Monday 13 March 2017

Grey White Paper on the future of Europe

In the Bratislava Roadmap the heads of state or government declared their determination to make a success of the EU at 27. The leaders promised to use the 25 March 2017 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties to round off the process and to set out orientations for their common future together.

Having seen the auspices, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker made a sober assessment. Instead of reform proposals, the Commission published a discussion document called a White Paper on the future of Europe, as well as an invitation to a broad and long public discussion about our future. The main points are presented in the press release IP/17/385, readable until the annex.

Grey White Paper COM(2017) 2025

The official documentation comes in three papers difficult to read, one main document and two short annexes, the first containing a timetable for the debate and the second one a graphic compilation of all five scenarios:

White Paper on the future of Europe: Reflections and scenarios for the EU27 by 2025; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final (18 pages)
ANNEX to the White Paper on the future of Europe; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final ANNEX 1

ANNEX to the White Paper on the future of Europe; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final ANNEX 2

Did the graphic designers defeat the authors, or was the grey on grey presentation a collective symbolic choice for the thoughts about the EU:s future and the possible paths?
Maybe the EU’s ten golden rules in accessible Web design have missed the basic requirement of readable text.


Right from the start, the White Paper raises the bar for the clarity of vision among the leaders and citizens of today, by recalling the Ventotene Manifesto for a free and united Europe, by Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi (link to all language versions).

The introductory reflections are worth reading, even if you used to be irritated by the  self-congratulatory style of the Commission. The introduction does offer a view of  common benefits, but without much hype, while also reminding us of setbacks, challenges, limitations and weaknesses (pages 2-5).  

Five scenarios

At first sight, there appears to be a wild clash among five different scenarios, or paths to the future some five or ten years hence. In reality, the Commission has narrowed down the alternatives. The scenarios contain various elements discussed daily, the pathways are not mutually exclusive and they run closer to each other one would think at the start.

On the one hand, the Commission refuses to speculate on anything but the EU27 format. Breakdown or (major) desertions are excluded: The starting point for each scenario is that the 27 Member States move forward together as a Union.
On the other hand, even the seemingly most ambitious scenario 5 “Doing much more together” discusses a union still owned and ruled by the national leaders and their governments, not a democratic union of citizens, a European republic.
I hope you take the time to read, think and discuss these potential roads or paths to the future in the medium term.

Scenario 1: Carrying on (from page 7)
Scenario 2: Nothing but the single market (from page 9)
Scenario 3: Those who want more do more (from page 11)
Scenario 4: Doing less more efficiently (from page 13)
Scenario 5: Doing much more together (from page 15)

Invitation to discuss

Instead of rounding off a closed conversation among 27 national leaders, the EU Commission opens up by inviting all Europeans to discuss our common future ahead of the next elections to the European Parliament (page 17):

This White Paper should open an honest and wide-ranging debate with citizens on how Europe should evolve in the years to come. Every voice should be heard. The European Commission, together with the European Parliament and interested Member States, will host a series of “Future of Europe Debates” across Europe’s national Parliaments, cities and regions. The ideas and determination of the hundreds of millions of Europeans will be the catalyst of our progress.

The White Paper is the European Commission’s contribution to the Rome Summit. Like all anniversaries, Rome will be a natural time to reflect on the success of the last 60 years. However, it should also be viewed as the beginning of a process for the EU27 to decide together on the future of their Union.

The European Commission will contribute to that discussion in the months ahead with a series of reflection papers on the following topics:
• developing the social dimension of Europe;
• deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, on the basis of the Five Presidents' Report of June 2015;
• harnessing globalisation;
• the future of Europe’s defence;
• the future of EU finances.

Like this White Paper, these reflection papers will offer different ideas, proposals, options or scenarios for Europe in 2025 to open a debate without presenting definitive decisions at this stage.

President Juncker’s 2017 State of the Union speech will take these ideas forward before first conclusions could be drawn at the December 2017 European Council. This should help decide on a course of action to be rolled out in time for the European Parliament elections in June 2019.

We citizens of the EU and our elected representatives in the European Parliament have the chance to think about the external threats and opportunities, as well as the internal weaknesses and strengths of the EU, in order to demand a better future from  the European Council, which has Europe’s future in its hands.

Ralf Grahn

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