EU struggles to choose ‘wise men’ to ponder its future


The French Presidency wants an EU summit on 15-16 October to back the establishment of a “group of wise men” to lead reflections on Europe’s future, but there is still no agreement on its composition, EURACTIV has learned from diplomatic sources.

The composition of the nine-member reflection group in charge of anticipating the long-term challenges that the Union will face in 2030 is still uncertain. 

The draft conclusions of the EU summit, seen by EURACTIV, include a small paragraph dedicated to the launch of the reflection group. It appears between brackets, meaning that as yet there is no unanimity over the initiative. 

According to diplomatic sources, the Council is still unable to make the list public because a consultation period led by the reflection group’s chairman, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, is not yet over. Among the countries represented in the draft list are France, Finland, Germany, Italy and Sweden, EURACTIV has learned. 

Significantly, there is no UK representative in the draft list, the source revealed. This could imply that initial concerns regarding the scope of the group’s mandate remain valid almost a year after the initiative was launched at an EU summit in December 2007. 

French President Sarkozy had originally wanted the reflection group to define the final borders of the EU, in what was seen by many as an attempt to block Turkey’s future EU accession (EURACTIV 17/12/07). But the UK and Eastern European countries, which are pushing for a further Eastern enlargement of the EU, are opposed to setting such limits. In addition, it appears that there is no East European representative as the name of the former president of Latvia, Vaira Vi?e-Freiberga, does not appear on the draft list. 

A Council spokesperson declined to comment. 

Moreover, further hurdles may stand in the way. The 2007 December summit stated that the group “shall conduct its reflections within the framework set out in the Lisbon Treaty,” which has been rejected by popular vote in Ireland in the meantime. 

In spite of the Lisbon Treaty still being in trouble, the draft summit conclusions still mention that “the group will start work as of January 2009”. 

The draft conclusions do not contain any mention of the way forward regarding the Lisbon Treaty. Diplomats told EURACTIV that Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen had in fact retracted from a previous commitment, contained in the June Summit conclusions, that he would come up with proposals for a solution as early as at the October summit. 

Instead, Cowen is expected only to present a picture of “how the situation looks” and postpone the proposal on the way forward until the December summit, the sources said. 

The European Council of 14 December 2007 decided to establish a "reflection group" of no more than nine people, selected from across the Union on the basis of merit, to identify the key issues and developments which the Union is likely to face in future and to analyse how these might be addressed. 

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez was named chair of the group, while Vaira Vi?e-Freiberga, a former president of Latvia, and Jorma Ollila, former CEO of Nokia, were named vice-chairs. 

It was agreed that the chairman and vice-chairs should submit a list of names to be considered during the French EU Presidency. 

  • 15-16 Oct. 2008: European Council. 
  • 11-12 Dec. 2008: European Council. 

Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.