Carsten Brzeski's blog

Eurozone: Reviving Europe’s future

Yesterday, the European Commission presented its White Paper on the future of Europe. It is an analysis of several possible scenarios for the European Union after Brexit. The paper shows that Europe still has a long way to go.

While financial markets are discussing the populist threats in the upcoming elections in the Netherlands and France, the European Commission yesterday made another attempt to revive the discussion on the future of the European Union. In its so-called White Paper, the European Commission has outlined five scenarios for the future of the European Union. The scenarios range from boiling the EU down to the Single Market to much deeper integration and fiscal union in the Eurozone, and are entitled “carrying on”, “nothing but the single market”, “those who want more do more”, “doing less more efficiently” and “doing much more together”.

In short, the European Commission only presents a rough sketch of how the different scenarios could look like and gives a vague assessment of possible negative and positive implications. Stripping the EU to the basics of the Single Market could according to the European Commission mean that decision-making might be simpler to understand “but the capacity to act collectively is limited”. Consequently, the EU could also become a network of bilateral agreements and deals, which might “widen the gap between expectations and delivery at all levels”. If the EU would be stripped to the basics of the Single Market, the entire Eurozone could also be at risk.

In the “carrying on” scenario, further EU integration would focus on a deepening of the Single Market and a pooling of military capabilities. Most other policy areas would remain under control of national governments and progress, including further deepening of the monetary union, depends on national governments’ interests and timing. According to the European Commission, the biggest risk of this scenario is that the EU remains vulnerable to possible disputes between member states.

A first step towards more European integration is the scenario of “some doing more”; also known as the coalitions of the willing. In this scenario, groups of countries can decide on further integration in specific policy areas, such as defense, internal security, taxation or social matters. The European Commission avoids spelling out what this could mean for the Eurozone: further Eurozone integration or even a kind of break up with different groups within the Eurozone? A variation of the “some doing more” scenario is the “doing less more efficiently”. In this scenario, the European Union would define a couple of common priorities for deeper cooperation and integration and would in turn decide on less European influence in other areas. This scenario, in our view, sounds less committed and leaves entirely open how the future of the Eurozone could look like.

Finally, the European Commission also presents its first version of Europeans’ paradise; the “doing much more together”. In this scenario, the EU would get more of its “own resources” (the ability to raise revenue through tax) and the Eurozone would be completed along the lines of the 2015 report of the five presidents. The European Commission explicitly acknowledges that this scenario holds the risk “of alienating parts of society which feel that the EU lacks legitimacy or has taken too much power away from national authorities”.

All in all, the European Commission’s White Paper is only a very first and also very vague attempt to kick-start the discussion on the future of Europe. To be honest, the different scenarios do not present any new elements. In fact, the vagueness of the White Paper reflects the current political problem of the European Union: the European Commission does no longer dare to present clear and explicit visions without national governments’ approval, while national governments do not dare to show their cards, fearing electorate penalties.

Nevertheless, the White Paper is the first official step since the Brexit vote and should lead a new declaration of European leaders at the European Summit in Rome on 25 March, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties. This Summit will give a first indication of how far European leaders could be willing to go with Europe after Brexit.