On March 1, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, presented to the Members of the European Parliament the Commission's White Paper on the future of Europe, which suggests five scenarios : "Carrying on", "Nothing but the single market", "Those who want more do more", "Doing less more efficiently" and "Doing much more together". Following Juncker's presentation, a debate with the political groups followed, where the EPP stressed the need to move forward in unity and spoke for a sixth scenario, which is to merge the five ones, as they are not mutually exclusive. The S&D preferred the fifth scenario, while regretting that a reflection paper was presented by a political Commission although it should have shown leadership and presented one political priority. The ECR preferred the fourth scenario and blamed the failure of the EU on the ideas of social and economic centralisation. The ALDE rejected the first three scenarios, proposed an interinstitutional approach as regards the future of Europe and stressed that the EU is failing due to lack of capacity in certain areas. The GUE/NGL representative spoke for a new scenario based on a bottom-up approach for a project that will protect justice, equality, solidarity, democracy, public health and the environment. The Greens/EFA spoke for a single market protecting its citizens and not those that hold capital, while also highlighting the need for more transparency and legitimacy in the EU institutions. The EFDD and ENF groups spoke against any proposal for more Europe and more powers to the EU institutions. Please find below more information on the discussions.
President Jean-Claude Juncker (European Commission) stated that later this month in Rome, 27 of EU Member States will stand together in peace, friendship and solidarity to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and he invited the President of the European Parliament to join the meeting. However, this will not just be a birthday celebration as it should be, but the time to find new answers about the Union and its future. The founding fathers of Europe were visionaries. They dreamt of a better future and paved the way towards it. 60 years later, this should be an inspiration for us to speak about the future and what we want to give to our children. It is our time to be pioneers and walk hand in hand and united, towards a common future.
Every day the world around us is changing and the changes are coming incredibly quickly: globalisation, terrorism, migration and the effects of new technologies on societies and jobs. We are faced with major challenges but they are not challenges that are impossible to overcome. The future of Europe should not become hostage to elections, party politics or short term domestic news of success. However painful and regrettable Brexit maybe, it will not stop the EU as it moves to the future. The EU 27 needs to move forward. But the big question is where it is going. In fact, there is no better time than now to have these difficult debates. We should be honest: for far too long, what people expected from Europe, was far more than Europe could offer. Our task is to say clearly what Europe can and cannot do. If we take combatting unemployment and in particular youth unemployment as an example, in every Summit we promise that we will fix the situation but this is something that Europe cannot do alone. At European level we cannot produce miracles if national measures do not do enough. We can fund some programmes and stimulate some investments but these alone cannot lead to a systematic decrease of unemployment figures. We cannot expect everything from Europe without the help of the Member States. We should not make people believe that we can deliver the sun and the moon if we are only able to deliver a telescope. We should concentrate on areas where we can actually provide specific results.
President Juncker continued to present the White Paper and its structure. He repeated that we should make clear what Europe can and cannot do. Far too often when we talk about Europe's future we concentrate on the dilemma of more or less Europe. But this is misleading as it happens with all oversimplifications. The White Paper sets five scenarios for the EU 27. Of course there are more possibilities and the Commission would like to discuss with you where these scenarios might lead.
- First scenario ('carrying on') : carrying on as before with the current policy. When this Commission started its mandate, it promised to do things differently in order to regain the trust of the citizens. We have made some progress as we are not trying to legislate on every aspect of people's lives. We are focusing on big things that matter to people. Yet the Commission is accused of over-regulation in almost all national parliaments, sometimes also in almost all media, in all capital cities. This permanent Brussels-bashing makes no sense because this bashing has no ground since the start of this Commission's mandate. It would be a good thing for everyone if this Brussels-bashing stopped
- Second scenario ('nothing but the single market'): We could go the other way and choose an EU 27 focusing only on the Single Market. If Member States are unable to find common ground in an increasing number of policy areas, if more and more governments want to reduce the Commission down to a simple internal market manager, this could be the only viable solution. But Europe is more than markets, goods and money. The single market and the euro area are not ends in themselves. They have to serve people. I am strictly against this option, he clarified.
- Third scenario ('Those who want to do more'): Do all Member States have to move together? If we cannot find an agreement within the circle of 27 – neither in terms of objectives nor in terms of the means of doing so – then it should be possible for those who wish to make progress in areas where it is necessary to do so. At the same time, the others who cannot or do not want to be there at the start must have the opportunity to join the starters later. It could mean vast progress in a number of countries: for countries that exchange information in the fight against terrorism, set up a genuine asylum system and consolidate defence capacities. This would undoubtedly be a viable option. However, a complex system of concentric circles could emerge, in which many countries would circle outside the orbit of central policies. This could make Europe even harder to understand than it already is.
- Fourth scenario ('doing less more efficiently'): The EU 27 could collectively decide to do a lot more, all together, in a small number of areas where our actions really have an added value and where citizens expect us to act. This would effectively mean more of 'doing less'. Good examples of where citizens would expect us to act include security and on things like the so-called 'Diesel Gate'. A fully-fledged European Counter Terrorism Agency for the whole EU exchanging information across borders and systematically tracking suspects would have a real ability to provide security.
- Fifth scenario ('doing much more together'): Member States could also decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board. They could go full throttle towards a common future and ensure the "leadership" of the EU.
All these are theoretically possible choices available to us. He said that he would not share with the European Parliament, neither his own preference nor the Commission's, but he highlighted that they clearly reject the idea of an EU that will be just a free trade area, as it does not correspond to Europe's ambitions. This decision should be taken after consulting with this Parliament, national parliaments, governments, civil society and the citizens. Many will accuse us for lack of leadership and will be disappointed, but it is a method that honours not only representative democracy but democracy itself. This should not be a debate for the EU bubble but for the citizens. There is no collective will for a new Treaty at the moment and it is our duty to shape this will with a proper and honest debate about Europe.
The Commission will contribute further in the coming months with a series of reflection papers and more precise proposals on some of the major opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of the EU. There will be ideas on strengthening the social dimension of Europe, an essential debate for this Commission, on deepening the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and notable on the mechanisms, which will improve the very necessary coordination of economic policies. The Commission will also present its views on harnessing globalisation, its reflections on the future of Europe's defence and the future of EU's finances.
When it comes to defence, it is clear that European states should increase their defence budgets. But global stability is not only dependent on defence spending. International, global stability is also a function of the budget for development aid and the financing of the fight against climate change.
President Juncker stated that in September that he will come back to the European Parliament for his State of the Union speech, where he will develop these ideas further, not before, but after having listened to others. His goal is that the European Council of December will offer some first guidance in a process that will ultimately culminate in the 2019 European Parliament elections. All the European political parties should give their electorate a choice of heads of list – something that is necessary for European democracy to work and remain credible. What was achieved in 2014 should not be cancelled in 2019. European citizens should be able to decide who the next Commission President is. Citizens should then make their choice, not government machinery. He concluded by repeating that he will not run for a second mandate.
To access the White paper on the Future of Europe, please click here.