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European Commission Presents Choose-Your-Own-Adventure White Paper on the Future of the EU

Listing options in a paper doesn't make selecting among them easier.


The European Union has five possible futures.

According, at least, to a white paper presented by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

The timing of the paper is hardly coincidental. It comes in the same month as British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to begin Brexit negotiations — and in which EU member states meet in Rome to mark the EU’s 60th anniversary.

The paper includes five possible scenarios for the European Union’s future that can be summed up as follows: “carrying on,” “nothing but the single market,” “those who want more do more,” “doing less more efficiently,” and “doing much more together.”

The choices can generally be understood to fall somewhere on a spectrum from moving toward less EU involvement (becoming just a single market) to allowing different member states to involve themselves in the EU to different degrees to coming closer to being a federal EU — one in which the EU has more power, and more resources.

The Commission (perhaps obviously) favors the federal EU option. The white paper reads that, in the last scenario, “cooperation between all Member States goes further than ever before in all domains. Similarly, the euro area is strengthened with the clear understanding that whatever is beneficial for countries sharing the common currency is also beneficial for all. Decisions are agreed faster at European level and are rapidly enforced.” It also, however, acknowledges that a more federal EU risks alienating those member states that “feel that the EU lacks legitimacy or has taken too much power away from national authorities.”

And then there’s the proverbial rub. The fact that the paper contemplates such wildly different scenarios for Europe’s future shows how much pressure the union is under. Its traditional ally, the United States, is now run by a president who openly championed Brexit. It must negotiate the departure of Britain from the EU (a process that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Wednesday could take longer than two years). Russia seems increasingly interested in undermining its member states’ elections, supporting far-right candidates who would hold referendums to leave either the eurozone or the European Union (or both).

Meanwhile, Greece’s economic crisis is back with a vengeance. Poland is openly defying the union’s stated standards. And three (or four, if Italy gets its act together) of its larger member states face elections this year.

The EU’s member states seem to want very different things for Europe’s future. That the choices are laid out in a white paper does not mean that all — or anyone — will agree as to the best path to follow.

Photo credit: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

Tag: EU