The European Commission just published a short white paper outlining five scenarios for the European Union of 2025. The paper is meant as a contribution to the Conference of Rome that will celebrate 60 years since the Treaties of Rome on March 25th.
The five scenarios, which are summarized below, are not very well detailed and only a hint of critical discussion in to be found, so you may even think that the document is rather a justification of the position that the Commission will plausibly put forward during the coming weeks, which is (Warning! Spoiler Alert) the third.
The Commission’s exercise is based on very plausible assumptions: (1) It is unfair Brussels gets regularly bashed for what member states do not want to do, or for what they want to do but forgot to ask their constituencies about, or for what they do not want to admit in public they already said they want; (2) We all have to take into account an increasingly populist, nationalist, Euro-skeptic public opinion; (3) Let us not forget what Europe has done for us so far. And so on. Which brings to the fact that, despite some rhetorically effective references to Ventotene and the Founding Fathers, the document overall proposition is solidly pragmatic: “Let us not aim too high or too low. Let us keep up the good work. Let us avoid taking the blame for others. Things will get better and better”.
Perhaps many would have expected that kind of contribution from the current Commission, but I think the harsh historical context, quite effectively described in the first half of the paper, might have suggested less pragmatism and more courage. Member states are suggested to surrender to the evidence of a multi-speed Europe as the only way forward, to take Euro-skepticism for granted, to accept the fact that Doing Less More Efficiently is better than Romancing the Grail: Frankly, I would rather take the opportunity to clearly admitting my part of responsibility for being blamed.
I would have expected some elaboration on “Do Less More Efficiently”. I would have welcomed an announcement of bold reforms concerning the way the Commission and the other European institutions work and interact with national administrations and member states. I would have dreamt of an eEurope as a digital flagship, a champion of administrative simplification and digital innovation, a scenario of digital services for everybody and for everything European: identification, document exchange, access to base registries and so on. A digital home for all Europeans would appeal to almost everyone, I believe, from young digital natives to dynamic entrepreneurs of all age, and would make disconnected, unwilling member states appear obsolete to their citizens and businesses.
If you read the paper again bearing in mind that digital thing, the five scenarios take quite a different meaning. Add a new “Digital”row heading to the table: what would you write inside the boxes? “Carrying on” loses almost any meaning: it is impossible to “carry on” in the digital area altogether, even to the most conservative person. “Nothing but the single market” offers no advantage with respect to the other scenarios anymore, at least in perspective, due to the growing weight of digital goods and services in the near future. “Those who want more do more” would be a shortcut to suicide for Europe: more digital countries are already doing a lot more than the less digital ones, and the latter would go bust faster with less and less non digital means to stay on a par with the former . “Doing less more efficiently” does not mean much for digital either, as digital is the main way we are making things more efficiently, and it does not require to do less for attaining the efficiency.
And finally, “Doing much more together”. This is exactly what digital stays for: doing much more together. We do it everyday and everywhere, it is something we know how to do. So why not unchain digital also to help 27 old little countries understand each other better, contrast the unavoidable losses in status, population, GDP and all the rest in the globalized world, and reinvent our way of life?