Debate on the White Paper on the Future of Europe
9 a.m. – 12 noon, 26 May 2017
EU Representation in the Czech Republic, Jungmannova 24, Prague 1
DRAFT FINAL REPORT
- White paper
The discussion was preceded by a brief presentation of the aims of the White Paper on the future of Europe, its scenarios, the schedule for publishing Commission discussion documents on specific areas of the White Paper in the course of 2017, the role of the EESC in this process and the positions of the Czech Republic on the White Paper.
Participants agreed that the White Paper on the Future of Europe and its five scenarios served merely for guidance for further debate at all levels.
Some felt the scenarios had been poorly framed and could not be compared with one another because they were not drafted in the same terms. Some included instruments, while others set out targets, but none of the scenarios laid down tangible procedures. The time element also had to be considered: some of the scenarios were just short term, while others put the focus more on the medium and long term. No scenario was comprehensive. Staging was needed rather than a choice of one or other of the scenarios.
All the scenarios were on the optimistic side and there was no assessment of shortcomings or reflection on the mistakes the EU had made. But such critical examination is vital if we are to move forward.
Scenario 1 did not meet with any great support. Carrying on in the same way as now does not address current challenges. The EU has had time enough to implement the current programme and citizens are not convinced by the results.
If Scenario 2 were to be considered in the short term, the single market would have to be completed first. A functioning single market is a prerequisite for further steps/scenarios to be carried out. Constructing the EU's future on Scenario 2 alone would be a return to the past and it would be very difficult to explain and justify to citizens why they have to forego the benefits and achievements attained.
Business representatives singled out Scenario 4: Doing Less More Efficiently. They are in favour of smart regulation and rules that all must observe in order to ensure a fair environment for all businesses. They want to see less bureaucracy and red tape, open markets, strong trade policy and flexible labour markets. But they also need greater stability and security. Scenario 3 is seen more as a means to achieve the objectives.
Most participants found Scenario 5 unrealistic. The EU is not ready for such a scenario and the public would not accept it at this time. However, the participants did not exclude it in the future.
A "Scenario 6" has emerged from the ranks of non-profit organisations: a sustainable vision for Europe and its citizens, putting the citizen first, stressing participatory democracy, social justice and partnership between sectors and EU citizens as the main driver for the European Union's further evolution. Initiatives are currently being pursued in support of this scenario.
- Points highlighted in the debate
Trade unionists were not alone in thinking the social dimension of Europe needed to be foregrounded and citizens won over, because surveys show that people expected the EU to tackle social issues above all. In their view, none of the scenarios put citizens first and this gives rise to an insurmountable gulf between the EU and ordinary people. This is not just a Europe of countries, but above all a Europe of citizens.
The majority of participants agreed that if the Czech Republic were to prosper in the European Union, it had to be part of the euro area. Things were moving towards a multi-speed Europe and one of the conditions for being among the "higher speed" countries was having the euro. Given the healthy economic situation and the forthcoming elections the question of the Czech Republic's accession to the euro area had to be put back on the table.
The document says nothing about subsidiarity in the new arrangements. Yet it is vital that citizens have an idea of who is responsible for what and at what level.
There are huge economic and social disparities between Member States in the European Union. At this moment, there is no convergence going on in these areas (especially wages and salaries) and living standards in the new Member States are getting no closer to the EU average. This has a very bad effect on how people in those countries see the EU.
Peace is fundamental to the future of Europe. The situation at present is affected by a range of serious factors, such as unchecked illegal migration.
The EU is going through an unprecedented crisis and the Czech Republic could also be affected. The White Paper should say why we have got into this crisis and what to do differently to avoid a repetition. It is important to send a political signal that we can learn from the past and that the citizens have been listened to.
At the same time, some participants felt that any discussion of scenarios about Europe's future must be conducted in the light of the global sustainable development goals (SDGs) and for this reason welcomed the alternative "Scenario 6" presented by a number of European NGO networks.
Citizens must be at the centre of this entire process. Information about the White Paper should be available – and above all intelligible – to the average citizen. Experts see things differently from ordinary EU citizens.
The public needs to be convinced of the benefits of the EU (including, for example, embassies abroad). We often witness negative attitudes to the EU in the Czech Republic (including from members of the government), while the benefits are not stressed. The public service media should provide objective and balanced information and perform an educational role on this.
The right way to take forward the discussion on the future of Europe is not with scenarios, but with dialogue. Strong political support needs to be marshalled for this discussion nationally and it should be framed rather in terms of "the Czech Republic and its future in the EU of the future". The right institutional platform needs to be identified – the existing National Convention on the European Union, for instance.
The EU should focus on implementing its fundamental objectives of citizens' security and prosperity.
There needs to be instruction at all stages of education, as well as in lifelong learning, about the EU, its organisational set-up and how it works. The civic education of pupils and teachers must be improved. As things stand, the EU is only touched on in basic social science courses.
EESC-2017-02800-00-00-TCD-TRA (EN) 1/4