In March of this year, the European Commission published a White Paper on the future of Europe that laid out five possible future scenarios or paths for the European Union. In a series of previous articles published on this platform, I outlined and discussed each of these five scenarios in turn. The goal of this White Paper, according to European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, was to “launch a process in which Europe determines its own path” by fostering a cross-continent debate on the kind of Europe we want to achieve. In his State of the European Union speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, President Juncker presented his own ambitious vision for Europe’s future, a sixth scenario based on three core principles: freedom, equality and the rule of law.
In this “scenario six”, these three principles make up the foundations on which “a more united, stronger and more democratic Union” should be built.
A more united Union
President Juncker said that he aims to increase efficiency and inclusivity within the European Union. To this end, he suggested first of all that the Schengen area of free movement should be opened to Bulgaria and Romania immediately and to Croatia “once it meets all the criteria” in order to strengthen the protection of Europe’s external borders.
Regarding the euro, President Juncker expressed a desire to see more countries joining the Eurozone, stressing that the euro is meant to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole. He proposed to create a “Euro-accession Instrument”, which would provide technical and financial assistance to Member States hoping to join the euro. President Juncker also affirmed that completing the Banking Union, which would allow banks across Europe to operate under the same rules and under the same supervision, “is a matter of urgency”.
The European Commission President further recommended that Member States should agree on the European Pillar of Social Rights by 17 November 2017 at the Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden. Finally, he said that a “credible enlargement perspective” must be maintained for the Western Balkans but he ruled out EU membership for Turkey for the foreseeable future.
A stronger Union
Regarding the European single market, President Juncker proposed that decisions in the European Council in this area should be made on the basis of qualified majority, rather than unanimous, voting. This would allow decisions to be made “more often and more easily”, allowing Europe to “act quicker and more decisively”. In addition, in the interest of a stronger Monetary Union, he called for the appointment of a European Minister of Economy and Finance, accountable to the European Parliament, who would coordinate EU financial instruments in the case of a financial crisis. This he proposed as an alternative to a separate Parliament for the Eurozone.
President Juncker also offered proposals for foreign policy, suggesting that the EU should become a stronger global actor; for defense, reiterating calls for a “fully-fledged European Defense Union”; and for combating terrorism, calling for the creation of a European intelligence unit.
A more democratic Union
President Juncker said that the European Union “needs to take a democratic leap forward”. He lamented that European-wide elections had been “reduced to nothing more than the sum of national campaigns” and suggested that European political parties begin campaigning earlier than in the past. He also proposed new rules on the financing of political parties to limit the influence of “anti-European extremists”, encouraged the introduction of transnational lists in European Parliament elections to replace the 73 MEPs from the United Kingdom and suggested increasing the role of national Parliaments in work on the future of Europe.
Institutional changes were also proposed, including a new Code of Conduct for Commissioners, which allows Commissioners to be candidates in European Parliament elections under the same conditions as anyone else. President Juncker expressed support for the Spitzenkandidaten method, whereby lead candidates for the presidency of the European Commission are selected from the European Parliament groupings, and recommended that the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Council be merged into one.
On Brexit, President Juncker said it will be a “very sad and tragic moment” when the UK officially leaves the EU but affirmed “we have to respect the will of the British people”.
President Juncker concluded his speech by calling for a Special Summit on the future of Europe in Romania on 30 March 2019, the day after the United Kingdom is due to officially leave the EU. It is his hope that this summit will allow Europeans to go to the polls in the 2019 European Parliament elections with “a clear understanding of how the European Union will develop over the years to come”.
Senator Neale Richmond is the Fine Gael spokesman on EU Affairs in Seanad Éireann