The Future of Europe: Reflections on the White Paper

Alexandros Michailidis / SOOC

The Future of Europe: Reflections on the White Paper


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It is not surprising that the White Paper on ‘The Future of Europe’ has by some been hailed as a success, and by others a failure.

 The European Union has as a bloc never seen so great an internal clash on the extent to which the values engrained in its foundations should be applied. Indeed, the solidarity with which we, as a Union, have approached the various smaller and larger crises of the last decade has in its result proved to have been half-hearted at best.

The ability of the European Commission to push the envelope on sensitive topics has often fallen on deaf ears in the Council, and met with inaction by the Member States in cases that it found the route to adoption of its initiatives.

The question of more or less Europe has always been the wrong question to ask.

United in diversity is a global value, and not a European privilege.  The practical question has been whether we want ‘more or less of THIS Europe’. Instead, we should be asking, how do we make Europe better. A Europe that creates prosperity, that protects its diverse cultures and heritage, and that put its citizens first, will always be the goal. Federalism, multiple speeds, and other constructs of governance should be seen as the means of facilitation of this better Europe.  

The bickering in the Brussels bubble, with its unique atmosphere and composition, took two dimensions. The first was the content of the White Paper. “This is unfeasible,” an EU Official told me about one elemet. “The different structures of the legal systems in the member states renders it impossible.” But bold steps demand courage. If you were to ask someone in the middle of World War 2 if the European Union was possible, they would have simply laughed.

The second strand of negativity, went to the White Paper itself; some saying “it does not go far enough,” and that “the White Paper shows that the Commission has no vision,” and others suggesting that, “the Commission showing negative scenarios is out of character, and outside its mission statement.”

The development of many of these conversations in the Brussels arena was whether the European Commission should indeed be political, whether it has too much power, the extent to which the administration has been cutoff by the President and the College, and how few people got to give real input into the White Paper. Bickering about small interests leveraged against the greater good.

There is no use arguing for or against more centralised power to the Commission President, or ultimate power to the Council, or the issue of democratic legitimacy of Commissioners who are appointed rather than elected.  Citizens care about the efficient, effective, and productive working of their governments, and in this, we count our European Institutions.

Complaining about the contents of a White Paper, is to not see it for what it is:

 A tool to launch a debate with the public, stakeholders, the European Parliament and the Council in order to facilitate a political consensus. Only when such consensus is achieved can the real work start.

 Politically, European Commission President, Featured-4FeaturedFeatured played it safe. He outlined all the potential scenarios, with different possibilities for the next steps our Union can take. The shape and form this will take will have to be accompanied by decisive action.  “We want to launch a process in which Europe determines its own path,” writes President Juncker in the White Paper. This was only the first step, and it sets a simple frame for which to discuss a very complex problem.

In response to the five scenarios in the White Paper, I put forth the following:

We cannot Carry on as is. Our Union is taking a turn towards radicals and populists, who are finding support as a result of financial woes, and ultra local problems affected by mega-issues such as migratory flows that impact their and their loved ones’ daily lives.

 Nothing but the single market will change the character of Europe, from a Union, to a partnership based on financial interests. A quote from Robert Schuman in 1950 in the document ends with the word ‘solidarity’.  Going to a single market would make Europe’s forefathers turn in their graves.

Those who want more do more is the easy way forward, but it will always end up being abused by national politics. In fact, the most important example of this has been the UK, who for the duration of their membership has carried out this approach to the letter.

The good of our member states individually has in the last decade been many a time sacrificed so that political parties can come to power. A multi-speed Europe will just allow political interests to champion and sign up to policies that will get them votes in the short term, creating tension down the road and flip-flopping on legislation. Worst of all, it allows for selective solidarity.

Doing less more efficiently is not a scenario. Everything done must be done efficiently, and in that respect, as long as we are working efficiently and effectively, we should do much more together for the good of our nation states and our citizens.

By 2025, we need to have rethought of our structures in a way that citizens are confident that power still rests with their elected representatives. They need to be in a Europe, where the Commission is not just an Institution, but an extension of their government; accountable and approachable, transparent and always putting the citizens first.

Armies, counter terrorism forces, and initiatives that we take collectively must be seen under this light. Every European must feel ownership, and every government must have the agency within these structures that renders Europe a real Union with power at all levels of its governance.

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