Juncker presents White Paper: “The destiny of EU-27 is in our hands.”

New Europe / Alexandros Michailidis

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presents the EU-27 White Paper at the European Parliament, Brussels. 01 Mar. 2017

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledges existential struggles of the EU-27, tabling five basic ideas – scenarios in an attempt to put member states and citizens to a broad discussion over Europe’s future.

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Quo vadis Europa at 27

“Later this month in Rome 27 of our member states will stand shoulder to shoulder in peace,” said Juncker to the MEPs in the Brussels chamber. “This should not be a birthday celebration – it should be the birthdate of the EU-27.”

Looking back to the EU’s labor pains in Rome, Juncker remembers Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi. Their Ventotene Manifesto, eventually entitled Per un’Europa libera e unita (“For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto”). Spinelli and Rossi dared in times of fascism. The duo did not keep quiet and introvert, “they stretched out their arms to the light instead.”

Will we be forgiven if we don’t speak up?

“I want our children to be proud,” added Juncker. “Now it is our time to be pioneers,” not under the same circumstances, but in a rapidly changing world. “Circumstances and situations do not change just yearly but daily,” as the effects of new tech on societies and jobs are obvious.

What Europe can do and what Europe cannot do

According to Juncker, a basic question at this debate would be to see “what Europe can do and what Europe cannot do.” “Is is an essential task, let’s be honest.”

“We promised to bring down figures particularly at youth unemployment”, but since the EU budget is only the 1.3% and the rest of the 98.7% is coming from the member states, this is not possible. “So, to say the EU is not acting is wrong,” concludes Juncker. “We shouldn’t persuade people that we can simply count up the sun and the moon, but rather concentrate on the areas that we can specifically provide results in. It is time that we make clear what Europe can and cannot do.”

Stop simplifying everything to the more vs less Europe approach

“The more or less Europe approach is misleading,” stressed Juncker, presenting the five scenarios that the Commission has put on paper. “In reality, the scenarios could be more,” added the EU executive arm chief. Not all five are “under the spontaneous agreement of the Commission, but all are under discussion.

Scenario 1:  Carrying on with current policy

“I promised to get rid of the instinct to regulate all aspects of people’s lives,” said Juncker, presenting bad over-regulating examples of the past such as toilet flushing and swings. Juncker’s Commission took back a lot of past legislation and stuck to 23 initiatives per year.

However, the Commission is still falsely accused of over-regulation. “There is no basis for this, at least within this Commission,” Juncker added. “We can continue focusing on positive agenda, such as the single market and defence union,” added Juncker, who however kept wondering: “Is that enough?”

Scenario 2:  Internal Market Europe

If the above is not doable, “if member states cannot agree to this approach, this is going to be the only solution,” said Juncker. “That is not our solution. The EU is more than free market area. The internal market and Euro are not aims themselves, their purpose is to serve people.”

Scenario 3: Do all member states have to move at the same pace?

“If we cannot achieve an agreement there can be a choice for others to move forward,” said Juncker on presenting the Germany-preferred option. “The others that are not there at the very start, should have the opportunity of joining in later.”

This scenario would result to a concentric circles arising system: “The aim of the avant-garde would not be to exclude some member states, but to include them later.” However, this brings other issues. The EU will then have the difficulty of explaining to people that calling the 112 – EU’s emergency number – would not be active in all member states. When it comes to security, for example, “Europe would be partially responsible for monitoring external borders.”

Scenario 4: The EU-27 could decide to do more

Another option for the EU-27 would be to do more things of added value, on security policy, diesel gate, on the European Agency, on combating terrorism, on border security and monitoring of suspects, and sanctioning the ones that mislead European consumers.

“Instead of disappointing people and sending letters asking member states to act,” Europe could focus on less talking and act more.

Scenario 5: Doing much more together 

Such a scenario would have to include a defence Union, according to Juncker. Member states could, at that point, decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board.

What does the Commission choose?

“All the above are options to us. I cannot tell you which one is my absolute preference today,” said Juncker, adding that he rejects the single market choice. The reason why the Commission did not present its only preferred approach “in splendid isolation” is that – unlike the U.S. – “the EU doesn’t assume by getting out executive orders.”

“The Commission wants to listen to others. I am no dictator, I listen. The Commission prefers to listen before speaking.”

“Unlike to what has been done so far, we would first like to listen. This could lead to disappointment but I think this respects democracy.”

What about the future?

Juncker points to the future, not excluding a change of treaties, but only if that comes “as a collective wish”. This will come after the “honest debate”, a conversation that “is not to take place in Rome”, but in the cities throughout Europe. “Every voice needs to be heard,” added Juncker, asking for the MEPs to speak on the subject.

The day after the White Paper

As for the Commission, Berlaymont is to prepare “a series of refection and policy documents” after the all voices are heard. “We will present our ideas in strengthening the social dimension of Europe,” added Juncker, acknowledging that this is not a popular subject within the chamber. “Social Europe is a vital issue for the days to come.”

2019-2025 – Europe of the future is not an acquis and not obvious

“In 2019 the European political parties will have to prove that the EU remains credible,” adds Juncker. “The EU citizens will need to decide who will the next president of the Commission will be. I will not stand for a second term but I am neither tired nor running out of ideas, quite the opposite and you will see that.”

“The Europe I am describing is not an acquis and not obvious. The choices of 2019-2025 are not for us but for future generations,” adds the Commission president. “We will be judged on what we pass on to others.”

Healthy patriotism, peace, solidarity values, rule of law, and freedom of the press are, according to Juncker, values that continue to unite the EU. “It is not patriotism when it is against others or our societies,” adds Juncker, making Europe’s tomorrow a matter of the heart and values.

“The destiny of EU-27 is in our hands.”

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