The presentation of a white paper on the future of Europe by the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in the European Parliament on March 1 provoked a heated debate in Brussels.
The paper represents a constitutional reform blueprint aiming at EU unity after Britain leaves.
The 32-page-long proposal includes five scenarios laid out before the EU leaders for discussion during the upcoming EU summit to be held in Rome on March 25 (Saturday). The summit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1975, which led to the creation of the EU.
The first of the five scenarios suggests that the EU should “carry on” its course with minor changes. Such changes include deepening the EU’s single market, pooling certain military capabilities, and speaking with one voice regarding foreign affairs. Most other issues, including border control, remain at the discretion of each individual member state.
One drawback of this scenario lies in the lack of agreement on future issues facing the EU, including its change of management and the continuous improvement of border control. Failure to reach agreement could encourage some states to maintain their own internal control systems.
Subsequent to the failure by the 27 member-states to find a common ground on an increasing number of general political areas, the second scenario revolves around the “single market”. This scenario will make “decision-making simpler, but it will also restrict the ability of the EU to act collectively”. This may widen the gap between expectations and delivery at all levels.
Although France and Germany hailed Juncker’s white paper, it has been set out shortly ahead of the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where polls suggest a possible win for far-right parties which, in all three countries take an opposite stance to the EU, calling for nation-states, border control, and an end to the flow of refugees, which could shatter Juncker’s proposed scenarios.Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin
The third scenario is a “coalition of the willing”, to use Juncker’s expression. It calls on the EU member-states to do more for advancement in specific areas such as defense, internal security, and social policy. It will allow closely tied national armies to rapidly move forward in new areas, such as surveillance operations using UAVs, possible united economies, or the development of a uniform commercial law.
However, this scenario may result in differences in the rights of citizens. The paper shows the minimum optimism regarding the establishment of economic governance in the Eurozone.
The fourth scenario proposes “doing less more efficiently”, which means that the EU must narrow down its list of priorities in order to do what it does more efficiently in specific areas. This scenario poses a real question concerning the agreement among EU member-states as to what areas should be prioritized for more efficient cooperative efforts.
The fifth and final scenario consists of “doing more together”. This scenario focuses on sharing power and resources. The EU could have more of its own resources, i.e. increased income through taxation, and the Eurozone would end up as planned in the Five Presidents’ report issued in 2015. Hence, the EU would speak as a single unit on trade and foreign policy and assume global leadership to face climate change and humanitarian issues.
Decision-making in Brussels (the EU headquarters) would be much quicker, but the papers acknowledge the risk of “alienating parts of society, which feel that the EU lacks legitimacy”.
I think the fact that all five scenarios are merely proposals, with none favored over the others, will be a hindrance.
Moreover, Eastern European countries may oppose the scenarios as they fear becoming marginalized by powerful Western countries such as France and Germany, particularly on immigration issues, where Eastern European countries hold a tougher stance.
Finally, although France and Germany hailed Juncker’s white paper, it has been set out shortly ahead of the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where polls suggest a possible win for far-right parties which, in all three countries take an opposite stance to the EU, calling for nation-states, border control, and an end to the flow of refugees, which could shatter Juncker’s proposed scenarios.
This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on March 23.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin.