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Quo vadis EU27? Juncker’s White Paper to relaunch the EU

The President of the EU Commission presented a document aimed at promoting and supporting a broad-ranging debate on the “common home” in the light of Brexit, of the resurgence of nationalisms, and ahead of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Five possible scenarios linked to each other. But the Luxembourgian politician discards only one, which defines the EU merely in terms of a single market

Il presidente della Commissione europea, Jean-Claude Juncker, nell'emiciclo del Parlamento Ue a Bruxelles

A White Paper to discuss the future of the EU. But perhaps European public opinion has no intention nor interest to discuss the subject … “We propose areas for reflection, and advance proposals because we firmly believe that it is necessary to promote and support a broad debate on these issues, which is currently lacking.” Jean-Claude Juncker thus replied to SIR’s question on the “White Paper on the future of the European Union”, presented on Wednesday, March 11, in the hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels. Mr. President – we insisted – there is talk of Europe’s crisis, but couldn’t it rather be a general crisis involving participatory politics that has affected also the EU? “Indeed, and that’s why a debate is necessary at all levels”, capable of involving citizens, local realities, political forces, as well as the governments of EU member Countries. “And in a year – Juncker added with a prickly tone, with a slight polemical attitude that he flaunts in given occasions – we won’t be told that we failed to ask their opinion” on the future of Europe’s integration process.

“It’s the beginning of a process.” The Commission’s thirty-page White Paper, significantly illustrated by President Juncker in the Assembly Hall of the European Parliament (the only EU institution directly elected by citizens) features five different avenues – called “scenarios” – which EU27 could decide to undertake. The fixed horizon is 2025. “It’s just the beginning of a process”, Juncker pointed out, “and I hope that now an honest, broad-ranging debate may get off the ground. The future of Europe is in our own hands.” Thus there is a twofold objective, entailing a set of aspects:

on the one side to relaunch political and economic integration, on the other to provide concrete answers to citizens’ expectations and needs.

This would occur within a “rapidly changing scenario”, where the EU is called “to face new challenges, contexts and obstacles every day.” Juncker starts from the long-standing Manifesto of Ventotene by Spinelli, Rossi and Colorni; he highlights the successes of the past sixty years of cooperation and peace among the member Countries. He equally addresses the thorny issue of resurging nationalisms and the anti-EU winds blowing from the north to the south, from the east to the west of the Continent. The White Paper – an instrument devised by his predecessor Jacques Delors in 1985 – was proposed ahead of the European Council of March 9-10 and of the summit scheduled to take place in Rome on March 25, to mark the 60th anniversary of the EEC and Euratom Treaties.

A wide range of interconnected scenarios. Juncker and the College of Commissioners already envisage a EU without London (that backed out with the Brexit vote), thereby identifying five possible scenarios on which the debate could focus. The first, “Carrying on”, namely, to continue following the present path whereby “the EU27 focuses on delivering its positive reform agenda.” Second scenario, “Nothing but the Single Market”, i.e., the EU “is gradually re-centred on the single market as the 27 Member States are not able to find common ground on an increasing number of policy areas” (that is equal to “backtracking”, a Europe only made of trade and finances. Juncker clearly excluded this possibility that in his opinion would constitute a historical failure). Third, “Those who want more do more”: this scenario highlights an EU that proceeds as today, “but allows willing Member States to do more together in specific areas such as defence, internal security or social matters.” It’s a multi-speed Europe, with variable geographies, consisting in “coalitions of the willing” that proceed and other States that duck out. Fourth scenario, “Doing less more efficiently”: the EU focuses on “delivering more and faster in selected policy areas”, while doing less “where it is perceived not to have an added value”; an EU that goes on a slimming cure but preserves momentum. Finally, fifth scenario, “Doing much more together”: member Countries “decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board.” In this case, “decisions are agreed faster at European level and rapidly enforced.” While the governments that comply with the commitments decide to “respect them.”

Further documents and a calendar. The densely-printed pages of the White Paper, with charts, infographics and maps, equally include an agenda.

In fact the Commission will contribute to the debate with a set of documents for further reflection:

On developing Europe’s social dimension, at the end of April; on harnessing globalization, in mid-May; on deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, at the end of May; on the future of European defense, at the beginning of June; on the future of EU finances at the end of June. Juncker announced a set of debates throughout Europe’s capital cities; to take these ideas forward during the EU Summit in June, October and December and in the State of the Union speech in mid-September. Juncker equally announced that a social summit will be held in Goteborg, Sweden, on November 17, with a view to the European Parliament election of 2019, when the public opinion and the voters will be given a voice on the future of the EU, either by supporting those forces who uphold a Europe “united in diversity” or those who oppose the “common home”, preferring the return of national sovereignty. But before 2019, there is a long way to go.

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