battle for global influence, it will cease to exist as a political entity. For G3 to become reality, the EU needs to develop a common strategic culture and learn to trust its representatives. A European diplomacy, which the Lisbon Treaty gives the green light to, can either take years to establish and be held continuously leashed in by Europe’s main capitals, or else be set up quickly with adequate powers. There’s no doubt the latter should be done.

Europe needs politicisation, which can be achieved through the formation of truly European political parties. It is them, rather than the national parties, that should bring the debate to the European elections. We would then avoid provincial election campaigns, dominated by domestic issues and personal ambitions of individual parishes. Europeans would discuss continent-wide issues: everyone knows that issues such as environmental protection, transport or energy cannot be solved on the scale of a single member state, so the European public debate shouldn’t be carried out on this scale either.

Close cooperation is needed between the EU and NATO. A new phase should begin with a review of the key challenges and finding a common denominator between the European Security Strategy and the Nato’s new Strategic Concept. The EU needs an autonomous contingency planning capacity so that it doesn’t have to rely on member states’ good will.

Fortunately, the crisis has shown that the EU’s structural foundations – the European Central Bank in particular – are solid. Were it not for the euro, Europe would likely be undermined by waves of competitive devaluations, as each member state would strive to achieve exchange rate benefits on its own. The euro needs to be strengthened – let it become a major global reserve currency beside the US dollar. Eurozone enlargement is one of the most important political projects of the next decade. We need to overcome the division between old and new member states.

The European project has always been based on economic integration. We become acutely aware of this during a crisis. For now, everyone is doing their own thing. Germany has introduced a constitutional requirement to reduce budget deficit, while France wants to invest ‘in the future’ by boosting its domestic debt. The tug-of-war method, where the strongest player wins, remains the order of the day. From the Polish point of view, it's imperative that the Union's fundamental principles of the free circulation of goods, people, services, and capital be defended, irrespective of whether the economic situation is good or bad. But we also need to promote an increase of the EU budget, which currently stands at a mere 1 percent of the European GDP. These funds will be needed to support European research and development projects. Innovation is the European economy’s 21st century 'To be or not to be."

One crisis is ongoing and further ones are already waiting in line. The first of these is caused by demographics, which is Europe’s success and problem at the same time. 50% of Europeans will be over 50 within the next two or three years. There is no other society or economy in the world of a similar demographic profile. A European political deal is needed on this, an extension of retirement age, and a gradual transition (as in Poland) towards a defined-contributions pension model.

The balance of the issues facing the EU in the coming years is worrying. Ironically, this explains why there has been such a desperate lack of political leadership in the present situation. It is a hundred times easier to seek refuge in domestic political debates and forget about the world, silently hoping that someone solves your problems for you. But now the idyll is coming to an end. With Jerzy Buzek as head of the European Parliament and the Polish presidency looming on the horizon in 2011, we have no choice but to put on heavier armour. Noblesse oblige!