Open comment on the Commission's White Paper

More ambition is needed

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Context: The European Commission recently published a White Paper on the future of the European Union. It now asks for citizens to send them their comments via an official form. As my blog commentary on the White Paper greatly exceeds the 2000 character limit they have set, I have decided to write a summary of my main points, submit it, and also share it with the public. I urge you to send the Commission your own thoughts. If you find any of the following useful, feel free to copy/paste accordingly.

The White Paper succeeds in its function: it engenders a debate about the EU’s future. Its timing is appropriate, while the plan of complementing it with a series of specialised reflection papers does hold promise.

Where the Paper could improve is on its overall ambition. The Commission seems rather hesitant to express what it really believes. Instead, it withdraws to an ostensibly neutral role, presenting several scenarios as if they were equal in terms of their desirability.

It is understandable. The White Paper is not a manifesto. The Commission wants to preserve the delicate balance between the Member States. Should it appear to be acting in favour of only one particular agenda, it could be questioned by those with a different opinion on the matter.

That is, prima facie, a plausible view. Upon closer inspection though, it does suffer from a fundamental flaw: it is the line of reasoning of an institution with a purely technical and ancillary function. The Commission is no such thing. While it does indeed have the laudable duty of acting as the “guardian of the Treaties”, and participate both in the making and implementation of European legislation, the Juncker Commission also has a popular mandate. The reference is to the spitzenkandidaten process. President Juncker was the leading candidate of the political family that won most seats in the European Parliament. In that sense, this Commission can be properly considered a political agent in addition to its technical role.

The combination of the two provides for a broadened mandate. The Commission does not answer only to the European Council, but to European citizens at-large. What this implies for the actual content of the White Paper, is that the Commission should only recommend scenarios that are in the best interests of the Union.

A political Commission which also guards the Treaties must thus develop and express a ‘conscience of state’, an awareness of the longer term good of the European Union itself.