Prof. Georgi Dimitrov
On March 1st Bulgarians and Romanians adorn their relatives and friends with ‘martenitzi’ as a symbol of health and good wishes. This year on the same date and probably with the same intention, Jean-Claude Junker adorned the European citizens with a White Paper on the Future of Europe. The difference is that the intention is for EU citizens not simply to have it as a symbol of well-being but rather to use it as a starting point for their participation in a pan-European debate for their own future. Because this future depends on the fate of the European Union which is currently the primary source (and guarantee) of peace, stability and prosperity of the societies, which participate in the Union.
All media have publicized this news and correctly quoted the five possible scenarios for the development of the EU which are the primary content of this strategic document. However, it is not clear from the broadcasts what the purpose of the document is, yet it is really very important. Here is why:
Firstly, the concept presented in the document makes it clear that the EU is fully ready to move forward even without the United Kingdom. This is not a clear statement but nevertheless, it is one of the main messages of the White Paper. The Union may have become smaller, but nothing has changed in principle: it will continue to exist, on the one hand, for the benefit of the European citizens, and on the other hand – in order to provide a solution to the extremely difficult challenges for the well-being of the Europeans precisely.
In support of the general argument above, secondly, the document provides clear and well-substantiated, even visually imposing particular arguments in support of the position that the consolidation of the EU is the only possible response to the pressure of the merciless global competition:
• Drastic decline in the share of Europeans in the global population;
• Decrease in the relative share of GDP, created in the EU, in the global GDP;
• Rapidly aging population;
• Non-comparability of the EU’s budgetary expenses for defense in comparison to the other global competitors, which is especially troublesome in light of the fact that EU Member States are extremely attractive as a place for residence (due to the incomparably high living standard and quality of living) in the eyes of the millions of non-Europeans.
It is not a coincidence that even in the EC’s press release (in which this argumentation is dispensed of), it is explicitly underlined that by 2060 neither of the European countries, despite its size, will represent more than 1% of the population. And therefore, it would be unthinkable that it can face the abovementioned challenges on its own. Moreover, it is exactly in dealing with these challenges that EU’s leverage is strongest by giving the countries better chances through the partnerships among the members in integration.
But, thirdly, here is when things get rough, because despite the EU being the key to prosperity of the Europeans in the coming decades, the European citizens are ever more explicitly dissatisfied with its functioning. Nowadays the EU enjoys the support of only around 1/3 of the citizens. Hence the urgent need for rethinking the future of the European integration and our vision of Europe we want to raise our children in. The White Paper presented by Junker has yet another openly declared ambition to be just a first step in the political and civic debate on how the European societies and the EU should develop.
The reflection proposal, presented by the EC, has both strong and weak points and they should be duly seen, comprehended and assessed.
A very strong characteristic of the proposal is the well-argumented description of the perspectives for EU’s existence not simply by recalling the horrors of the European wars, which evolved ultimately in world wars, in XX century. The need for EU’s existence is proven exactly by its simultaneous objective to provide a response to the external competition in a political, economic, cultural, scientific and military aspect, as well as to guarantee ever better quality of living of its citizens through the opportunities for work, social protection, ecological standards, protection of civil rights and freedoms. Neither of these arguments should be neglected or deprecated!
Even more important is the multi-trajectory vision of the EU future. The very existence of equivalent alternatives for its development (since the Union has been created and functions with the very purpose to keep developing further) is extremely significant as a stimulus for the inclusion of as many stakeholders as possible – citizens, experts, political parties, countries and various institutions – in the deliberation on the direction and ways of moving forward. Experts are well aware that the absence of the United Kingdom in this discussion makes the selection of a specific strategy rather unequal because these logical alternatives are backed not only by different possibilities, but by real and antagonistic interests. It is important, however, to note a fact that has been underlined repeatedly: the five proposed options are neither alternative to one another, nor do they exhaust the spectrum of possible solutions. They are simply an orientation about what the European public attention should be focused on. Last but not least, the nature of the document is an invitation, both in terms of style and content, for a broad dialogue with the European general public. Here we should note that Junker has been unambiguously inclined towards providing a text that is rich in examples, rather than a political programme and the Commission has been clearly willing to engage in a dialogue with ordinary citizens in an accessible manner. In order to achieve this, each of the proposed five visions is accompanied by a referral to the changes that will occur in the every-day life of the ordinary European as a result of the realization of the particular trajectory of EU development.
This is quite an achievement in itself.
But there are problems that we cannot be insensitive to.
First, probably due to the purposefully exemplary nature of the document, it is difficult to find a direct response to the question how each of the five proposed alternatives solves the gravest problems faced by the EU’s existence. Moreover, given the fact that EU’s existence is considered as the key condition for coping with the monstrous challenges towards the future of the European public, and the lack of support towards the EU is seen as a main problem, then it is only logical to expect that the assessments of the strong and weak aspects of each scenario should be based on increasing the support of the citizens towards the common future of the Europeans. Such a priority however cannot be found in any of the scenarios.
Second, although each scenario for EU’s future is followed by a thematic accent – “pros and cons”, these rather short paragraphs cannot be seen as a genuine conceptual discussion of arguments for and against the specific alternative.
And since there is no argumentation, there is a leeway for speculation. It should also be taken into consideration that the third alternative – “those who want more, do more” – is positioned in the middle of the specter. Logically, it can reasonable be presented as the most right or the most left among the five scenarios. But it is positioned in the centre in order to suggest that this is a vision which balances the extreme possibilities. It is not a coincidence that when presenting the solutions, the style of the expression is “more of the same, plus…”. “Plus” is not merely an arithmetical addition, but rather a value orientation – this is the scenario described as providing unquestionable benefits. Clearly, for those who want more and do more. Not a word is said about those who remain outside the EU core and move at a different integration speed. The reason is that the differentiated integration, explicitly supported by Junker, is clearly presented as the centre of the discussion on EU’s future. This may not have been openly admitted, but it has been persistently visualized – both in the text and the annex to the White Paper.
This is not necessarily a case of political premeditation, but probably a pre-reflexive demonstration of the personal attitudes of the authors of the documents for whom some things seem universally normal, as if by default. For example, the illustration of how the every-day life of the ordinary European will change, refers to the practice of connected vehicles. However, based on data from a recent survey in 12 European countries by FAI, the International Automobile Federation, in Europe only one third of all drivers have heard of connected vehicles. However, the drivers in Germany, France and Italy prove to be the best informed. Yet, at present only 6% of the consumers have connected vehicles and 18% are willing to have one in the future.
In short, let us not leave the decisions in someone else’s hands. Participate in the discussion for Europe’s future! It is important… This call is also directed towards the Bulgarian governments, if they have the capacity for such a strategic political commitment.