Watch: José Manuel Barroso and Peter Harrison on Europe's future

Looking east for growth

Mr Barroso, who prior to his 10-year spell as President of the European Commission served as Prime Minister of Portugal from 2002 to 2004, pointed out that the aggregate GDP of all European Union countries is currently bigger than those of both the US and China.

Although China will inevitably claim pole position on this front in the not-too-distant future, the European Union will remain “a very important trade bloc” nonetheless, Mr Barroso said.

Mr Harrison agreed, adding that the “whole centre of gravity of the world is heading east”. However, “the political influence and power of cohesion in Europe clearly has a longer-lasting influence than simple statistics might suggest,” he said.