Future of EU debate: Any progress?

For few months we have five EU future scenarios on the table, Commission published couple of reflection papers and EU leaders will look at a number of the most pressing issues, including migration, security and defence, and economy at the upcoming summit. How do you assess the debate we have on the future of Europe, do you see a progress? Read few comments.

Anna Visvizi, Head of Research, Institute of East-Central Europe (IESW), Assistant Professor, DEREE-The American College of Greece

When on March 1, 2017, the European Commission presented its White Paper on the Future of Europe, the general tone of the debate that unfolded was defined by arguments on multi-speed Europe. Very few observers, if any, noted that what brings these 5 seemingly different scenarios together is that none of them presupposes disintegration. In other words, the purpose of the White Paper was to streamline the debate on the future of Europe within very specific bonds and … to keep it going. Indeed, in the months that followed the European Commission has come up with several long-awaited proposals, the most important of them concerning external security and defence, incl. the European Defence Fund. In this way, a momentum was maintained and today the EU member-states are still talking to each other on issues related to the EU’s future.

Against this backdrop it is important to highlight that progress in the debate on the future of Europe may be recorded at two levels, explicit and implicit. While the two feed each other, it is latter that requires our attention as it will define the details of the debate in the months to come. Importantly, the European Commission positions itself as a very important agent of change in this context; so does the European Parliament. The May 17, MEPs’ vote on Art. 7 against Hungary attests to that; similarly, as the June 14 Commission’s decision to launch infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland regarding on-compliance with their obligations under the 2015 Council Decisions on relocation. Moreover, the case of the Brexit negotiations suggests that the EU, again led by the Commission, insists on certain fundamental issues, such as free trade and EU citizens’ freedoms, and thus on the single market. From a different angle, the June 15 Eurogroup statement on Greece, no matter how contingent in the long-run, reveals that Grexit is not an option either.

It is too early to gauge how the debate the on the future of Europe will unfold. What is clear, however, is that the resolve to do things together strengthens. This is reflected by the agenda of the Council meeting scheduled to take place on June 22-23.

Tomas JaneliūnasProfessor, Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

In my opinion, all these talks about possible scenarios of the EU, reflection papers, you name it, is just a desperate muddling through without clear vision. For the leaders of the EU and Commission, it is a need to show some action. But the action is not the same as the movement forward. I think everybody just waits for the German elections and only after elections we can expect some more clarity about the vision. And this vision should come from E. Macron&Merkel (most probable) tandem. I still believe in a personal leadership of the Heads of Germany and France rather than bureaucratic attempts to find a kind of compromise among so different interests inside the EU. And of course, the Brexit process, a behavior of President Trump, the Turkish factor (and migration) can press further on the need to take decisions without further delay.

Nikolaos Zahariadis, Professor of International Studies, Rhodes College

I think some progress has been made but there is still confusion and hesitation. On the one hand, the fear of Frexit has passed, and since Merkel appears to be heading for re-election, assuming things don’t change, I would say some fears about the future of the EU have receded. The UK seems isolated and, given the election results, probably heading for some difficult decisions ahead. In that sense, the worst of Euroscepticism may have passed. On the other hand, I don’t see much changed among public opinion in many countries. That is, there is still some anger at the EU and certainly mistrust. Those two things have not gone away. What European voters seem to have said (and might also say in Germany) is that we don’t want the EU to dissolve. So, nothing but the Single Market or just carrying on are not viable options. However, I don’t see any enthusiasm for doing more, so the likely outcomes appear to be doing things more efficiently with fewer resources and those who want more do more. Because I don’t foresee any room for widespread agreement on many things, I can imagine the only viable scenario is letting some countries form a greater “core.” The problem is no one wants to be outside the core but no one can agree on what precisely the core should look like in terms of issues. So has there been progress? Yes, in terms of we now have more clarity about what people do NOT want. Do they know where they are heading? No, I think they are still confused staying mostly with platitudes and generalities. They seem to agree on things but then they don’t implement them, I think of the migration issue among others.

So for now and the foreseeable future I just don’t see much happening. To put it differently, I see lots of movement but not enough movement forward. In the absence of a clear vision by a national politician of stature, certainly not Tsipras, EU officials don’t seem to have the weight to sway public or political opinion in any European (as opposed to national) direction. Perhaps in the future, but not for the time being.

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