Commission pushes for stronger defence, trade and border powers after Brexit

[European Parliament/Flickr]Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament. in 2011. [European Parliament/Flickr]

The European Commission has said it could accept reduced responsibility for some policy areas, but only in return for greatly strengthened powers over defence, border control, migration, counter-terrorism and trade.

“NATO will continue to provide hard security for most EU countries but Europe cannot be naïve. And has to take care of its own security. Being a ‘soft power’ is no longer powerful enough when force can prevail over rules,” the executive said in its White Paper on the future of the EU-post-Brexit.

According to the paper, which is not a concrete legislative proposal, this would mean that by 2025:

  • The European Border and Coast Guard fully takes over management of the EU’s external borders. All asylum claims are processed by a single European Asylum Agency;
  • joint defence capabilities are established in European Defence Union, a step towards the creation of an EU army;
  • the EU speaks with one voice on all foreign policy issues;
  • trade deals would be dealt with exclusively at EU level, removing the need for each agreement to be ratified by national parliaments;
  • cooperation between police and judicial authorities on terrorism issues is systematic and facilitated by common Europe Counter-Terrorism agency.

The paper was published later today (1 March). Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker launched the document, described as starting point for discussions, at the European Parliament at 3PM.

“The future of Europe should not become hostage to elections, party politics or short term domestic views of success. However painful and regrettable Brexit may be it will not stop the EU as it moves to the future. We need to move forward, we need to continue,” he told MEPs.

The 29-page White Paper sets out five “scenarios” to be considered by EU-27 leaders at their 25 March summit on the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Member states and the Commission are thought to favour this option of a multi-speed Europe with some countries integrating further and others maintaining their status.

Other scenarios include:

  • The remaining 27 member states maintaining the status quo, working to overcome differences in the traditional way and increasing defence cooperation;
  • a slashing of Brussels red tape with a focus on nothing but deepening the Single Market;
  • much deeper integration across the board among all member states, with the EU speaking as one on trade and with defence and security powers transferred from member states to the bloc.

“Not all the scenarios meet with the spontaneous agreement of the Commission but all the scenarios are under discussion,” Juncker said.

“There are those who wish to reduce the role of the Commission to a manager or administrator of the Single Market. I am strictly against that,” he added.

Scenario 4

Under the paper’s scenario 4, called “Doing less more efficiently”, the Commission moots the possibility of the EU focusing attention on a reduced number of areas.

But in exchange the EU would have bolstered powers to “directly implement and enforce cooperation as it does for competition policy”.

The executive’s competition department has wide-ranging direct powers, including the ability to carry out raids on businesses suspected of antitrust activity and to levy huge fines.

The European Commission would be willing to sacrifice influence over regional development, public health, and some employment and social policy. Consumer, environment and health and safety at work standards would be set at a “strict minimum” rather than with a view to pan-EU harmonisation.  State aid control will be further delegated to national authorities.

More Europe

The fifth scenario goes further still. It suggests that member states would share more power, resources and decision-making, with the priority being defence, security and trade.

By 2025:

  • Europe would be more represented on “most international fora” with a single seat, speaking with one voice on all foreign policy;
  • a European Defence Union, which some fear is a precursor to the creation of an EU Army, would be set up;
  • there would be European supervision of financial services and “much greater coordination on fiscal, social and taxation matters”;
  • The European Parliament has the final say on all free trade agreements, removing the need for difficult ratification processes at national level.

But, the paper warns, this option could risk “alienating parts of society which feel that the EU lacks legitimacy or has taken too much power away from national authorities”.

Multi-speed Europe

Sources said that the Commission’s preferred option is scenario 3, where some member states could integrate further and others do not or only do so at a later date. Some suggested that the other scenarios were merely drafted to prevent all the focus falling on the idea.

New groups of member states would emerge as coalitions of the willing to work together in policy areas such as defence, internal security, taxation or social matters.

They would be allowed to move forward, while other states could preserve their current status, in a similar way to that done in the creation of the Eurozone and the passport-free Schengen-zone.

According to the paper, by 2025:

  • A group of member states cooperates “much closer” on defence, including a strong common research and industrial base, joint procurement, more integrated capabilities and enhanced military readiness for joint missions abroad;
  • some countries could work closer on security and justice and tax and social matters;
  • some states could have a joint public prosecutors’ office and create a common justice area in civil matters;
  • a group of countries, including the euro area and possibly a few others, chooses to work much closer on taxation and social matters.

Juncker, who has called for input from the European Parliament and civil society, will give his own personal views on the way forward in his September State of the Union speech.  “Reflection papers” on defence, social policy, the Economic and Monetary Union, globalisation and the future of the EU’s finances will also be published by the Commission in the coming months.

The paper should help the European Council decide the course of action by the end of the year, which should be begun by the European Parliament elections in 2019, Juncker wrote in his introduction to the document. The elections will be held after Britain leaves the EU.

Mea culpas

The paper describes the challenges facing the EU, including the refugee crisis, Brexit, and terrorism.

“For many, the EU fell short of their expectations as it struggled with the worst financial, economic and social crisis in post-war history,” it reads.  “Europe’s challenges show no sign of abating.”

“The chilling effect of recent terrorist attacks have shaken our societies. The increasingly blurred lines between internal and external threats are changing the way people think about personal safety and borders,” it adds.

The refugee crisis had, “led to contentious debate about solidarity and responsibility among the member states and fuelled a broader questioning of the future of border management and free movement in Europe”.

The Commission criticised member states for “Blaming Brussels for problems while taking credit for success at home”.

“Europeans are not immune to these stark images of disunity,” the paper said. “There is still strong support for the European project but it is no longer unconditional.”