Note: This article is heavily influenced by an older article written by Florian Eder, Ryan Heath, Jacopo Barigazzi and Quentin Aries for news organisation Politico, which can be found here.
During these turbulent times we look to the future to see if the storm subsides and we return back to the calm or if the storm continues thundering on and we decide its time to go back to the drawing board and rethink think this idea; the idea of the European Union; the idea that the European countries can coexist and unite to form a single entity that can work together for the betterment of all Europeans and which could also face any problem thrown at it.
The White Paper presented by the European Commission on the 1st March 2017 set out five possible paths for the future of Europe by the year 2025. The starting point for each scenario is that the 27 Member States move forward together as a Union.
However, these five scenarios are not detailed blueprints or policy prescriptions. They deliberately make no mention of legal or institutional processes – the form will follow the function.
Scenario 1 – Carrying On:
The European Union focuses on delivering on its positive reform agenda.
In this scenario where the EU27 sticks to its course, it focuses on implementing and upgrading its current reform agenda. Priorities are regularly updated, problems are tackled as they arise, and new legislation is rolled out accordingly.
As a result, the 27 Member States and the EU Institutions pursue a joint agenda for action. However, the speed of decision-making would heavily depend on the ability to overcome the differences in points of views in order to deliver on collective long-term priorities. Also, EU legislation is checked regularly to see whether it is fit for purpose and outdated legislation is withdrawn or amended accordingly. This means that by the year 2025 the EU27 continues to focus on jobs, growth and investment by strengthening the single market and by stepping up investment in digital, transport and energy infrastructure.
Scenario 2 – Nothing but The Single Market:
The European Union is gradually re-centred on the single market.
In this scenario where the EU27 cannot agree to do more in many policy areas, it increasingly focuses on deepening certain key aspects of the single market. Alas there is no shared resolve to work more together in areas such as migration, security or defence. Hence as a result the EU27 does not step up its work in most policy domains. Cooperation on new issues of common concern would often be managed bilaterally. This means that by the year 2025 the functioning of the single market becomes the main “raison d’être” of the EU27.
Scenario 3 – Those Who Want More Do More:
The European Union allows willing Member States to do more together in specific areas.
In this scenario where the EU27 proceeds as today but where certain Member States want to do more in common, one or several “coalitions of the willing” emerge to work together in specific policy areas. These may cover policies such as defence, internal security, taxation or social matters. As a result, new groups of Member States agree on specific legal and budgetary arrangements to deepen their cooperation in chosen domains. As was done for the Schengen area or the euro, this can build on the shared EU27 framework and requires a clarification of rights and responsibilities. The status of other Member States is preserved, and they retain the possibility to join those doing more over time. This means that by the year 2025 groups of Member States would decide to cooperate much closer on certain issues such as defence matters and making use of the existing legal possibilities.
Scenario 4 – Doing Less More Efficiently:
The European Union focuses on delivering more and faster in selected policy areas, while doing less elsewhere.
In this scenario where there is a consensus on the need to better tackle certain priorities together, the EU27 decides to focus its attention and limited resources on a reduced number of areas. Hence, as a result the EU27 are able to act much quicker and more decisively in its chosen priority areas. For these policies, stronger tools are given to the EU27 to directly implement and enforce collective decisions, as it does today in competition policy or for banking supervision. However, on other issues the EU27 stops acting or simply does less. In choosing its new priorities, the EU27 would seek to better align promises, expectations and delivery. This means that by the year 2025 the EU27 steps up its work in fields such as innovation, trade, security, migration, the management of borders and defence. While at the same time reducing its work in other fields.
Scenario 5 – Doing Much More Together:
The European Union decides to do much more together across all policy areas.
In this scenario where there is consensus that neither the EU27 as it is, nor European countries on their own, are well-equipped enough to face the challenges of the day, Member States decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board. As a result, 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. Hence, decisions are agreed faster at European level and are rapidly enforced. This means that by the year 2025 Europe speaks and acts as one in trade and is represented by one seat in most international fora. The European Parliament has the final say on international trade agreements. Defence and security are prioritised. In full complementarity with NATO, a European Defence Union is created. Cooperation in security matters is routine. The EU27 continues to lead the global fight against climate change and strengthens its role as the world’s largest humanitarian and development aid donor.
While it is important to know the possible future course, the European Union is heading towards as illustrated by the above-mentioned scenarios it is of vital importance to see and understand the likelihood of this scenarios becoming a reality. To see the likelihood of one of these scenarios or yet a combination of multiple scenarios becoming a reality we can look to the past to see how previous attempts of uniting Europe worked out. The European Union is certainly not the first attempt to unify all Europe; but hopefully it will be the one that is successful in this age-old attempt to unify all of Europe.
One only needs to look back to Napoléon or to the Holy Roman Empire or even to the Roman Empire to see various attempts of uniting Europe. Although the above-mentioned examples of unifying Europe utilise different methods be it by diplomacy or by conquest to achieve this goal; the idea of a united European continent is present in all.
Also, it is of utmost importance to not only look back and learn from attempts of unification but also look back and see instances when Europe was fragmented and what were the factors and events which lead to this. For this one could look at the multitude of wars that were fought between European countries; the Second World War being the biggest example of this.
After carefully analysing both situations; previous attempts of unification and the instances of fragmentation of Europe, unification failed and fragmentation occurred mainly due to a sense disconnect between different groups of people. A country is unified because people in the country have a sense of national identity. When this sense of national identity stops rifts start to appear and divisions occur; a recent example of this can be seen between the Catalonians and the rest of the Spanish people.
History tells us that we can achieve more when we are united. Therefore, by looking to the past we can learn from their mistakes and stop history from repeating itself.
When future generations look back will they see us as being the beginning of a great time of unity or just another failed attempt of unification?
The answer to this question, the answer to what the future of the European Union and henceforth the European continent will be depends on us all.
Written by: Kris Bajada