Life is a Mystery: The González Reflection Group

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"The [González Reflection Group] report is unlikely to form a bridge across the gap between the European Union and its citizens," writes Lars Hoffmann, an assistant to a reflection group member, in an exclusive op-ed sent to EURACTIV.

This commentary was sent exclusively to EURACTIV by Lars Hoffmann.

"The González Reflection Group has published its final report, entitled 'Project Europe 2030'. It is almost ten years to the day since former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer delivered his now famous speech on the finality of the European Union.

It was this speech that set the tone for the conclusions of the 2000 intergovernmental conference, the Convention-led reform process and arguably even the drafting of Europe's first constitutional treaty, which was eventually transformed into the Lisbon Treaty.

The Reflection Group was set up by the 2007 December European Council to 'help the Union anticipate and meet challenges more effectively in the longer term (horizon 2020 – 2030)'. Thus, almost two years before the Lisbon Treaty was ratified, the Reflection Group was asked to continue where the Convention left off in 2003.

Both the mandate for the Convention and the Reflection Group, although different in length and prominence, called for a debate on the future of Europe. Of course the Convention took a maximalist approach, underpinned by its ambitious leadership, representative membership, clearly defined work process and its open and accessible proceedings.

The Reflection Group on the other hand, consisted, initially, of twelve members, it lacked a clear procedural structure and it met behind closed doors. No press conferences were held after any of the meetings and, despite the attempts by some of its members, no official efforts were made to gather any input from the wider public. The Reflection Group was set up as a small elite forum and its leadership was very keen to maintain this status until the very end.

As this website previously reported, the Group chose to invite experts of the different policy areas that it was investigating: global warming, economic governance, education policy, demographics, etc. In addition, inspiration was sought from some of the EU's grands hommes, such as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Delors and Wim Kok. Throughout the process, one could not help but notice that the ideas and voices of young(er) Europeans – be they elites or not – were not sought after by the Group's leaders, never mind the public at large.

The approach of secretive deliberations, elite contributions and an unwillingness to communicate with the wider public is not only reminiscent of the tedious treaty reform processes of the 1980s and 1990s but it is in fact the way that many people perceive Europe to conduct its day-to-day politics. Of course sometimes it is important to negotiate behind closed doors – be it at the European, national or even the family level. But it is surprising that the Reflection Group, charged with determining the EU's political, economic and social challenges of the coming two decades, should not make any official attempts to consult the EU's citizens other than to commission one Eurobarometer poll.

The result of this rather reserved strategy is clearly reflected in the report. It is a very dense albeit well-drafted document. Still, the average European might find it a challenge to work through the thirty-odd pages – to say the least. It is for the June European Council to decide the report's fate but it is clear already that it is not an inspiring document, never mind a manifesto on the future of Europe as some members had hoped. There are some excellent proposals in the report (e.g. a Blue Card for European immigrants or a EU-wide carbon tax).

Alas, the report is unlikely to form a bridge across the gap between the European Union and its citizens. In politics it is often 'process' that matters. Consequently it cannot come as a surprise that the secretive approach of the Group’s leadership has resulted in an outcome that is unlikely to reconnect the Union with its citizens. This is a problem that was already bemoaned by Joschka Fischer ten years ago and it remains the biggest challenge of them all for 'Project Europe', be it in 2030 or indeed in 2010."

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