Brussels: Jean-Claude Juncker’s White Paper on the future of Europe was inevitably labeled a major “power grab” aimed at the construction of an “EU superstate” by Britain’s Daily Express. There remains a loyal band of federalists around Europe who wish it was. There is also a larger group probably unhappy that the Commission could discuss five options for the Union’s future powers and responsibilities without clearly favouring any of them.

Jacques Delors’ playbook for Commission presidents is unlikely to have featured such a neutral approach. But these are not the early 1990s when the Union was moving purposefully down the integration path. Juncker’s is a document for the time of Brexit and populist insurgencies against the EU. If last year’s referendum had gone the other way, Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Treasury would have been quietly praising the former Luxembourg prime minister for the opportunity to create a eurosceptic-lite Europe.

The White Paper is the Commission’s “contribution” to the EU’s 60th anniversary celebration in Rome later this month and intended to be the start of a reflection and consultation process. This will result in conclusions for “a course of action” to be adopted at the December European Council. Juncker hopes that, so fashioned, the redesign will animate the next European Parliament elections in 2019.

So what of the five scenarios: carrying on with incremental change;  making the single market the priority focus; allowing and encouraging groups of member states to move towards more collective action; reducing the scope of EU actions and policies but acting more efficiently; and moving towards more advanced integration?

This smorgasbord offers an irresistible temptation to crowd the plate with whatever delicacies suit your preferences. Dyed in the wool eurosceptics would not find much to their taste. But an ardent Remainer might have hoped that a majority of the British could digest: a strengthening of the single market, no change in the Union’s exclusive trade powers, consolidation of the euro area to ensure its stability, doing less on employment and social policy, cooperation in managing external borders, better and deeper coordination on security and defence, a modernised budget to reflect the reform agenda, and easier to understand decision-making with still-limited capacity for collective action.

This is hardly a sure-fire recipe for dynamic change and economic success but it is probably closer to the reality of what a majority of populations might accept across the 27, and might have accepted in the soon-to-be-exited 28th. The Commission acknowledges that the EU has neither the support nor the legitimacy to encourage a leap towards more advanced integration. On the other hand, its White Paper does set out alternative approaches that, if totally shunned, will continue Europe’s relative decline in power and influence in the world.

It is a historic tragedy that the UK cannot be part of an exercise that could well deliver a reshaped EU that it would regard as both necessary and desirable.

by John Wyles | 03.03.2017

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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