The European Commission has outlined five scenarios for the future of the European Union in a white paper obtained by POLITICO ahead of its publication on Wednesday.
The scenarios are entitled “carrying on,” “nothing but the single market,” “those who want more do more,” “doing less more efficiently,” and “doing much more together.”
The paper is an attempt by the Commission, led by President Jean-Claude Juncker, to shape a major debate about the EU’s future following Britain’s shock decision to leave. The document is also intended to influence a declaration by the 27 countries remaining in the EU at the bloc’s 60th anniversary summit on March 25 in Rome.
The paper starts with a somber tone, acknowledging the existential struggle the EU is facing due to crises over Brexit, migration and the eurozone. “Europe’s challenges show no sign of abating,” the paper says. It also notes the difficult balancing act facing the EU, as “many Europeans consider the Union as either too distant or too interfering.”
While generally neutral in its language, the Commission at times makes its preferred option clear. For example, on eurozone governance, the Commission aligns itself with the most federal option by saying it will issue a paper based on the 2015 Five Presidents’ Report, which called for a eurozone finance minister and stricter controls over the budgets of the 19 countries that use the single currency.
Here are more details of the five scenarios:
Scenario 1: Carrying on
This scenario assumes that staying the course will involve small, smooth changes to the functioning of the EU. The Commission says “carrying on” will deliver “incremental progress.” This option is based on national governments agreeing to deepen the EU’s single market, pool some military capabilities and “speaking with one voice on foreign affairs,” while leaving key responsibilities like border control mostly in the hands of national governments.
There are some dark clouds hanging over this option in phrases such as “Europeans are mostly able to travel across borders without stopping for checks,” indicating trouble ahead for the visa-free Schengen Zone if changes are not agreed to its management. The Commission warns: “Continuous improvement to border management is needed to keep up with new challenges. If this is not done, some countries may wish to maintain targeted internal controls.”
Scenario 2: Nothing but the single market
Here the Commission focuses on the achievement with the broadest base of support: its single market. The Commission is not enthusiastic about this option, noting that “decision-making may be simpler to understand but the capacity to act collectively is limited” and “this may widen the gap between expectations and delivery at all levels.”
With the single market as its main mission, the Commission believes, the EU would face a heightened risk to the euro, because it would have failed to finish establishing the eurozone’s economic governance, leaving it vulnerable to new financial crises.
Companies would likely face more border checks, and EU members would revert to pursuing bilateral foreign policy. Trade deals and defense cooperation would also be more difficult.
On a day-to-day level, the Commission believes connected cars would not take off in Europe under this scenario “due to the absence of EU-wide rules and technical standards.”
Scenario 3: Those who want more do more
This is effectively a multi-speed EU based on “coalitions of the willing” in specific policy areas such as defense, internal security, taxation or social matters. Under this scenario the Commission assumes that all 27 members would still make general progress on a deeper single market.
The Commission believes this model would lead to differences in citizens’ rights and is not optimistic that eurozone governance could be completed. However, it envisages that it would allow national militaries that have close relations with one another to move quickly into new fields like drone surveillance, or for aligned economies to created a unified business law code.
Scenario 4: Doing less more efficiently
By “doing less,” the Commission apparently means is “better tackle certain priorities together.” In other words, not “less” but doing more in “a reduced number of areas.”
The major headline achievements would be a fully resourced European Border and Coast Guard, a single voice on foreign policy and the establishment of a European Defense Union.
The Commission sees other priority areas for deeper cooperation as innovation, trade and security. Research could be focused on digitization and decarbonization of the economy.
The Commission points out one problem with this scenario — it relies on EU countries agreeing among themselves on the areas on which they want to cooperate more efficiently.
Scenario 5: Doing much more together
Here the EU27 go “further than ever before in all domains” — code for a federal EU.
The EU would get more of its “own resources” (the ability to raise revenue through tax), the eurozone would be completed along the lines of the Five Presidents’ Report issued in 2015. The Commission prefers this option for eurozone governance and said it will issue a reflection paper to that effect in the coming months.
Under this scenario the EU would also assume powers to speak for all of Europe on trade and foreign policy, and would assume global leadership for fighting climate change and on humanitarian issues.
There would be “far greater and quicker decision-making” in Brussels, but the Commission acknowledges “there is the risk of alienating parts of society which feel that the EU lacks legitimacy.”