The developments following the Brexit vote and those preceding the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties have heated up discussions about the future of the European project – not only among expert circles in Brussels and in national capitals, but also within the EU’s own institutions. On 1 March, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a White Paper outlining five scenarios on the future of Europe. These “Reflections and Scenarios for the EU27 by 2025” shall form the basis for dialogue at the anniversary summit in Rome later this month.
I want to look at the White Paper from the perspective of the alternative futures we published in May 2016. In eighteen scenarios, experts, scholars and policy-makers discuss the future of EU´s relations with the United States and China, Ukraine and Russia, as well as Turkey and the MENA region. The publication provides a systematic analysis of the key forces that will shape its external relations by 2025 and thus it constitutes a good point of reference for the White Paper.
Notwithstanding the general appreciation of Juncker’s idea to kick-start talks, there is a weak spot in his scenarios that could negatively influence the debate on prospects for the EU. The five scenarios presented in the White Paper offer the following thoughts: a status quo projection (“Carrying on”); a best case scenario detailing further integration (“Doing much more together”), which, however, seems unrealistic in the deeply divided Union of national governments; and a worst case scenario, which would limit the EU to the common market (“Nothing but the single market”). There are also two alternative futures that escape the binary choice between more or less integration: a multi-speed Europe (“Those who want more do more”), which even as an idea poses a nightmare for governments in the East and the South, who fear exclusion from the core and a disunification of Europe; and an efficient European Union (“Doing much more together”). This final scenario is thought-provoking – who doesn’t want the EU to be more efficient?! However, it fails to define the means by which Member States might agree on priorities to tackle jointly at the EU level.
Leaving aside the examination of the added value and innovation potential of Junker´s scenarios, since multiple analysis were published on that topic, I instead focus on identifying a missing element of the White Paper.
The five scenarios are presented comparatively with respect to six policy areas: single market and trade, economic and monetary union, Schengen, migration and security, foreign and defence policy, the EU budget and the EU capacity to deliver. Though sufficient in terms of a foresight exercise, the alternative futures overlook the role of European societies as a crucial, if not the most essential, factor to determine the future of European integration. Bearing in mind that the recent crises in the EU were not only financial and political in nature, but also ideational, it is surprising how little attention the White Paper draws to the EU citizens – both to their fears and their expectations towards the further course of the European project.
In the introduction to the White Paper, its authors mention that many Europeans consider the Union as either too distant or too interfering in their day-to-day lives. Further on in the text, the questioning of trust and legitimacy by societies towards public authorities is defined as one of the drivers of Europe´s future. As the White Paper rightly points out, support for the EU is decreasing: “Around a third of citizens trust the EU today, when about half of Europeans did so ten years ago”. Citizen support for the European project cannot be taken for granted any longer. Euroscepticism is on the rise across Europe, with the highest unpopularity rates measured in Greece (71 per cent). The authors also correctly observe that there is a mismatch between citizens’ expectations concerning the EU’s overarching responsibility, for example, in tackling youth unemployment, and the EU´s actual capacity to deal with such problems, since the tools and money within this policy area remain, for the most part, in the hands of the national governments. I agree that national governments should communicate better what they consider as the political and economic advantages to EU membership as well as the limits concerning the EU’s capacity to act. However, I also think that the EU institutions are equally responsible to voice their position and present their capabilities.
What is missing throughout the scenarios is the perspective of European citizens. The only reference to them is legal, whenever their rights as derived from EU law would or would not be upheld in the five alternative futures. To contrast this view, I suggest considering two perspectives that would involve EU citizens as a key driver for the future of European integration.
Firstly, the White Paper would benefit from reflecting on the support of Europeans for each of the alternative futures it outlines. As the Special Eurobarometer from September 2016 has shown, opinions are divided over a multi-speed Europe. 47 per cent of EU citizens think that countries should be free to intensify the development of a common European policy in certain important areas without having to wait for the others, while 41 per cent of Europeans think that countries that are willing to integrate further should wait until all EU Member States are ready for the next step. A survey of 10 leading EU states published last year by the Pew Research Centre offers an even more differentiated picture. This study found that 42 per cent of Europeans backed calls for more powers to be returned to nations, compared with just 19 per cent who favoured giving Brussels more power. Taking into account that insurgent parties already play a direct role in the governance of eight of the EU´s 28 countries, it is very hard to imagine their support for scenarios that would foresee deeper integration.
Secondly, the scenarios would benefit from reflecting on the possibilities of the future European Union to face the challenges defined by its citizens to be most pressing. Over 45 per cent of Europeans identify the unemployment to be the biggest challenge for the EU, while 36 per cent point to both social inequalities and migration issues. Beyond the comparison based on the six policy areas mentioned above, the White Paper would benefit by examining the impact of each scenario on its capacity to deal with the demanding concerns of its citizens. The different depictions of a future European Union, starting with the single market, through multispeed Europe to enhanced integration carried by all Member States, will differ significantly in their consideration of the EU’s capacity to tackle the problems of its citizens.
The EU needs to define its future-oriented interests and ways in which these interests can be reconciled with values that the EU attempts to project and protect globally. Having an idea of how the EU will look in 2025 and what economic, social and intellectual tools it will have to gird itself is vital for the survival of the integration project. The White Paper sets a beginning of a long course of designing the future trajectory of the EU. However, the process should become inclusive and integrate input from other stakeholders – not only the governments and parliaments of the Member States, but also civil society organisations and various social groups. Unless they become a crucial player, the process will remain detached from the concerns of EU citizens and ultimately fail. In November 2016, 54 per cent of Europeans were convinced that their voice does not count in the EU. Why not make the debate about the EU’s future an opportunity to change this record?
About the author: Monika Sus is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance and is responsible for the umbrella project within the Dahrendorf Forum.