As an avid football fan, Diego López-Garrido, Spain's secretary of state for the EU, understands that success depends not so much on the quality of players within the team, but rather on the team's overall performance. Over the past few years, the EU has been performing badly, and the organisation that was supposed to be an all-star team is now facing fresh problems: what to do with the underperformers and how to keep up with emerging competitors at the top of the economic performance table.

For Mr López-Garrido, who has 12 siblings and in the past played for Real Madrid's youth team, the only way the EU can move forward is by improving its teamwork, with closer links being forged between EU member states. “Now we have only monetary union, but we need to create real economic union in Europe. This is absolutely vital for the foreign investors, because [that] gives good grounds to invest in Europe,” he says.

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Ahead of the game

At the time of Mr López-Garrido's interview with fDi, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy were making headlines by proposing a eurozone government. However, Mr López-Garrido points out that he called for this to happen almost two years ago. To back up his words, he shows the articles he had published in January 2010. However, Mr López-Garrido is more sorrowful than proud of his pre-emptive proposal, as he fears that time is working against the EU as it plunges deeper into crisis. “In [recent] years we have lost an image of unity. We need to create real single market here. The single market is one of the most relevant advantages in the US. It should be a real advantage in Europe,” he says.

Though Mr López-Garrido is keen to strengthen economic co-operation within the EU, he still accepts that other jurisdictions will have some advantages over his home market. “We cannot compete with China on wages. But we can compete with China and other countries in [terms of] innovation,” he says.

Positive future

This innovation, combined with a mobile workforce, will ensure that the demand for the skills held within the EU remain strong. As Mr López-Garrido points out, these are the pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy, a programme aimed at reviving economic growth in the EU through innovation and inclusion which was proposed by the European Commission in March 2010 during its Spanish presidency, and adopted three months later. Mr López-Garrido says that now is the time to put this ambitious 10-year plan to work. “We have to invest in order to properly organise the future [of the EU]. That’s the future for Europe,” he says.

It may seem as though Europe has lost its way, but as Mr López-Garrido's former club Real Madrid has found over the past few years, even the best teams face substantial hurdles. His task now will be to attempt to persuade the EU's individual members not to panic and seek to serve their own short-term interests, in the process ignoring the union's long-term goals.