After an initial period of hesitation over how to communicate (EurActiv 22/01/09), Felipe González, chair of the 'wise men group', told his team that he had chosen "privacy, not secrecy" as a working method, insiders told EurActiv.
In practice, little information – if any – has emerged from the 15 meetings the group has held since its launch in October 2008. In the meantime, González himself has made very few comments and rejected all interview requests.
But as the deadline approaches for the group to present its 30-page report on the challenges facing Europe in the next twenty years, González and his team are expected to reclaim media attention.
The report, to be presented on 9 May for Europe Day, will be debated by EU leaders at a summit on 17 June. The group is also considering holding a series of meetings with the wider EU public during that period.
For now, González is expected to hand over the report to EU President Herman Van Rompuy on 8 May in Brussels. Before that, members of the Reflection Group are expected to hold a final meeting in Brussels on 30 April and agree on a communication strategy. Indeed, González indicated that he would like a consistent message to be issued to a wider audience in the days and weeks following Europe Day.
Lost in translation?
Every month, one or two experts addressed the team on selected topics. One of them was a high-ranking UN official on climate change and another a representative of the McKinsey consultancy.
Working relations have not been easy, according to sources close to the group. For a start, it proved unpractical to hold meetings outside the EU Council building in Brussels, because translation was required in nine languages.
Translators were needed for González, who worked on the original version of the report in Spanish, Lech Wałęsa, who only speaks his native Polish, and Nicole Notat, who only speaks French (see 'Background'). German Reflection Group member Wolfgang Schuster sometimes switched to the language of Goethe.
Due to the cabin translation system, the meetings took on a rather formal character, which frustrated some Reflection Group members. But group members also met informally over lunch or dinner, where they chatted between themselves mostly in French and English.
Some group members felt that there was a need for them to "throw a big ideas net" over the European public arena to select the most promising ones for the report, as well as formulate prescriptions.
Another format was to invite political heavyweights to lunch, such as former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, former Commission President Jacques Delors, former Commissioner Peter Sutherland or WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.
Those 'elephants', however, did not prove to be enormously productive, sources said, because most of the political heavyweights delivered their own message.
Another form of informal consultation took place with MEPs, as well as with think-tanks, such as the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC), the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), the European Movement, the Trans-European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA), the London-based University Association for Contemporary European Studies, the Policy Network, Paris-based Europanova and others.
As for the content of the report, the final draft is not ready yet. Diego López Garrido, Spanish secretary of state for EU affairs, said last December that the report would be "very provocative" (EurActiv 09/12/09).
Insiders told EurActiv that the main message would be that Europe should either get its act together or slowly begin to decline – something which is not completely original per se, they admitted. But the report will be very much action-oriented, the sources said.
What seems almost certain is that the 'f-word' – federalism – will not appear in the text, partly due to the presence in the group of British and Danish members.
But the idea of "partnership in multi-level governance" should be developed in the report, a notion which could be seen by some as another word for federalism.