Editorial of March 2017


by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

The future (in White Paper) of Europe, according to Juncker

The European Commission has presented the White Paper on the Future of Europe precisely now in the year of the milestone celebration of 60 years of integration[i] and when it is taking place the technical and diplomatic operation of materialising Brexit.

It is always good and never inopportune to launch a debate on the future of integration, especially when the Union faces a political, economic and social turbulence and, at the external level, the geopolitical indetermination which makes this debate an existential issue. Incidentally, by promoting this debate, it is indispensible that it is rapidly consequent.

The White Paper was then presented at the European Parliament, on 1st March, by the President of the Commission who intended to propose options to strengthen the Union in the post-Brexit. Juncker wanted to highlight, by all means and with certainty before the context and the dark and hesitant note with which the integration and the EU have been marked, a sign/memory of hope: “Our darkest days are still far brighter than any spent by our forefathers imprisoned in Ventotene” [the Italian prison where Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi were kept during the II World War].

The intention of the Commission and its President is understandable (in fact, he has already announced he won’t be running for a second term). Indeed, this motivating intention of the newly presented White Paper was explicitly affirmed: as we face a Europe post-Brexit, the integration of 28-1 and with risks of not being able to stem possible propensities for new withdrawals, we must quickly define a new path. A definition that will mean necessarily a commitment of deepening the integration, among all. The question is precisely knowing/defining how to advance to this deepening. Furthermore: what does it mean, realistically and consequently today, such deepening? That is, which path to define to the future (nearly) immediate of the Union?

The White Paper presents 5 hypothesis or sceneries for discussion. The first may be summed as “going on”. That is, to continue, standing still, but firmly doing what has had been done. In the line of the Bratislava Declaration, ratified last year. A sort of coasting navigation, of reacting (in a European construction reactive, not much anticipatory), responding to the problems that come up, namely through legislation. The discomfort that is felt diffusely on what concerns the paths lately trailed by the Union (even though, sometimes, without reasons directly resulting from the European construction itself, but actually from other factors that mark these days) doesn’t seem, at first, to advise such alternative of “more of the same”. Sometimes, even to keep everything as they are, it is necessary to do something apparently different.

A second hypothesis offered by the White Paper may be called “reduced scenery of the Internal Market”. It assumes that the Union of 27 (or 28-1) “cannot reach an agreement to do more in many political areas”. The internal market, its technocratic enhancement, would be the only way open to the development of the European project, putting aside central issues such as immigration, security and the defense and having the densification of the “European citizenship” clearly subject (and not interacting with) to the “economic freedoms”. Under this hypothesis, the internal market would become the exclusive reason d’être of the European project, stripped of all other areas of dialogue (which would be made bilaterally, never in group) and conjunct construction of the Union. It should be noticed that for certain political sectors of sensitiveness more pro sovereignty this hypothesis was always considered the principal, if not the very natural one of the integration. But this narrow and concentrated view around the Internal Market comes, as of now and by anticipation, with several risks: risks to the strengthening and the stability of the single currency and, as a result, to the monetary policy. And as the one who only aspires to the minimum not even the minimum accomplishes, the freedoms of movement themselves – namely of persons – could be, also and at least, progressively less effective.

Both proposed consecutively scenarios are, in my perspective, interconnected: either “to do more for the states that want it and can” (a deepening, whatever direction it has, at multi-speed and tailored to each one’s possibilities) or “to do less but more effectively”. This hypothesis entails the fragmentation of the levels of integration, considering the set of the 27 Member States (multi-speed Europe) or, instead, the uniformity of the steps to take among all, at the same speed, but being less integrated? An advantage that could be predicted hypothetically is the maintenance of the whole, even though not all would occupy the same positions. That is, there would be apparent and predictable gains of cohesion (at least) formal. Yet, the risks of weakening and transmutation of the Union into a radically different (in relation to its motivational origins) and more inconsequent would be large.

At last, the fifth proposal of Juncker might be synthesized as: “doing much more, radically more, together”. The intention is also understandable: the best defense is a good offense! Why not take the obstacles of the troubled times we live in to win/build a decisive opportunity, enabler of a linear deepening, openly federalist, in all domains of the life of the citizens? Under the legal point of view, why not to implement a direct access of the citizens to the Court of Justice? Why not to enlarge irreversibly the menu of the Union’s competences regarding matters such as the defense, the security or the internal administration and the social assistance? Clearly, the old problem, to some sectors of the political, popular and juridical opinion, of the democratic legitimacy (or its lack) of the Union – when seen, this legitimacy, in a outrance view of the nation state could be a focus of disturbance of this bold 5th proposed (euro-enthusiastic) option.

Anyway, it is not certain that the problems of the integration are related only with the way the Union itself works. The populisms, the instability of the political cycles, the asymmetries of information and the creation of excluded population pockets from the vertiginous modernisation of current, complex technological societies, the responsibility (or the freedom?) of the citizens, may be also the cause of all discomfort with which the European integration is sometimes seen. Probably none of those sceneries by itself will open easily the doors of the future for the best Europe possible. But, thinking about the last proposal (audacious?) of Juncker, it matters not to forget that the impossible is only impossible until it’s reached.

[i]Strictly speaking, from the signature of the Treaty of Rome of 1957 and 66 years if we consider the Treaty of Paris of 1951, that is the ECSC Treaty.

Picture credits: ship’s engine order telegraph  by Leo Reynolds.

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