The Commission’s ‘White Paper on the Future of Europe’, prepared since September at least, is quite disappointing. Perhaps intentionally? And it’s only the beginning of a process, let’s look at the debate method and some practical initiatives.
Granted, opening a debate on 5 clearly different scenarios is good. This is a cross-road sketch rather than a roadmap. Moreover, it is not what some expected after the even greater disappointment of the Bratislava ‘roadmap’. Is this ‘expectation management’, so that Member States react with ‘more meat’, and so that the press is positively surprised in Rome?
Granted also, all 5 would help avoid the unspoken scenario 6: the slow crumbling, or even fast implosion, of the EU. An outright rejection in several capitals of a ‘grand Brussels plan’ would not help. Whereas who – except extremists – can criticise debating scenarios? That is why I exaggerate and call the Juncker Paper ‘blank’ rather than ‘White’ (blanc en français). Like a whiteboard, ready for redesigning.
Granted, ideas don’t need to be original to be good. Especially as EU process are so incredibly slow: it’s efficiency, not even more democracy, that we need. My view on substance in a nutshell: 95% of this text could have been written before the 2008 financial crisis, there is also little mention of Brexit and Trump: three obvious concerns (in addition to migrations, security, and terrorism, well handled).
Most commentators will focus on these scenarios, and on the upcoming ‘reflection papers’ (also 5 of them: confusion likely?). I will focus below on the process itself, chiefly the citizen involvement. So, if there is not roadmap yet, then is there a method to get there, engaging national politicians and citizens?
Overall, White Paper gives a logical Calendar, but its call for ‘Future of Europe debates‘ are not matched by any details. Is this because of slow EU procedures? or to make sure others, outside, take more leadership?
In principle, ‘honest and wide-ranging debates with citizens‘ and ‘every voice should be heard’ sounds good. But the need for this re-think has been clear at least from June 2016. And the debate should already enrich policy-making before the March 25 re-founding Summit à EU27. People will react – not to strategic scenarios – but to practical initiatives: they need to come very soon.
Where is this debate? No massive one is seen around EU institutions. But, thank God, business and civil society have started their work.
Corporate circles, I hear, think… discretely: where is the equivalent of the ERT (and Delors and Cockfield) push for the 1992 Single Market? for enlargement? for the €?
On the NGO side, this includes both the well established associations like the European Movement (Fondation EurActiv is a member) and Union of European Federalists, and new initiatives like PulseForEurope, like the Mouvement du 9 mai (I am a signatory), or yet others like EU I CAN, building bridges. And then many sectoral ones: students, industries, unions etc. Most of these organisations call for #MarchForEurope2017, on March 25, to keep the pressure on EU 27 leaders celebrating in Rome. Some observers will snub the ‘nice gentle folks still believing in demos and grass root activism and online comments? Think of what made the demise of Remain and Clinton… Let’s turn this around.
Searching the White Paper for the words communication, media, (fake) news and press, we found hardly anything. Again, are these not what made the (temporary?) success of Brexit and Trump? There is in fact one mention on this: ‘We want to live in a democracy with a diversity of views and a critical, independent and free press’. This is helpful, although I would have added the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘innovative’: the main media challenges these days. Don’t take the press’ existence for granted. What action will underpin this statement? Part of the Digital Single Market review?
And don’t take the press for dead either: there is plenty of life and initiatives in this sector. Building on a #Media4EU Tour d’Europe of interview, and on many media associations and events, 30 media experts, associations and MEPs wish to launch Erasmus4media.
Here is a (much summarised) explanation of this new innovation and exchange programme. It is free of (c), for re-use by any for any policy-makers or stakeholders, in Rome and later:
” FACILITATING INFORMATION QUALITY AS A CONDITION FOR DEMOCRACY
Democracy needs – more than ever – media pluralism and quality news. As some platforms dominate, the risk rises of a ‘post truth’ era where ‘fake news’ flourish. The press itself, and public institutions including the EU, can create conditions for independent and sustainable media, leading to a strategy for this sector. In practice, stronger media innovation, cross-border cooperation, and mobility would also help. An ‘Erasmus for media professionals’ should be piloted as soon as possible. ”