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Europe at 27: An honest debate

By Jean-Claude Juncker and Christos Stylianides
European integration was always a project created by the people, for the people. It was a movement carried by a generation who came together to proclaim ‘Never again!’

With the signing of the Treaties of Rome on March 25 1957, the EU’s first six members consigned the ghost of Europe’s past to the history books, leaving them as a cautionary tale for future generations, never to be repeated.

As we mark the 60th anniversary of that fateful date, we are also marking the birth of the European project anew. With a changing and uncertain world around us, the time has come to renew our vows, and reaffirm our commitment to a united future – in which all citizens and all Member States are treated equally. A new Europe of 27 must act resolutely to meet the expectations of its citizens, and show them both hope and determination.

For this, we must seek new answers to a question as old as our Union is young: where do we go from here? We do not have those answers, as they are not ours alone to give. Europe cannot be instructed through executive orders or dictated in ‘splendid isolation’. This is a question that has to be taken to the people.

For too long there has been a gap between what people expect and what Europe is able to deliver. We should not pretend that Europe alone can solve all problems, like modernising national institutions and addressing other structural problems.

Nor should we entertain the notion that individual nation states can achieve everything alone. Think, for example, of the big fires in Cyprus last summer. The assistance of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was instrumental in extinguishing the fires. It was a tangible manifestation of the EU’s solidarity and of the key role the EU has in tackling challenges.

We believe, therefore, that it is time we had a truly honest debate about what it is we want from our Union.

We could carry on as we are doing today. Not resting on our laurels, but focusing all our energy on delivering on the big issues, on our positive agenda of completing the internal market, the digital single market, creating an energy union, capital markets union and a defence union.

We could also go the other way entirely, and choose an EU27 focusing only on the Single Market. But Europe is far more than a market of goods and money. To say otherwise is to betray the values we have fought for, on battlefields and soapboxes over centuries.

As a third scenario, we could allow some Member States to forge ahead in some areas already framed by the Treaties, leaving the door open for others to follow when they are ready.

This is already a reality today, with varied groups of countries spanning the whole continent, already set to either create an EU patent court, or harmonise their laws on divorce and property regimes for international couples or set up a European Public Prosecutor to fight fraud against the EU budget. These examples of enhanced cooperation show that we do not need everyone to go forward at the same speed, but we do need everyone pulling in the same direction.

Another variant of this could be for the EU27 to do a lot more, all together, in a small number of areas where our actions really have an added value and where citizens expect us to act. This would effectively mean more of ‘doing less’ in areas where Member States cannot agree or are better placed to deal with the issue alone.

Finally, Member States could also go full throttle and decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board.
These five scenarios are all feasible. And they will no doubt be hotly debated by national parliaments, governments, civil society and people from all walks of life. In reality, Europe’s future is most likely to be etched in a sixth scenario, of your own design.

Europe has a date with democracy in 2019 and, from now until the elections, we want every voice to be heard. Our future has to be designed and owned by us all. Not by institutions or politicians, but by the people they represent.When it comes to the EU, it has always been far too easy for Presidents and Prime Ministers to say what they do not want. Now they should organise and take part in debates that reach every corner of Europe, every part of society, to decide on what it is they do want.

Whatever road we end up following, the future is ours for the making.

For 60 years, Europe achieved the unachievable: a stay in the everlasting European tragedy of war and peace. But this Europe is not a given. Europe always was and remains today a choice. And the choices we make today, tomorrow, in two years from now, have to be guided by a full understanding of their implications, not for us, but for the generations to come.

Because we will be judged not for what we inherited, but for what we leave behind.

Jean-Claude Juncker is President of the European Commission while Christos Stylianides is European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management

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