This is an unusually long post, for which we apologise. We focus on the evidence the Paper provides that the exercise is not what it claims to be – the opener to a debate on reform. Instead it provides a distraction from current crises in the hope that the EU will be able to ride them out through this year and so carry on as planned with their federal agenda. Our main agenda is to expose this ‘fraud’. We follow up this post with another long one reviewing the context of White Paper.
The White Paper on the FUTURE OF EUROPE was published by the European Commission on 3 March 2017. From Jean-Claude Juncker’s Foreword
“On 25 March 2017, 27 leaders of the European Union’s Member States will stand united in peace and friendship in Rome. … As we mark this anniversary, our thoughts are with those before us whose dream for Europe has become a reality.”
That dream has always been to create a federal Europe, governed from the centre with minimal interference by fickle electorates, as this White Paper implicitly confirms.
“As we decide which way to go, we should remember that Europe has always been at its best when we are united, bold and confident that we can shape our future together.
“The European Union has changed our lives for the better”
The core objective of the paper is, of course, political, which is why much emphasis is placed on the supposed success of the EU and its leaders. We need to keep a pinch or two of salt handy as we read.
From the Introduction
A short run-through of the EU’s history offers us some by-now-familiar canards, as always conflating the EU with Europe. It’s worth noting the continuing emphasis on integration, the true motive.
“The Lisbon Treaty…has opened a new chapter of European integration that still holds unfulfilled potential. … the task ahead…should be built on a common perspective, and on the shared conviction that by coming together, each of us will be better off.”
One, among many, notable features of the Lisbon Treaty is the adoption by the EU of a legal personality, which is a formal step on the path to corporate governance.
“As a result, our troubled past has given way to a peace spanning seven decades. … a Union standing out as a beacon of peace and stability.”
It beggars belief that Junker can claim the EU is a beacon of peace or stability when so many of its peoples are revolting and several national economies are tottering. We have repeatedly argued that the absence of war is merely a correlation, not a proven causal link to the EU.
“Our economy is recovering from the global financial crisis but this is still not felt evenly enough.”
Not a crisis we made, of course, we were the victims. However, others have recovered a lot better.
“The EU is now the place where Europeans can enjoy a unique diversity of culture, ideas and traditions…”
As if this were untrue before the EU. The relentless propaganda threatens to discredit the whole argument.
In the White paper there are few acknowledgements of the realities that threaten the project; here is one:
“…many Europeans consider the Union as either too distant or too interfering in their day-to-day lives. Others question its added-value and ask how Europe improves their standard of living. And for too many, the EU fell short of their expectations…”
These are important reservations but there is little indication in the paper of how the various scenarios it offers will deal with issues. Instead the authors immediately put the best spin on it:
“The current situation need not necessarily be limiting for Europe’s future. The Union has often been built on the back of crises and false starts.”
Indeed, crises have been used to push the agenda when citizens might otherwise have resisted, but they have almost certainly overstepped the mark now.
Our conclusion: many copies of this White Paper will be needed to cover the growing cracks in the edifice. That is its purpose and its only possible value.
Section 2. The drivers of Europe’s future
More tiresome propaganda and sales pitching follow, which distort or ignore the reality:
“Europe is home to the world’s largest single market and second most used currency. It is the largest trade power and development and humanitarian aid donor. … Europe is at the cutting edge of innovation. Its diplomacy holds real weight and helps keep the world safer and more sustainable…”
“…the prospect [of accession to the EU] is a powerful tool to project stability and security along our borders. … Europe’s role as a positive global force is more important than ever.”
Faced with this, it’s hard to take the paper seriously as a contribution to a clear and honest discussion about the future of the Union. However, it does acknowledge that Europe’s (sorry, this should be the EU’s) place in the world is shrinking, as other parts grow (see the next quote). The continuing conflation of the EU with Europe is annoying and makes the statistics the authors cite meaningless.
“The rapidly rising influence of emerging economies accentuates the need for Europe to speak with one voice and to act with the collective weight of its individual parts.”
We have to interpret the logic here, since it isn’t explained. The leaders of the EU, and other supporters, are fearful of the competition for wealth and status from a rising Asia and believe that this influence needs to be countered by a major power, which can only be achieved by integrating as much as possible of Europe into a single super-state. This vision would be more plausible were it restricted to the economic sphere but, so the argument goes, we can’t have economic collaboration in Europe unless we have a political union on which to manage it. Implicit is the belief that the separate nations of Europe are not good enough to compete on their own terms in a globalized economy. In turn this requires the EU to free itself from the burden of direct elections, which could and probably would result in fluctuating, unstable and unreliable government, just as the member states exhibit. The assumption that the desires and expectations of participating electorates can be overruled is clear on this interpretation. But since the EU has no army, police force or spy network, how do they suppose that they can overrule the populace? The current ‘populist’ crises illustrate the fundamental flaw in the reasoning that underlies the over-ambitious project.
That the fear is not simply that Europe will be overwhelmed economically is clearly illustrated:
“The need to reflect on how to deter, respond and protect against threats, ranging from large-scale cyber-attacks to more traditional forms of aggression, has never been so critical. … Being a “soft power” is no longer powerful enough when force can prevail over rules.”
However, the motive may not be a real fear but another part of the wider ambition, to put in place a European army, police force and spy network as essential ingredients in a ‘real’ supra-national government. If they are successful in achieving this goal then we really would have a federal European government with the power to suppress not just ‘populism’ but the populace as a whole. What Marine Le Pen – of whom we are no fans – and Mikhail Gorbachev have, separately, called the European Soviet Union (see Shorties-5).
The authors next acknowledge a problem:
“For the first time since the Second World War, there is a real risk that the generation of today’s young adults ends up less well-off than their parents. …These developments have fuelled doubts about the EU’s social market economy and its ability to deliver on its promise to leave no one behind and to ensure that every generation is better off than the previous one.”
But the solution is unchanged, “…to complete the Economic and Monetary Union and strengthen the convergence of economic and social performances.”
There follows a list of challenges that “Europe” faces with, so far, no indication of how the EU will tackle these. The challenges include: an ageing population, creaking welfare systems, climate change, changing job markets, immigration pressures, external borders. The authors are right to point out that all these impinge on the future of Europe, the subject of the White Paper, but wrong to fail to acknowledge that the EU has not come up with solutions to any of them.
The next – and main – section of the Paper puts forward five options for re-designing the EU but these are principally concerned with structural issues and we do not find coherent or plausible proposals for tackling the reasons for a re-design. And by re-design they clearly do not mean reform. The proposed changes are cosmetic.
The lead-in to the outline of different EU futures confirms the lack of fresh thinking and the resort to familiar themes. The authors blame problems and failures on the member states, because they blame Brussels and do not have sufficient commitment to the project.
“…while taking credit for success at home, the lack of ownership of joint decisions and the habit of finger-pointing at others have already proved damaging. …citizens’ trust in the EU has decreased in line with that for national authorities. Around a third of citizens trust the EU today, when about half of Europeans did so ten years ago. …Who does what is not well explained enough and the EU’s positive role in daily life is not visible if the story is not told locally.”
But this is not simply a blame game; it is consistent with the unrelenting pressures to converge, to pursue the federal agenda. If the member states accept central governance then attempts to persuade will be dropped and control will be exerted from above. This is autocracy in the making.
“Closing the gap between promise and delivery is a continuous challenge.”
“There is also a mismatch between expectations and the EU’s capacity to meet them. Take the example of youth unemployment: in spite of many high-level summits and useful EU supporting measures, the tools and powers remain in the hands of national, regional and local authorities.”
This is revealing. The EU needs more capacity to meet expectations. This capacity is not voluntary compliance but judicial compliance; only when the EU is granted full government status will it be able to meet expectations. The EU needs to centralize “the tools and powers”; to get these out of the incompetent “hands of national, regional and local authorities.”
The Commission appears to have no clue as to how to close the gap, between expectations and delivery, other than to press their demand for more integration. And they consistently fail to explain how further integration will enable them to meet these challenges, perhaps because they understand, and don’t want us to understand, that only when they have complete and full authority will they be able to impose their miraculous, top-down solutions.
Section 3. Five scenarios for Europe by 2025
“The five scenarios presented in this White Paper will help steer a debate on the future of Europe. They offer a series of glimpses into the potential state of the Union by 2025 depending on the choices we will jointly make.
“The starting point for each scenario is that the 27 Member States move forward together as a Union.”
This helpfully sets the scene; the Union, and further integration to complete it, remain unchallenged. The five scenarios are “illustrative” and do not cover legal or institutional processes; thus much that we know of the EU will not change. No fundamental reform is proposed in the Paper. The choices “we will jointly make” will not touch the rotten roots of the project. The federal ambition remains intact. On this interpretation the final comment in the introduction can be disregarded:
“The EU27 will decide together which combination of features advance our project in the interest of our citizens.”
It would be in the interest of Europe’s citizens to have the right to choose their own government; this is not to be. This White Paper exercise is designed to protect and preserve the true agenda, a supra-national government, come what may. The “debate” is a smoke screen, designed to obscure the “starting point”, which remains ever closer union.
Scenario 1: Carrying on
“In a scenario where the EU27 sticks to its course, it focuses on implementing and upgrading its current reform agenda. …the 27 Member States and the EU Institutions pursue a joint agenda for action.”
Business as usual. Further integration and regulation, coupled with new developments in defence and security capabilities. The status quo has to be included as one ‘option’. The other four, with the exception of Scenario 2 which is a soft target, present minor variations on the current theme.
“Defence cooperation is deepened … Member States decide to pool some military capabilities and to enhance financial solidarity for EU missions abroad.
We can assume that “enhance financial solidarity” means spend more of member states money. In this context “missions” appears to mean military actions; in another context it could mean diplomatic bases. Either way, these are things that governments traditionally engage in, which is what the Commission has in mind.
“Only a collective resolve to deliver jointly on the things that matter will help close the gap between promises on paper and citizens’ expectations.”
Comparing this option with Scenario 2 highlights the Commission’s own preferences. These five options are not neutral and the Commission sees no reasons to change course, other than to appear to accommodate difficult member states and annoying citizens.
Scenario 2: Nothing but the single market
“In a 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.”
After this opening the narrative is entirely negative; this scenario has no redeeming features, according to the authors. This ‘option’ is not sincere and will not be accepted. Here are two samples:
“Given the strong focus on reducing regulation at EU level, differences persist or increase in areas such as consumer, social and environmental standards, as well as in taxation and in the use of public subsidies. This creates a risk of a “race to the bottom”. It is also difficult to agree new common rules on the mobility of workers or for the access to regulated professions. As a result, the free movement of workers and services is not fully guaranteed.”
The Commission equates competition with ‘a race to the bottom’. Even the USA allows state-tax competition between its states, which gives the poorer ones choices on how they might fight relative decline.
Since the “the free movement of workers and services” is a touchstone for EU, whether or not it is currently respected in practice, this scenario is ruled out immediately.
“Decision-making may be simpler to understand but the capacity to act collectively is limited. This may widen the gap between expectations and delivery at all levels.”
We argue that the current “capacity to act collectively is limited” by the Commission’s demands for convergence and the resistance that this promotes in reaction.
Scenario 3: Those who want more do more
The multi-speed EU, is as Scenario 1 for a core group of self-selected member states, with the rest joining the core when they are ready.
“A group of Member States decides to cooperate much closer on defence matters, making use of the existing legal possibilities. This includes a strong common research and industrial base, joint procurement, more integrated capabilities and enhanced military readiness for joint missions abroad.”
This ambition implicitly acknowledges the unlikely prospect that unified agreement could ever be reached on defence matters. Those members states who disagree can wait outside until they do agree or, more likely, until they cease to be effective members.
“Several countries move ahead in security and justice matters. They decide to strengthen cooperation between police forces and intelligence services.”
Military, police and security forces are what is missing from a true soviet, which is why the Commission is so keen to introduce them. There are good arguments for cooperation but none are presented for introducing these institutions at EU level.
“A group of countries, including the euro area and possibly a few others, chooses to work much closer notably on taxation and social matters.”
Two giveaways here. First, the whole euro area is expected, or perhaps obliged, to be in the core. Second, the completion of economic union requires that all members conform to a single financial and fiscal code or, to cut the crap, that no member can use its own tax code to gain a competitive advantage, as Ireland is seen to do now.
“The gap between expectations and delivery starts to close in the countries that want and choose to do more.”
The gap is expected to close, not because countries choose to do more but because they are obliged to conform to the Union’s rules. This is wishful thinking; there is no reason to believe that economic, financial and fiscal union will deliver growth, jobs and improved welfare; the opposite has been in evidence so far. The connection is restricted to the fevered imaginations of the recycled politicians who run the project.
Governments of some of the larger economies are keen on this scenario. Perhaps they share the Commission’s view that the project is being held back by dissenters. There is no evidence that citizens in these economies share this enthusiasm for faster progress towards completing the Union.
Scenario 4: Doing less more efficiently
“In a 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.”
In this scenario the EU would restrict its focus to areas in which consensus can be achieved and abandon those in which mutual agreement is not expected to be achievable.
On one interpretation – not the Commission’s – this scenario opens the possibility of scrapping the federalist ideology and replacing it with a pragmatic approach to gaining the benefits of collaboration wherever this can be achieved. A quite different agency from the EU would be required to stimulate, support and guide collaboration. But this is not the correct interpretation:
“For these policies [the chosen priority areas], stronger tools are given to the EU27 to directly implement and enforce collective decisions.”
The key here is “enforce”, which indicates that “stronger tools” means more legislative powers.
“Cooperation between police and judicial authorities on terrorism-related issues is systematic and facilitated by a common European Counter-terrorism Agency.”
Another indication that the Commission wishes to create the institutions that they see as needed to complete their Union: centralized military, police and intelligence services.
“The European Border and Coast Guard fully takes over the management of external borders. All asylum claims are processed by a single European Asylum Agency. Joint defence capacities are established.”
These clarifications of the federalist agenda are followed by a list of examples of areas in which currently decision making is too difficult or less easy to bring under central control.
“This includes areas such as regional development, public health, or parts of employment and social policy … State aid control is further delegated to national authorities. New standards for consumer protection, the environment and health and safety at work move away from detailed harmonisation towards a strict minimum.”
There is, of course, an important but:
“However, for those domains regulated at EU level, greater enforcement powers ensure full compliance.”
And an important reservation, which colours this scenario:
“To start with, the EU27 has real difficulty in agreeing which areas it should prioritise or where it should do less.”
Scenario 5: Doing much more together
“In a 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.”
This is Scenario 1 on steroids. It comes across as the Commissions’ preferred option, indicating that their thinking has not changed. However, they are nowhere near achieving consensus on carrying on as before (Scenario 1); so why do they believe it is possible to achieve consensus on more convergence and more sharing of sovereignty?
“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.”
Wishful thinking as policy. The common currency is not beneficial for all members of the eurozone; no one could reasonably expect it to be beneficial for all EU member states. They obstinately refuse to recognise clear, practical failure.
“On the international scene, Europe speaks and acts as one in trade and is represented by one seat in most international fora.”
It must be galling that France has permanent representation on the UN Security Council and the EU is not even a non-permanent member, despite being a legal entity. Does anyone believe that France will give up its precious seat to the EU?
“In full complementarity with NATO, a European Defence Union is created.”
Has anyone any idea what “full complementarity” could mean? No, but the point is that a real state needs a defence union, regardless. As always, a union can control its members; mere collaboration on defence matters is unreliable.
The scenario finishes with a realistic note of reservation, which has not constrained the wishful thinking that precedes it:
“However, there is the risk of alienating parts of society which feel that the EU lacks legitimacy or has taken too much power away from national authorities.”
Nevertheless, this is the scenario preferred by the Commission.
Section 4. The way ahead
The White Paper concludes with a page of positive spin, as if designed for the election manifesto of a party in power. The lack of honest reflection is illustrated here:
“In an uncertain world, the allure of isolation may be tempting to some, but the consequences of division and fragmentation would be far-reaching. It would expose European countries and citizens to the spectre of their divided past and make them prey to the interests of stronger powers.”
“Europe must now choose. There are as many opportunities as there are challenges. This can be Europe’s hour, but it can only be seized by all 27 Member States acting together with common resolve.”
“It is our collective will that will drive Europe forward. Like the generations before us, we have Europe’s future in our own hands. “
Always it’s “Europe”, as if it were nothing but the EU. This disdain for non-members echoes the disdain for electorates and gives the lie to the incessant claims that the project is concerned for the welfare of its citizens. Europe’s citizens are, to the mandarins, a nuisance that has to be managed in the interests of their pet project.
From the narrow and hazy vision presented in the White Paper we conclude that this is a paper exercise, not based on a recognition that the current project is flawed and fragile. The tone in which each scenario is written enables us to interpret the Commissions’ wish to preserve the Union much as it is, perhaps allowing for some variation in the speed at which progress towards the true goal is to be managed.
Had we hoped for something more substantial then our hopes would have been dashed. The variations between the scenarios proposed here are little different from the realities of the EU’s history; all except Scenario 3 are consistent with the Five Presidents Report. We cannot expect a different and more valuable project to emerge from this exercise.
Since its publication gaps have emerged between the Commission’s preference and those of Member States. The Commission prefers Option 5 (Doing More) but the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain have together agreed that Option 3 (multi-speed) is their choice. Meanwhile the Visegrad Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) are against Option 3, fearing they will be overruled and overwhelmed. The future for the idealised project therefore seems to be enforcement, abandonment or spontaneous combustion.