What form should the EU take?

Having presented five possible scenarios for the future of the EU, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is seeking to fuel a debate about how the Union can overcome its crisis. Europe's commentators are discussing his "White Paper" in detail. Some, however, are sceptical and fear that his initiative could backfire.

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Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

A confused contribution by the crisis Commission

The White Paper highlights the fact that the EU Commission is facing an identity crisis, political scientist Sergio Fabbrini explains in Il Sole 24 Ore:

“The White Paper is a modest and confusing contribution to the debate about Europe's future. Modest because it doesn't deal seriously with the reasons for Europe's crisis. Confusing because it outlines five different pathways for Europe's future and they seem more like the product of a university seminar than the product of careful political consideration. So the White Paper says more about the crisis the Commission is facing than about the EU's crisis. Although Juncker's Commission continues to be regarded as the parliamentary government of the EU in reality is has become an organism that sometimes presents itself as parliamentary, other times as intergovernmental, but always as technocratic. … What it lacks is a political soul. It discusses the future of the EU as if the latter were an international organisation and claims that form follows function. But this claim is incomprehensible and testifies to a lacking understanding of democracy.”

Sega (BG) /

Deep divides in the EU restaurant

Juncker's plans for a two-speed EU are a dangerous experiment, Sega warns:

“The transition from EU integration to EU disintegration will be swift, but the consequences could be irreversible. Therefore if we don't want to end up mourning the passing of the EU in its current form, as Putin mourns the passing of the USSR, we must be clear that no one will be able to restore the achievements we ourselves are destroying. There are those who find it less cosy in the EU restaurant than it used to be because it is overcrowded with new and noisy guests. If they take away our tables we will have no choice but to stand. Next thing we know they'll be asking us to work as waiters. At any rate they won't discuss matters with us, for that is a privilege reserved for those who are seated. They will nod their heads at us, snap their fingers and beckon to us when they want to be served.”

El País (ES) /

Ideas for a grown-up Europe

Junker has made a clever and important move with his White Paper, El País comments:

“The Commission is asking everyone clearly what they want Europe to be when it grows up; in other words from now on, given that this month marks the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. ... The White Paper put the ball back in the court of the governments which have been using the European institutions and in particular the Commission as a scapegoat for their own deficits and errors for years. This has reduced the current EU - despite its efficient administration and justice - to a machine that europeanises defeats and nationalises successes. In this way European politics lacks the energy required to push through the necessary common policies, and the nationalist and populist anti-European forces are exploiting this.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Creative stimulus for a stalled debate

Jean-Claude Juncker's White Paper has shaken up the gridlocked Europe debate, De Volkskrant also comments jubilantly:

“This open stance aims to take the wind out of the sails of the critics crying out that Europe imposes dictates and is a machine for never-ending integration. These accusations have no basis in reality, but they are widespread and therefore need a response. Moreover this method could put an end to the perverse games of the heads of government and their habit of blaming Brussels for unpopular policies. They would then have a harder time using Brussels as a scapegoat for policies they themselves pursued. Open-ended reflection will also give creative impulse to the stalled debate about Europe's future. This is sorely needed, not just since the political earthquake of Brexit but also as a response to the right-wing populists who want to destroy the EU.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Juncker repeating Gorbachev's mistakes

With his plans for the future of the EU Juncker may suffer the same fate as the last leader of the Soviet Union, sociologist Dan Dungaciu writes on the blog Adevărul:

“When the Soviet Union was facing an unprecedented crisis, Mikhail Gorbachev naively believed that 'perestroika' and 'glasnost' would suffice as a response to the demands and the deep frustration and dissatisfaction of the Soviet population. He was wrong. ... Jean-Claude Juncker also wants to play the 'saviour'. He wants the contradictions between supporters and critics of the EU to remain manageable. But he's profoundly mistaken. The EU now faces an unprecedented crisis, a 'perfect storm'. Juncker believes that concessions can appease the dissatisfaction of the population of the 'old Europe' and keep the population of the 'new Europe' at bay. ... But that's dangerous for several reasons: not only because it won't solve the European crisis but also because like Mikhail Gorbachev back then, he risks adding fuel to the fire.”

Trud (BG) /

An even bigger bureaucratic monster

Trud warns that a multi-speed Europe carries the risk of even more EU bureaucracy:

“Sooner or later every EU policy becomes entwined with various institutions, which increases the bureaucracy. Juncker has already floated the idea of the Eurozone states getting their own parliament. There is even talk of giving them their own budget. This is likely to widen the rifts between the EU institutions. For example over the question of whether there would be a different group of MEPs for each parliament - some for the current EU Parliament and others for the Eurozone parliament. Or over the question of how many budgets member states would have to pay into. How are the new policies supposed to be coordinated? And the biggest question: Will the EU be able to continue as a unified and homogeneous mechanism under these new circumstances?”

Der Standard (AT) /

Commission chief steps up the pace

With his white paper Juncker has wisely put the ball in the governments' court, Der Standard concludes:

“The Brexit vote was eight months ago yet the 28 heads of government still haven't come any further in defining the future of the EU. … They must finally decide what direction the EU should take. All the different versions - from a loose economic community to a political union - are on the table. It is good that the Commission president chose the European Parliament as the venue to present his explanations. As the people's representatives, the MEPs must play a key role in any reform of the Union. Because one thing is clear: it is above all the governments of the member states who are responsible for the current profound crisis - also in democracy. There are far too many leaders with over-inflated egos sitting in the European Council. Their indecision and nationalism is preventing Europe from moving forwards.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

An appeal to take a stance

Many observers expected Juncker to present a clear standpoint rather than several different pathways Europe can take, but Deutschlandfunk approves of his approach:

“The future of the European project is at stake and unconventional thinking rather than fixed templates are called for to save its core ideas. … The goal is no longer to defend the EU against a monolithic bloc as in Cold War times, but to save an idea by making it more practicable and more acceptable for the people. Outlining several potential scenarios is the right approach, even if the criticism that the whole thing is too vague and irresolute is hailing down again. The EU Commission cannot and should not decide on its own what path Europe should take. Now everyone is called on to take a stance.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Not even Juncker is defending Europe anymore

Juncker's presentation was disappointing as far as De Standaard is concerned:

“So the leader of the most important European institution is no longer openly defending the European project. A year ago this would have been unthinkable. Could there be any clearer proof of how widespread Euroscepticism has become? Juncker's presentation was supposed to come across as an expression of more democracy, as an indication that the member states along with their parliaments, NGOs and citizen forums are now ready for a broad discussion about the future of Europe. But there is another way of seeing this: the Commission's attempt to be 'objective' is not only an admission of weakness but also an expression of political realism. Europe has not become the democratic place many dreamed of. … Instead those who want to reconstruct the nation states are vociferously taking a stand. And there is no pro-European counterweight.”

Contributors (RO) /

A new east-west divide

Juncker is concealing the real agenda behind the plans to change the EU, political scientist Valentin Naumescu rails on the blog Contributors:

“He's trying to hush up the real intentions: the protection and delimitation of a club of true, civilised, capable Europeans. Discreet but effective limits - political, economic, legal and administrative - are being put in place to counter the supposedly negative impact of the Eastern European states on the prosperity of Western Europe. A two-speed Europe would mean the end of the EU in its current form and its division into at least two categories of states. It would be a de facto return to the situation before 2004, when the post-communist countries were seen as allies of the EU but didn't have the full range of political and institutional decision-making powers.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Prospect of a new iron curtain looming

The people's well-being must be at the centre of decisions on the future of the EU, Večernji list cautions:

“If most people in the member states feel that the borders should be closed once more, that would mean the end of Schengen and the end of the right to travel freely, which is one of the basic European rights. We should not forget that it was the communist systems that wanted to restrict the people's freedom to travel at any price. ... A multi-speed Europe would result in its citizens having different rights. The 27 member states face five scenarios. The guiding principle in choosing which one is right should be the fate of the people. More than 500 million Europeans should all have the same rights. All other considerations are no more than political intrigues and will only lead to a new iron curtain.”