Here are my observations on the White Paper in its entirety (not just the scenarios). I’m conscious that my thoughts remain embryonic; I’m still processing the ramifications of how these are presented, but I’m also conscious that I’m a little late to the party compared to some, so I thought I’d outline my thoughts to date now. (I’m on leave at the moment and have been bogged down with job applications.)
I’d argue that there is a disparity between language and claims of ‘The Drivers of Europe’s Future’ and the potential scenarios presented. The ‘Drivers’ introductory analysis lays heavy emphasis on the social impact of occurrences to date, and on public perception of the EU within European society. This section also lays great emphasis upon the successes instigated by Horizon2020, the Paris Climate Agreement, and on Sustainable Development (p. 8). It also notes the ‘return of isolationism’ (ibid.): in an age of mass information and media, citizens do not necessary know what the EU has done and – is doing – for them within their society. It is worth noting this emphasis on the social impact and the concerns of citizens here, compared to the scenarios presented.
If, as the ‘Drivers’ section claims, there is a paramount need to ‘strengthen the convergence of economic and social performances’ (p. 9), then the social aspect ought to be explored with greater clarity. Societal challenges are indeed highlighted in these opening observations, noting the factors affecting ‘the way social cohesion is built’ (p. 10). Similarly it is clear that the Commission acknowledges that a cohesive European society – one that understands its obligations and objectives at every level – is crucial to the survival of the EU.
By way of example, a youth in the workforce today, knowing that their taxes are paying for the generations above them to have adequate health care, housing, perhaps a foreign holiday, and a safe environment, whilst knowing that they will end up ‘less well-off than their parents’ (p. 9), that they will (by necessity) have ‘more diverse working lives’ (ibid.) than those generations, whilst also fearing that they will not receive the same support in their old age, that youth will have questions to ask of Europe; of what it can do better collectively than individually to support them in their current country (which may or may not be their country of birth). Cohesion and clarification of how their burden will be supported in the long term must be articulated within the scenarios.
Hope springs from the data coming out of Brexit: that the disparity between youth and elderly (the former still believing predominantly in Europe and the need for Free Movement for work and a social life, and the latter predominantly voting out, having perceived their standard and way of living in a war-free Britain demise as a result): this suggests that we risk alienating the youth of Europe at great cost. If they are the future, they are also the bedrock of Europe’s support, and their societal needs – including a need for cohesion and a reinforced sense of identity – ought to be addressed alongside the financial and safety concerns. None of this appears to be reflected in any depth in the scenarios, yet ‘disaffection with mainstream politics and institutions at all levels’ (p. 12) is seen as at critical mass.
Therefore, why not make greater emphasis on dealing with these integral to the scenarios? Why relegate them to an introductory blurb and a paper on social dimension only? The content of the individual papers on Security/Defence and Finance are palpable on every page of the five scenarios; the Social? Barely visible. This may be because ‘social’ continues to be seen as intangible. But the awareness of advertising what they do (a hugely important point, almost thrown away at the bottom of p. 12) is in the thinking here, as is the importance of a free press (section 4, p. 26) in supporting a social framework and understanding of policies undertaken; they just are not articulated within the scenarios in any meaningful way. There is no sense of how the social aspect will be embedded, which is worrying.
Policies and Research
It’s worth noting that the scenarios are intended to ‘help steer debate’, suggesting that the social aspects ought to be included, yet their framework suggests that their discussion may end up only being discussed early in the ‘Process’ (p. 28), and not as part of the scenarios. (Note that ‘Social Europe’ gets discussed first, see below.)
If the scenarios are intended not to include detailed ‘policy prescriptions’ (p. 15), that’s understandable, but it does leave them open – particularly in scenario 4 – to manipulation as to their intention, if adopted. Those policies with a detailed emphasis on financial and defence strategies are explicit. Scenario 4 leaves the door open to more policy formation on social aspects; yet it does not guarantee it.
It is also worth observing the language surrounding discussion ‘research’. It only occurs in terms of defence strategy (cf. p. 16 with p. 20). Why might this be so? What lies at the heart of such articulation? Similarly, ‘innovation’ only makes it into Scenarios 4 (p. 22) and 5 (p. 25). Climate concerns are expounded in the ‘Drivers’ section’s concerns for the health of our society as a whole (pp. 8, 10 and 11) yet their inclusion in the scenarios (1: p. 16, 2: p. 18, and 5: p. 24) are merely by way of possible example. (Their inclusion in Scenario 2 does at least articulate, to an extent, concerns over any potential blockades to research and implementation of policy towards tackling climate change.) Scenario 4 does at least make a specific reference to ‘R&D’ (p. 22); page 22 holds the most hope for those of us in the research community.
So I agree with my colleagues here that policy on excellence in research is marginalised within these scenarios; I suggest that Scenario 4 is the only one to articulate any potential for supporting research as a way of sustaining optimism for the future of Europe, even if the only research area actually articulated in the entirety of this document is that in the defence industries (Scenarios 1 and 4, as indicated above).
Four Freedoms and articulation of specific ‘snapshots’
The greatest challenge faced by those who engineer to dismantle the Four Freedoms is how to articulate a ‘better way’, particularly when they tend (as with the Leave campaign in the UK) to lay emphasis on the allegedly-needless bureaucracy involved and the dangers posed by freedom of movement of people. (It does make one wonder how you enforce tighter border controls without an increase in bureaucracy...) You cannot have goods, capital, and services without people. How the EU will seek to reinforce this is shadowy in much of the language of these scenarios.
The Four Freedoms themselves only get a look-in, specifically, in Scenario 3. Whilst the spectre of freedom of movement of terrorists haunts these scenarios, we do at least see Scenario 4 stepping up and suggesting some of level of specific engagement in border controls (p. 22), whilst maintaining the Four Freedoms. Although this scenario holds the greatest potential for encouraging states to lead in such areas as border control and defence, it again does not tackle how those states who see themselves as unable to do more will perceive those that do, thus taking us back into the murky world of social dislocation and distrust.
The door is left open in both Scenarios 2 and 4 for certain – non-specified – states to, as it where, ‘step up’ and take the lead in many key areas. Whilst it is unclear as to how reinforce unity in such situations, there is at least some articulation (e.g., on labour rights and social protection for 21 states in Scenario 3, p. 21) on the social ramifications involved in allowing certain states to do more.
Specifics are noted as not part of the remit, so language is often vague, yet we have a sudden, very specific, need for ‘drones’ (p. 21) in Scenario 3, which is peculiar. At times the language smacks of some very specific thinking in terms of Security and Defence, and, to a letter extent, on Finance (see the same page), yet none of the scenarios can reach this level of detailed articulation elsewhere. There are some moments of promise, however, such as the snapshot of farmers being able to access data to help them (p. 23), but, again, it would be helpful to see acknowledgement of how these improvements will be, as it were, ‘advertised’.
Process (timeline, Annex 1, p. 28)
I note that the Social dimension is first on the agenda (followed by Security and Defence, then Finance, p. 28). I wonder about this order. Both Security/Defence and Finance have Social implications – including how citizens respond to their impact upon their lives in this reciprocal cycle of Social/Security&Defence/Financial costing – both in terms of perception and reality. Does putting ‘Social’ first potentially negate the social impact of S/D and Financial concerns and costs being discussed? How does R&D fit into this?
The College of Commissioner met early this month to reflect on ‘the social dimension of Europe and on completing Europe's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)’ (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/news/commission-seminar-social-dimension-europe-and-deepening-emu_en), seeing this as crucial areas. It remains curious to me that the specific articulation of ‘social dimension’ is so weak in the scenarios. The Social Europe outlined in the fact sheet on The Road from Rome: a Social Europe (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/04_social_europe_en_web.pdf) indicates the challenge ahead for Europe’s current youth, without fully tackling, for example, how a reduced and decreasing young workforce will support the generation(s) above once in we have reached the target date for this review (something stressed as so important in ‘Drivers’). An emphasis on finance and defence appears to be at the cost of insufficient acknowledgement of the social needs. If the desire is to promote “economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence” (Rome Declaration, 25 March 2017), there must be greater emphasis on – and visibility of – the social aspects of any given scenario.
How social cohesion is maintained or reinforced in an age of mass (and mis-) information should be crucial. These scenarios can “snapshot” a justification for ‘drones’ (p. 21) yet they cannot snapshot, by way of example, the democratic need for better relationship with (and need for) ‘a critical, independent and free press’; this is relegated to Section 4 (‘The way ahead’), in the final comments before the Annexes (p. 26).
Given the emphasis in ‘The Drivers of Europe’s Future’ on the importance of digitisation and the need for a ‘major rethink of education and lifelong learning systems’ (p. 10 – note that Education barely gets a look in elsewhere), how and what we learn – including about the role and purpose of the Commission and of the Union – ought to address how citizens access information and the veracity of that information.
It is not a de facto paradox to many that security threats come at a time of increased movement for work and leisure (as suggested on p. 11): misinformation about the four freedoms in the media, by way of example, lay at the heart of the Leave campaign during Brexit. Free movement of people correlated with strains on services in the hearts and minds of many of the British public; free movement was – and is – correlated by some with increased terror activity. Surely ways of educating citizens on what the Europe Union, does and to what purpose, should be articulated within these scenarios. If this is not tackled explicitly – if it is relegated to external discussions of social concerns – then these scenarios are in danger of plotting potential seating formations on the proverbial Titanic. I think we are all aware that clarifying the correlation between policy and research is one way in which these scenarios could jump ship and fly.