The European Commission published today, the first of March 2017, its “White Paper on the future of Europe”. In these times of high uncertainty about Brexit and about the best way forward, this White Paper envisions five possible scenarios.
With this White Paper, the Commission addresses a global need to know where the EU is heading. Timing is important. This Paper comes a few weeks before the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and while the EU is bracing for Brexit negotiations. Many other papers are expected this year on crucial topics for EU integration: developing a social Europe, deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, and on the future of European defence.
Five scenarios are deemed possible by the Commission. First, we can just carry on. It does not exactly mean we would keep things as they are. The functioning of the Union would simply change very slowly, with continuous and smooth changes. Second, the EU could shrink back to a sole single market. This is clearly pushed forward as the worst case scenario. Third, we could encourage Members States to participate in more enhanced cooperation. Fourth, the EU could do less but more efficiently. Narrowing down the priorities of the Commission could lead to better work, but leaves a lot to States to cooperate on by themselves. Last but not least, we could do more together. This scenario is simple: federal Europe. One could assume the Commission would officially endorse this scenario as their guideline, but it is not the case. This White Paper shows that Juncker is acutely aware of the risk a federal Europe would entail in terms of alienating a part of the European population. EU legitimacy could be at stake.
Although the White Paper does not endorse any of these scenarios as its favourite, Commission officials do not hide that Jean-Claude Juncker believes in the “multi-speed Europe” one. Also known as the “Europe à la carte”, this scenario allows for a protection of the acquis communautaire while simultaneously continuing the European Integration with a “coalition of the willing”. It makes room for deeper cooperation in the EU without having to water down every initiative because of some reluctant Member States. This option could be dangerous. Such a partial European Integration could not only reinforce the “two speed Europe” we already know, but it could give to the Union an ever growing complexity. Pursuing such a scenario can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a minority of Member States would not be able to prevent greater integration in sensitive topics. This would encourage a greater integration in many fields, and would especially a better Eurozone governance and overall an “ever deeper Union”. On the other, it can only make the Union appear more convoluted. Multi-speed Europe can undermine the overall coherence of the Union, and does not leave room for a true common voice. This unofficial position on the future of Europe reflects a pragmatic yet not hopeless position of the European Commission. Progress can be made if a “coalition of willing” pave the way forward. And others might follow.
White Paper on the future of Europe, Reflections and scenarios for the EU27 by 2025. European Commission, 1/03/2017.