The Commission’s newly published White Paper presents five options for the future of the EU. Some look more promising than others and one seems to have found the support of four big players.

Juncker in March 7, 2014. Picture by David Plas © European People’s Party

At last September’s State of the Union Speech, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker painfully went through the whole list of problems and challenges the European Union was facing and admitted the need for a shared plan of action: “Yes, we need a vision for the long term,” Juncker said, “And the Commission will set out such a vision for the future in a White Paper in March 2017, in time for the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.”

The long-awaited White Paper has been released last week, but the vision for the future is nowhere to be found. After a long introduction covering the most pressing issues for the Old Continent (migration, demographic change and security threats), the Commission proposed five scenarios for the future to choose from, without explicitly specifying its preference for any or what each one would entail in terms of specific policies.

The document marks a stark discontinuity with previous ones in that the “more Europe or die” binary choice usually offered has been supplanted with an apparent wealth of options, suggesting that moods in Brussels have changed since last September. However, as these five visions are laid out, it is possible to get a sense of which ones are more palatable. So to give an idea of what these entail, I shall present them with their original number, but following what seems to be the Commission’s preference starting from the least favourite.

Scenario 2: “Nothing but the single market”

By far the least favourite and perhaps unrealistic option – this scenario looks like a Brexit-style Union, in the sense that the only goal is to make the goods and services flow smoothly between member states. No free movement, border control, economic governance and unitary foreign representation would surely streamline the policy-making process, but at the cost of scrapping much of the Euro-project.

Scenario 4: Doing less more efficiently

Regulatory standards in the single market would be lowered, while more cooperation in policy areas like migration and defence would provide for an increased capacity to deliver. Social policies, which are quite important for the EMU reform, though still underdeveloped, would not be actively pursued.

Scenario 1: Carrying on

A “business as usual” scenario. Integration continues and the rules of the game are the same

Another unsatisfactory answer if consensus is not met within the Union. Even the choice of name for this options suggests little enthusiasm from the Commission.

Scenario 3: Those who want more do more

Effectively, a differentiated integration with a group of countries going full speed with the coordination of intelligence and legal frameworks, and the creation of common fiscal capacity.

Scenario 5: Doing much more together

If the Commission has not reconsidered its stance on integration, this scenario could be its favourite, since it would effectively entail the creation of a federal union.

At the same time, there is no doubt this option is the more utopical one, since it foresees more cooperation in even more policy domains, which in areas like fiscal policy, immigration and defence, goes hand in hand with the loss of sovereignty. In the current political climate, few governments seem ready for this.

white paper

A table in the White Paper summing up the five scenarios


A missed opportunity?

This white paper was met with general scepticism by the media. The obvious complaint is the lack of a concrete vision, which seems to clash with the Commission’s institutional (and political) duty to propose initiative as envisaged by the treaties.

However, if one reads between the lines and considers how options 1, 2 and 4 are presented, it seems that actually two visions (i.e. 3 and 5), albeit quite vague, have been endorsed. What was the point of writing the other three as well then? Perhaps Juncker’s idea was to send a political message to the many Eurozone detractors by casting doubts on the options eurosceptics may desire (notably scenario 2).

This strategy could backfire, as it may ground the allegiance of Eurosceptic parties to any of the least favourite scenarios on a Commission’s document. It could even provide a ready-made political manifesto on which populists of different countries can converge and create consensus.

Fortunately, these unintended consequences will probably be avoided once the Commission publish four reflection papers — starting from the end of April — on the social dimension of Europe, globalization, EMU, European defence and finance. These documents will surely delineate a specific path to follow in their respective fields and clarify which scenario the Commission prefers.

Multi-speed Europe?

The day after the document’s publication, the Heads of State of Germany, France, Italy and Spain met in Versailles, signalling the political willingness to try option 3. How this option may work in practice is still an open question. The smooth functioning of certain policy areas like the EMU depend on the adoption of common rules and the assurance of markets that certain procedures will be uniformly followed. More probably, the multi-speed Europe option can be used to make decision-making faster in areas like immigration, where the opposition of the Visegrad group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) to any system of burden-sharing can thus be overcome.

Despite the symbolic formation of the unitary front composed by the four biggest EU Members, one cannot refrain from wondering how resilient it will be in the future. After all, France, Italy and Germany will face the populist uprising at the national elections later this year. What kind of scenario for the EU would Marine Le Pen, Beppe Grillo and Frauke Petry prefer?

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