Meanwhile in Brussels: the debate on the future of the European Union

One of the side effects of the Brexit referendum has been a debate among the remaining 27 EU Member States on the future of the Union.

  • Submitted 14 March 2017
  • Applicable Law UK , European Union
  • Topic Brexit

This debate started immediately after the referendum and is expected to culminate in a Declaration that will be adopted at a summit to be held by the EU27 at the end of March 2017 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. On 10 March 2017, the EU 27 political leaders met in Brussels to prepare that Declaration. They were guided in their discussions by a White Paper on the future of Europe that the European Commission recently published.

In its White Paper, the Commission presents the following five possible scenarios, without making choices itself or claiming that the menu is exhaustive:

  • “Carrying on” - the Union would continue on its current course and focus on implementing and upgrading its positive reform agenda
  • “Nothing but the single market” - the EU would increasingly focus on deepening certain key aspects of the single market, and it would not step up its work in other policy domains but rather resolve new emerging issues bilaterally
  • “Those who want to do more” - a more dynamic multi-speed Union would be developed whereby those willing to develop further would work together in specific policy areas
  • “Doing less more efficiently” - the EU27 would focus on a reduced number of priority areas
  • “Doing much more together” - the Member States would decide to share more power, resources and decision-making in order to go further than ever before in all domains.

The White Paper is meant to provoke the thinking on the longer term outlook of the Union. For each of the scenarios, the Commission discusses the pros and cons, what they would imply by 2025 and what their concrete impact would be on a number of EU policies. The underlying idea of each of these scenarios is, however, that the EU27 Member States move forward as a Union.

At the most recent Brussels summit, it turned out that the opinions of the EU27 leaders on the five proposed scenarios were rather divergent, but one of them in particular has been heavily discussed, i.e. the proposal for a multi-speed Union. The idea has existed for decades - the Eurozone and the Schengen area are good examples of this approach - and is even featured in the Treaties as the concept of “enhanced cooperation”. However, some of the EU27 leaders fear that if the concept gets institutionalised, it could have a negative impact on unity and may lead to different classes of Member States.

In this context it is interesting to note that at the summit the Benelux States stated that they would join forces with the Visegrád and Baltic States in an effort to counterbalance Germany, France, Italy and Spain, whose leaders met separately ahead of the Brussels summit and who are all endorsing a Union at multiple speeds.

It remains to be seen how the Rome declaration will balance unity and diversity. Immediately after the Brussels summit, European Council President Tusk already announced that especially in view of the upcoming Brexit negotiations, unity should prevail.

In any event, the debate on the future of the Union will not stop with the Rome Declaration. It is the Commission’s ambition that the debate that it now helps to steer will ultimately allow the EU27 electorate to make an informed choice on the future of the Union in the June 2019 European Parliament elections.

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