What a commotion this week! The Commission President’s State of the Union address has become the highpoint of “la rentrée politique” for those who work at the European level, and for the European public sphere (which sounds nicer than the Brussels bubble). This time was particularly significant as it was the last chance for the current Commission President to shape his legacy and the future development of the European Union. Many commentators have already listed the hits and misses, the dos and don’ts. The future of the European project is up for debate. It does not make sense to talk down Europe, the political efforts and proposals, but this does not exempt us from evaluating the proposals and being critical in the sense of contributing to the improvement of policies.
Europe today is not in best shape. The imbalances and inequalities within and between Member States are well known, with the risks of an even stronger East-West divide and a tendency among national governments to put their interests first and not the general interest of the Union. All this is not new, but given the wider global tensions, we are again facing a very decisive moment for our common future.
The term reform is always very popular although how this is understood or interpreted can vary widely, from a very “Ordnungspolitik” to progressive reforms. President Juncker has submitted interesting proposals for institutional reforms which would not need a treaty change. He is absolutely right that citizens expect more concrete action, not just a lengthy legal and political process of Treaty change. There is room for manoeuvre which can and must be used. Unanimous voting should not block the decision making process. The use of qualified majorities could make EU policy more flexible, reactive and anticipatory. He also focused, quite rightly, on the social dimension to make sure that nobody is left behind. Looking ahead to the next European elections, achieving greater social convergence is crucial for Europe’s credibility and to avoid fuelling the anti-European and populist campaigns of the far right.
Usually we judge whether the glass is half full or half empty. Citizens, civil society and in particular organised civil society are engaged in the debate, and not only when generously invited to meet a Commissioner in an officially organised town hall meeting in a city of a Member State. Civil dialogue, as stipulated in article 11 of the Treaty, is more than an institutional proceeding. Therefore we acknowledge the positive proposals and will not “shoot the sheriff” nor “the deputy”. It is a common responsibility, therefore we engage and challenge. The next step is the Social Summit in Gothenburg with the long awaited Proclamation and a call for New Deal for Europe urged by the Swedish government.