The White Paper on the Future of Europe – All and Nothing

Prof. Ingrid Shikova

6 March 2017

Habemus Paper! –  exclaimed the renowned internet media EurActiv, while Politico even managed to publish the White Paper on the Future of Europe before white smoke had emanated over the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. The first conclusion which can be drawn, is that finally there is unprecedented interest towards the European matters, beyond the routine day-to-day affairs or the so called “business as usual”.

A first glimpse over the White Paper on the Future of Europe gives reasons for yet another conclusion – it is only 29 pages long – an accomplishment of the European Commission to produce a short and clear document (The White Paper on Completing the Internal Market is 92 pages with the annexes). An in-depth reading provides grounds for reflection and for more conclusions. After the analytical introduction, the reader is eager to find out what are the possible scenarios to preserve what we have achieved through the process of EU integration so far, how the complex problems (we now call challenges) can be solved and how to move ahead – each country its own way, in a column, a frigate, circles or something else.

What does the European Commission offer? In two words: “all and nothing”.

The five proposals range from one side of the spectrum to the other – from “only a market (that is, a market of goods)” to “together we do more” – a quasi-federal future (of course, the word “federation” is “forbidden” in Brussels and is not to be found in the document). All these scenarios are well-described and analyzed in the document, with specific examples of what would happen if we adopt each of them. The freedom to choose is left to the reader – and to be more precise, to the Member States. Only the free trade area scenario (something UK has always dreamed of) is described as unacceptable for the European Commission.

Whether this is a smart move of the Commission, which does not want to commit to a strong opinion and support for one of the scenarios for the future development of the Union thus transferring the burden of the responsibility to the Member States? Or it lacks sufficient braveness to support one of the options strongly?

The opinions are ambivalent and also range from one end of the spectrum to the other – from the adulatory “The White Paper lets the Member State and more importantly, the citizens to choose the most suitable scenario” to the statement that it is a “clear political mistake” (Gianni Pittella, MEP). Maybe the Commission really finds it difficult to withhold a specific scenario in the troublesome pre-election times in France, Germany, The Netherlands and kicking the ball into the field of the Member States is a well-thought out strategy of curtseying the citizens with whom the White Paper is supposed to be discussed in the coming months.

If we try to search for symbols which can hint towards the EC’s true opinion, then we could find them already in the beginning of the document. It can hardly be a coincidence that the first sentences remind us of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi and their Manifesto of Ventotene for a free and united Europe, including a facsimile of the front page of the Manifesto. Spinelli’s appreciation of the federal ideas, developed in the “Spinelli” plan for a federal European Union, is well known to many. Could this introduction and reference to Spinelli be the hidden position of the EC?

More important however is the fact that the White Paper raised immediate reactions. France and Germany, represented by their foreign ministers, adopted a declaration in which, beyond the general words about the importance of the document, there is also one sentence which actually expresses their position: “While not stepping back from what we have achieved, we have to find better ways of dealing with different levels of ambition so as to ensure that Europe delivers better on the expectations of all European citizens.” Different levels of ambition clearly describes scenario number 3 – those who want more, do more or a multi-speed Europe. Let me just remind that a similar declaration was issued also after the European Council in Malta in February by the three Benelux countries. The Visegrad Four also reacted with a declaration, stating that “disintegration” might follow if the road of “those who want more, do more” is selected and the rest of the countries lag behind. The declaration has two very important points: firstly, whatever the speed, the direction has to be the same, with a common objective and vision, and each form of enhanced cooperation should be open for any Member State; secondly, the importance of the Cohesion Policy for achieving economic cohesion is underlined. (The term “cohesion” is only mentioned once in the White Paper and that is in the analytical part of the document). The Romanian President decisively rejected the multi-speed Europe and the Bulgarian caretaker Prime Minister openly declared that he supports the federal future of the EU. A variety of opinions and preferences is to be expected – some want more, others want less, still others want but are incapable, while others – maybe they still have not established what they actually want.

Arguments are yet to take place but this is more than positive. It would have been far worse if these important issues are not discussed, if there is silence and they do not trigger any reactions. Many discussions will take place in the coming months – the important goal is not to confine them to the halls of Brussels but to reach the citizens. This responsibility lies with the politicians. In Bulgaria we currently have the possibility to ask those who compete for parliamentary positions in the forthcoming elections, which of the five scenarios they support, how they see the future of the EU and the place of Bulgaria in it, in order to decide whether their opinions correspond to ours before we cast out votes. The question is not just about rejecting “multi-speed Europe” and the possibility of Bulgaria remaining in the periphery, but rather about presenting a clear vision how this can be prevented.

Since I do not want to be accused of acting like the European Commission, I will state my opinion – as a realist, I believe that the third scenario – those who want more, do more – is rather inevitable. As an optimist I support scenario 5 – we do more together, although its realization might seem possible in the more distant future. And let me conclude with Spinelli:

“The road we need to travel is neither easy, nor safe, but travel it we must and we shall!”

We now need to hope that contemporary politicians possess at least some of Spinelli’s determination.