Written by Aidan Christie,
A clearer view of the European Commission’s vision of the future of Europe should be one outcome of the 2017 State of the Union speech by President Jean-Claude Juncker. Set to take place in the European Parliament’s plenary session of 13 September, this year’s annual set-piece is to be a key moment in defining the vision for a European Union of 27 Member States for the coming decade.
Juncker’s speech will be the first occasion on which the Commission publicly takes stock of the debate it launched in March, when it published the white paper on the future of Europe. That coincided with the celebrations of the Union’s 60th anniversary, held in Rome at the site of the original Community Treaties’ signing. But there was also widespread recognition, in the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the Union, that fresh impetus was needed, not least to deal with the major challenges – some already clear, others yet to emerge – which European citizens face.
Five scenarios for the Union’s development up to 2025 were set out in the white paper:
- ‘Carrying on’, in which the EU continues its incremental development at the current pace;
- ‘Nothing but the single market’, whereby the Member States refocus their attention on the single market, while dropping broader ambitions for increased cooperation;
- ‘Those who want more do more’, with some Member States deepening their cooperation in particular fields while others stand back;
- ‘Doing less more efficiently’, under which cooperation would be intensified in some EU policy fields, but scaled back in others seen as of lower interest; and
- ‘Doing much more together’, with all Member States agreeing to step up their collective work across all EU policy areas.
The Commission aimed to stimulate debate across the 27 Member States, among citizens, stakeholders and governments, and fostered discussion with a range of different events. From the outset, the goal was for EU leaders to decide on the Union’s orientation for the coming decade, enabling preparation of more detailed plans in advance of the European elections in 2019.
As a contribution to the debate, the Commission published five reflection papers on subjects at the heart of the decisions to be made.
The first, on the social dimension of Europe, builds on work the current Commission has been doing. In recognition that many citizens feel the interests of business and the financial services have enjoyed priority in the years since the economic crisis, the Commission wants to redress the balance.
On harnessing globalisation, the second reflection paper seeks to establish how the EU can ensure European citizens and economies do not lose out in the rapid and far-reaching changes of the global economy, in which multinational firms can move their activities, and their funds, around the world with great ease.
The economic and monetary union (EMU) has already undergone major development in the past decade, in the wake of the financial crisis. As the crisis receded, however, the urgency to act faded, and further reforms set out in the Five President’s Report a couple of years ago lost momentum. This reflection paper seeks to re-energise the process of strengthening EMU, which many feel still has some weaknesses in the face of a future economic or financial crisis.
European defence has come starkly into focus as a result of Donald Trump’s wavering commitment to the North Atlantic alliance and heightened tensions with Russia, particularly since its annexation of Crimea. Conflict in the Middle East and the ever-growing offensive cyberwar capabilities around the world also underscore Europe’s need to step up its military capabilities.
The final reflection paper addresses the future of EU finances. The difficult discussions over each EU multiannual financial framework illustrate the deep-seated interests of Member States in this area. But even if there is widespread agreement that the current system needs reform, there is no agreement on how. The departure of the United Kingdom from the EU presents both challenges in addressing the shortfall in revenue from one of the biggest ‘net payers’ but also an opportunity to remove much of the complexity from the current system.
The white paper acknowledges that the final outcome is likely to incorporate elements of the five different scenarios. Juncker himself recently said that his preference is in fact for a sixth, as yet publicly undefined. The State of the Union speech will see him focus the debate, narrowing the options, with a view to enabling Member States’ leaders to agree on a clear path forward at the December European Council.