Setting the scene ‘Where are you going Europe?’ - ‘Quo vadis Europa?’ - is once again high on the political agenda. But the question is not only: where are you going Europe, but how will you get there, at what speed will you travel and with whom?
The Commission’s ‘White Paper on the Future of Europe’ and recent political speeches have set the parameters for this journey. The White Paper is very clear with its five scenarios and spells out the options to be pursued for the future course of the European Union (EU) (European Commission 2017a).
It is also notable that Commission President Junker in his state of the Union speech in front of the European Parliament, on 13th September 2017, set the agenda in such a way that the Commission is to be at the heart of this debate (European Commission 2017c). The very fact that we are debating the Commission’s White Paper in Maastricht and that a debate is taking place all over Europe is a reflection of a ‘political’ Commission that posits itself at the centre of such an endeavour (Kühnhardt 2017).
Which scenarios of the White Paper should be pursued? The scenarios presented in the White Paper are thus to steer the debate on the future of Europe. The scenarios reach from ‘carrying on’ to ‘doing much more together’:
I was asked the question of which scenario one should pursue. I would go for a combination of scenario one - which means that the EU 27 sticks to its course by focusing on implementing its current reform agenda – and scenario five. The latter implies that the EU decides to do ‘much more together across all policy areas’. This would somewhat be in line with the recent speech by French President Macron who pleads for - what has become known - ‘as more Europe’. To just name two examples where more European integration is to occur:
More cooperation in the field of migration and asylum by way of the establishment of a genuine European asylum office;
In the area of defence, Europe is seen in need to establish a common intervention force, a common defence budget and a common doctrine for action (Macron 2017).
I do not think, however, that we can- and should go further in all domains at the same time. This would thus be a modification of scenario five. The proposal would be then to aim to go further than the current status quo but according to a reform agenda that is subject to political debate. It is laudable to sketch what the ‘grand bargain’ could be: doing (almost) everything together. The EU’s success is however built on gradual and incremental steps (Kühnhardt 2017).
This combination of the two scenarios of the White Paper would also imply that the EU would stick to what it is doing, continue on the same path, but stipulate where new terrain will be explored; where cooperation between all Member States is to go further than before. Once Member States have agreed to go further in a certain domain, this has to be adhered to and explained.
On this journey ‘to do more together’, I would propose to start with the strengthening of the single market - through harmonisation of standards and stronger enforcement - and to deal with trade exclusively at the EU level. You might ask why start here? The single market is one of the ‘main jewels’ in the EU’s crown and the basis for the four freedoms.
This step would have to go in hand with two main elements:
a strengthening of the European welfare state - bringing welfare state systems closer together, but not a lowest common denominator;
and a consolidation of the Euro-zone.
In order to achieve this, one does not need Treaty reforms but political commitment. As Kühnhardt points out, it will be key that the EU overcomes the existing asymmetries between these countries that are part of the Euro-zone and those that are not yet part of it. It will imply investments and especially more employment in Southern European Member States. This can only work with a strong Commission and Member States that are willing to cooperate across national boundaries. It is about factual convergence rather than creating new institutions. The ‘transformation’ of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a European Currency Fund - falling under EU law - would of course be a key institutional element but this was already more or less envisaged with the creation of the ESM (Kühnhardt 2017). In the context of bringing ‘fairness’ to the single market, one can point to Claude Juncker’s recent proposal to create a European Labour Authority to ensure that rules are enforced (European Commission 2017c). As mentioned, one would however not stop there but should have a clear plan how to tackle other policy fields. The EU needs a clear vision which is accompanied by a ‘to-do list’ - what objectives to achieve and by when - and public debate on how to achieve these goals.
If you look at the recent Eurobarometer survey on the future of Europe, then you will see that some of these proposals are in line with the views of the ‘European public’ (at least those citizens who were asked). Respondents consider the main challenges facing the EU to be unemployment (39%) and social inequalities (36%). A large majority of respondents think the free-market economy should go with a high level of social protection. More than six in ten (64%) respondents are in favour of harmonising the social welfare systems within the EU (European Commission 2017b).
What does this imply for ‘democratic legitimacy’? Under scenario one, of carrying on, this implies that the EP will stick to its current role. But here there is room for improvement, under the EU’s reform agenda. One could improve certain aspects of decision-making, also when it comes to the EP. One case in point would be equal access to information to those actors that are not part of trilogues, prevalent especially in first reading of the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (OLP), even if this is a small move (Reh et.al. 2013). But as mentioned above, reform is often made of incremental- and little steps.
National parliaments (NPs) will continue to play their role as Multi Arena Players. After the Lisbon Treaty, NPs can now be simultaneously active in three different arenas:
as individual players within their member state/domestic arena (traditional scrutiny),
as individual players within the EU arena (for example Political Dialogue, and treaty revisions) and
as collective parliamentary players together with other NPs (Early Warning System, formal IPC, Convention) (Auel and Neuhold 2016).
Within these arenas, national parliaments will have to fulfill their role within the EU effectively, by concentrating on certain policy issues and by resorting to their role as public fora and focus on communicating and debating EU affairs (Auel and Raunio 2014). Joining forces across national boundaries enhances the role of individual chambers and legislatures and their impact on EU policy.
This also applies to areas where the EU retains an exclusive competency. Trade negotiations immediately come to mind. Members of national and regional parliaments are to be kept fully informed from day one of the negotiations. The current Commission President promised that the European executive will make sure of this. From now on, the Commission will publish in full all draft negotiating mandates it proposes to the Council (European Commission 2017c). Juncker’s ‘trade package’ of his State of the Union also foresees a clear role for national parliaments and urges member governments to discuss EU affairs at home. While the opportunities are surely there, it remains to be seen whether member states will fulfil their own democratic roles in external negotiations (Adriaensen, 2017).
The EP will also have to exercise its role as an ‘accountability forum’, by scrutinizing and debating decisions taken within the Euro-zone. Given that proposals such the establishment of a European asylum office would come true, then the EP would have not only to be consulted on its establishment and would have to be able to hold members to account.
Speaking of ‘accountability forum’, this also implies more ‘democratic progress’ on the way to the EP elections in 2019 (European Commission 2017b). It is noteworthy that both the French President and Commission President Juncker plead for transnational lists for 2019 that ‘will enable Europeans to vote for a coherent, common project’ (Macron 2017).1 This is to go hand in hand with the nomination of ‘Spitzenkandidaten’, lead candidates put forward by the political groups in the EP, for the office of Commission President (just like in the 2014 elections) (European Commission 2017c).
In both scenarios of the White paper – whether it is ‘carrying on’ or ‘doing much more together’ - one will have to move away from any form of ‘competition’ or rivalry between national parliaments and the EP (Herranz-Surrallés 2014). In this context, legislatures both at the national and the European level, have to aim to develop a parliamentary stance on EU legislation. What is the position of parliaments across Europe on a certain issue as opposed to the executive and why?
This position could be developed within Inter-Parliamentary Conferences on specific policy issues, for example within financial affairs and Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)/Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and recently within the realm of Europol, which is now to be ‘democratically controlled’.2Parliaments can then resort to their role as public fora to debate and communicate this ‘parliamentary stance’ to citizens, in cooperation with news outlets.
Implications for Dutch EU policy For Dutch EU policy this combination of scenario one and five of the Commission’s White Paper has three implications:
The Dutch parliament will continue to play an active role within the EU policy process. Its approach of focusing on key aspects of EU policy, based on the Commission’s work-programme is exemplary within systems of parliamentary scrutiny of EU affairs, also for other national parliaments. The Dutch parliament, as opposed to some other parliaments is able to concentrate its resources and ‘political capital’ on key issues and try to have an impact, as for example on the European Public Prosecutor’s office (Högenauer 2015). Even if the ‘multi-coloured’ card system is such that the Commission can maintain its proposal under the yellow card, parliaments can play a role to place issues into the public domain or shed light on certain issues. Here the debating function of parliaments is key. Parliaments have a ‘communicating function’. As such legislatures can play a role in communicating issues across political cleavages, so citizens can make up their mind on certain issues.
Speaking of ‘citizens that can make up their mind’. Of course here the media has its part to play, to pick up on issues and also across national boundaries. This is also to be coupled with education on the EU system of governance already within schools. The EU system is, as we all know very complex, but a basic understanding of EU affairs and policy-making can help to grasp EU issues also at a later stage in life.
For policy-makers, and this is again not only an issue for the Netherlands, choosing for option one possibly in combination with option five, implies a consistent approach. Why do we pursue the option(s) that we opted for? And why do we go further than current policy options, if we even decide to go further? One has to show that European integration is not an elite project. What, if we chose for ‘more Europe’, does this imply? Who then gets less? Who wins, who loses? This has to be debated and explained and not be left to populists. The Netherlands can play an active role in the discussion on the future of Europe and the implementation of this agenda. It can do so together with its BENELUX partners and as such drive the debate and process forward.
The debate on the future of Europe - where Europe is going and how we will get there - is worthwhile. A large majority of respondents of the Eurobarometer survey agree that the European Union project offers a future perspective for Europe’s youth. It is thus vital that we have a debate on what this European endeavour should look like, also for years to come.
References Adriaensen J. (2017) ‘The future of EU trade negotiations: What has been learned from CETA and TTIP?’’ LSE EUROPP blog Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/11/29/the-future-of-eu-trade-negotiations-what-has-been-learned-from-the-ceta-and-ttip-experiences/
Auel, K. and Neuhold C. (2016) Multi-Arena Players in the Making? Conceptualising the role of national parliaments since the Lisbon Treaty, Journal of European Public Policy, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13501763.2016.1228694
Auel, K. and Raunio, T. (2014) ‘Introduction: connecting with the electorate? Parliamentary communication in EU affairs’, Journal of Legislative Studies 20(1): 1–12.
European Commission (2017a) White Paper on the future of Europe. Reflections and scenarios for the EU 27 by 2025.
European Commission (2017b) Future of Europe Social issues, Special Eurobarometer 467, September-October 2017, http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion
European Commission (2017c) President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union Address 2017, Brussels, 13 September 2017
Herranz-Surrallés, A. (2014) The EU’s Multilevel Parliamentary (Battle)Field: Inter-parliamentary Cooperation and Conflict in Foreign and Security Policy West European Politics, 37:5, 957-975, DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2014.884755
Högenauer, A.L. (2015) The Dutch Parliament and EU Affairs: Decentralising Scrutiny, in: Hefftler (et.al), (2015), pp. 253-271.
Hefftler, C., Neuhold, C, Rozenberg, O. and Smith, J. (2015): The Palgrave Handbook of National Parliaments, London: Palgrave Macmillan
Kühnhardt, L. (2017) Zentrum für Europäische Integrationsforschung (ZEI)
Stellungnahme , Anhörung im Hessischen Landtag zum Thema „Weißbuch zur Zukunft Europas“, Wiesbaden, 8.November 2017
Macron, E (2017) ‘Initiative for Europe’, Speech at the Sorbonne, 26. September, http://international.blogs.ouest-france.fr/archive/2017/09/29/macron-sorbonne-verbatim-europe-18583.html
Reh, C., Héritier, A., Bressanelli, E., & Koop, C. (2013). The informal politics of legislation: Explaining secluded decision making in the European Union. Comparative Political Studies, 46(9), 1112–1142.
1 The proposal by French President is to vote for the vacated seats of MEPs by the UK on trans-national lists (73 MEPs).