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Thursday, 23.03.2017, 14:14
Modern EU reforms: effect for Baltic States
The first day of March when the EU’s future was contemplated by the Commission was a big day for some but rather disappointing for others. As is already evident, many European states consider the Union as either too distant from their needs or too interfering in the national affairs. Commission President’s vision for the EU’s future consisted of five possible scenarios; what the “new future” would have for the Baltic States?
Five scenarios uncovered
European Commission is the most important EU’s executive institutions. In the rank of importance, as it is mentioned in the Treaty (it is number four, see art.13 TEU); but actually its importance is outstanding: the Commission “promotes the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end” (art. 17 TEU). One of such initiatives has been the five scenarios of the EU’s future, presented by the Commission President on the 1st of March 2017.
It was a very big day for some EU member states praising the first day of march, while several others kept calm and thought to carry on like “business as usual”.
The Commission’s five approaches to future might seem quite complicated; here are some simplified versions of what the President actually meant:
1. “Carrying on”. This first option/scenario is based on national governments agreeing to deepen the EU’s single market, pool some national capabilities (e.g. security & military), and “speaking with one voice on foreign affairs,” while leaving other competences: e.g. taxation, border control, education, etc. mostly in the hands of national governments. Hardly any complaints will be on this option: the division of competences is explained in detail in the Treaty.
2. “Nothing but the Single Market”. The Commission acknowledged that the member states were “not able to find common ground on an increasing number of policy areas” in integration, as the “capacity to act collectively is limited” and “this may widen the gap between expectations and delivery at all levels.” Companies could face more border checks, and the states would revert to pursuing bilateral relations. Crossing borders for business and/or tourism would become difficult due to regular checks. Finding a job abroad is harder and the transfer of pension rights to another country not guaranteed; those falling ill abroad could face expensive medical bills.
3. “Those who want more do more”. The EU-27 (without the UK) would proceed with the present integration but allows willing member states to do more together in specific areas such as defence, internal security, social matters, etc. One or several “coalitions of the willing” might emerge, said the Commission. Among such “coalitions” there are already existing ones (19 euro-zone states, incl. 3 Baltics) and some in future, e.g. incl. civil/criminal law, corporate taxation or drone surveillance, etc.
4. “Doing less more efficiently”. This option is instigated by the reduced EU funds in future; hence problems with financing European Border and Coast Guard or establishment of a European Defense Union. However, the Commission sees other priority areas for deeper and efficient cooperation: such as research & innovation (could be focused on digitization, circular economy, sustainability and CO2 reduction), trade and security, etc.
One problem is envisaged in this scenario: it needs EU states’ mutual agreement on the areas of “more efficient cooperation”. Probably among the three Baltic States that wouldn’t be a problem.
5. “Doing much more together”. In fact, this option is a hidden idea of a federal EU. The EU would get more of its “own resources” (the ability to raise revenue through tax), the eurozone would be completed along the lines of the Five Presidents’ Report issued in 2015. Under this scenario the EU would also assume greater powers common trade and foreign policy, as well as assume global leadership in combating climate change.
So, there would be no complaints about the lack of EU’s legitimacy.
Bottom-line: Commission’s five scenarios aimed to reignite debate on the future of Europe at the end of March: the White paper calls for leaders to “either promise less or do more”. His message to national leaders is not to overload the EU institutions with work they can’t deliver on. The Commission wants all other EU institutions to “have the power and authority to implement decisions they are responsible for”, e.g. if the EU states’ leaders want the EU institutions to eliminate youth unemployment then they have to get some “powers”; otherwise the leaders have “to stop promising to wipe it out”.
The “EU paths/options” are going to range from a fully-fledged federalist EU to a two-speed Europe. Some other options are in sight as well: the future EU-27 acting as a free trade zone only with a euro-zone block for the time-being next to.
Besides, all references to concepts like “ever closer union” and “more Europe” have been also withdrawn from the five scenarios’ text.
These are important points for the Baltic States’ politicians to think about before the next summit at the end of March…