Zagreb - Strengthening the EU's structures and efficiency, including defence and security, and respecting the specific traits and sovereignty of member-states is a precondition for successfully dealing with crises the EU is faced with and is the best way to ensure the EU's survival, the leaders of most EU parliaments who gathered for a two-day conference in Vienna to define answers to challenges faced by the EU, said on Tuesday.
The conference was also attended by Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković who said in a debate on the challenges of elections for the European Parliament, set for May, that the elections provided an opportunity to respond appropriately to current crises such as Brexit, sustainable development and security threats.
The EU must respond to such threats by being more active on the international scene and by promoting the principles of unity, responsibility and partnership in its structures, said Jandrokovic.
He warned that the existing challenges had affected citizens' trust in the European project, creating room for Euro-skepticism.
The coming elections for the European Parliament will show if we have managed to establish an open dialogue with citizens and fulfill their expectations and needs, Jandroković said, adding that it was necessary to reassure citizens that the EU was not only a market but a project of peace, security and freedom.
He called on EU members to respond resolutely to disinformation campaigns in order to make the elections free and ensure the highest possible turnout.
Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that 2019 could be a watershed year for the EU, which, he said, had to show that it was capable of overcoming problems.
He said the latest surveys showed that 72% of EU citizens viewed the EU positively while two-thirds believed that they benefited from the EU.
Results as good as those were not recorded since 2003, however, the question now is whether EU bodies are able to deal with problems, the German official said.
He warned that institutions such as the European Parliament were not accepted sufficiently well and that big promises had not yielded results.
Gerard Larcher, President of the French Senate, said that "we have to redefine Europe and assess its efficiency."
"Our citizens want an EU that will primarily protect them," Larcher said, adding that it was therefore necessary to reform the Dublin and Schengen agreements as well as the European asylum policy.
Slovenian Parliament Speaker Dejan Zidan warned that the EU had to realise that Brexit was also its own failure which showed what populism and false promises could result in.
"We firmly believe in the EU and will be its committed members," said Zidan.