On March 25, 2017 the 27 heads of state of the EU (absent: UK‘s Theresa May) signed a joint declaration on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of signing the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Union.
With justification they point to the achievements of unifying large parts of Europe after the devastating experiences of two world wars during the first half of the 20th century: peace, joint institutions, freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, a high level of social protection and wellbeing. They list the challenges from outside and inside: regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migration pressure, protectionism, social and economic inequality. They implore the EU‘s singular capacity to combat these challenges and offer security and opportunities to their citizens.So far, so expected.
Where the Declaration offers some new direction is in four areas which all run under the heading of more unity and solidarity:
1. Progressing at different intensity and speed will be the order of the day. This is Commission President Juncker‘s third option in his recent (disappointing) paper (see my blog of March 6,2017).
2. There will be no Treaty change.
3. The EU will need to (and want to) play a more active role in global developments, in order to provide its citizens with new possibilities for cultural and economic progress.
4. The EU will remain open for new members who share its values.
The Declaration‘s four-point Agenda stresses security (against terrorism and organized crime); the aspiration of a rich and sustainable Union able to trade on new technologies, a stable common currency, stressing especially the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises; social objectives of jobs, gender equality, anti-poverty; and a role for the EU in global affairs, in order to combat crises in the neighborhood, but also the Near East and Africa, all this within the strengthening of a rules-based multilateral system promoting trade and climate policy. A number of other well-sounding objectives is mentioned, among others the promotion of democratic, efficient and transparent decision-making processes (in the EU??) leading to better results.
It would be absurd to expect efficient agenda-setting with timelines in such a document, which mainly has celebratory character. However, I would have expected more guidance in the face of the internal and external challenges. There is no word about Brexit, about a number of member states‘ reluctance to sign the document and to adhere to EU rules of law, there is nothing tangible about whether the existing EU has pursued the right policies, especially in economic policy before, during and after the crisis. Instead, we European citizens receive a bland wishlist to Santa Claus, listing in very general terms many objectives close to everybody‘s hearts. There is no mentioning that some of the objectives mentioned might be in conflict with each other – and how they should be mitigated. There is no mentioning of how to achieve more convergence between and within member states. There is no mentioning of how more transparent deliberation and decision processes are to be achieved in the EU. As a case in point: even after the laborious CETA and TTIP discussions and breastbeating, the very similar negotiation of an agreement with Japan is as opaque as the above.
As a practitioner of EU policy I know that documents to be agreed by 27 members can not have radically new approaches, or give policy directions. The boldness mentioned in the first sentence of the Declaration is sorely lacking in this document. The only thing it shows – and this is admittedly quite an achievement – is that the 27 declare that the EU is here to stay. But should its purpose not have been to instill a new sense of purpose, of togetherness and solidarity into the minds and hearts of the 507 million EU citizens? We of the old generation know that to argue EU‘s raison d‘etre as a „peace union“ no longer inspires later generations. But we also know that in this media age it takes a new slogan, depicting a new and bold direction, to obtain more than lukewarm support from citizens. Unfortunately, it cannot be „Europe First“! This slogan has been utterly corrupted by the US President. But it could be something like „A Good Life for All“, or something of this sort. It needs to be inspiring, inclusive and achievable. Ideas are welcome!