2017 in the EU: The Force Awakens

Sonny Carter || CC 3.0

The EU closes the year 2017 with several strong accents. Among them, the launch of PESCO and triggering Article 7 (TEU) against Poland. This, paired with the visions for the future of the EU presented by Jean-Claude Juncker and Emmanuel Macron may be a proof that the EU regains its strength.

The year 2017 was abundant in a multitude of events that may have potentially long-term positive effects on the future of the EU. Apart from the plans put forward by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Jucker and newly elected President of France Emmanuel Macron, we should also mention the plan put foward by President of the European Council Donald Tusk – namely the Leaders’ Agenda.

The Leaders’ Agenda is not stricly devoted to the future of the EU if we were to compare it to the complex ideas of Juncker or Macron. Rather, it constitues a draft of an action plan for EU summits and procedural steps. Thus, it might have been a better idea for Mr Tusk to propose his own vision just like the president of the European Comission had done. However, in light of his position as the president of the EU, organizing the operation of the European Council and filling ides presented by the leading European politicians with content seem to meet the expectations.

Nevertheless, the Leaders’ Agenda features several ideas for making the operation of the European Council more efficient that are worth mentioning. First of all, Donald Tusk suggests organizing thirteen summits of the European Council by the second half of 2019. These have the objective of reforming the EU after Brexit. After each summit a set of Desicion Notes that would report on the decisions made and point out the discrepancies between respective member states are to be prepared. Implementation Reports, on the other hand, are to be published before each sumit to allow for an evaluation of the progress made so far.

Although this does not constitute a very captivating vision of reforming the EU, it does provide concrete suggestions – and even though it may not be obvious at first glance, these could have a real impact on making the operations of the EU more efficient. Especially, as Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Konrad Szymański stated (when pointing out that the Agenda is in line with the perspective of the Polish government) that it is the European Council (thus the heads of member states) that is to set the course of the entire EU.

Yet, the most significant achievement of the European Union in 2017 was PESCO – Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence. On December 14, 2017, the EU member states finally decided to awaken “the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty”, as it wa put by Jean-Claude Juncker. What he meant was that until now PESCO was an empty provision. It is worth stressing that the process that had led to the signing and the potential implementation of seventeen projects with twenty five member states as a part of PESCO took several decades, which was a result of “a fortunate series of unfortunate events”. The aggressive imperialism of Donald Trump towards NATO and the exit of the UK, the main “breakman” of the military integration – these events exerted the greatest influence on re-launching the efforts of the EU member states to further the military integration.

Nevertheless, the patchwork nature of this integration shall be pointed out. The abovementioned twenty five PESCO states do not take part in all seventeen projects. Each member state subsrcibed to being a part of different projects depending on their interests and potential. In order to join a project a member state must have real chances of executing it. This is based on the idea of specialization, which shall maximize the effect of synergy and even out the relative advantages of respective states. This is why Poland, for example, will not take part in the initiatives related to navy as it lacks capacity and know-how in this area.

Not getting into detail though, when it comes to PESCO it is worth emphasizing that it is a potentially a very effective means of accelerating European integration. The member states decide on their own in which projects they wish to participate and what will they be in charge of – especially in the case when they are the ones that have had put forward one of the project proposals. At the same time, should in the process of project implementation other states notice that it is, indeed, an effective project, they may still join in should this meet their own interests. This is the so-called spillover effect, which spreads integration from one area of interest to another if the former is a success. In turn, the effect of synergy may result in aligning and bringing closer the interests of member states and by this token furthering the integration between them.

This is the absolute basis of the theory of integration and this is why such modus operandi could actually bring results. The success of the EU comes precisely from the spillover effect. Therefore a return to the roots of this model could once again turn out to be a way out of the impasse. Of course, not even for a monent should we forget about the problems that the EU faces externally (the Russian threat, Donald Trump, migration, etc.) and internally (Poland, Hungary, migration, the future of euro, new Austrian government, lack of coalition in Germany – which may also be the reason behind a lack of Merkel’s vision next to the ones presented by Juncker and Macron, etc.). However, just like PESCO is a chance that originated from crisis, the next integration initiatives could reforge problems into a success. By the way, the recent criticism of Donald Tusk for his statement that migrant quotas do not work (which is a fact) could also set off a breakthrough.

A clear chance for a breakthrogh moment is also posed by triggering Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union against Poland. This might be a chance for the EU to finally prove that it is capable of dealing with the most pressing issues.

Summarizing, today the operation of the EU-25 is not as efficient and fast as was the case of the EU-15. In 2005, the union of fifteen states successfully surrounded the Austrian governmental coalition with Jörg Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party by a sanitary cordon. Today, the EU keeps quiet about the Austrian government created with the same party. However, it is a EU that has been enlarged in 2004, 2007, and 2013. If after these blows we (yes, “we”, the citizens of the EU) are to regain assertiveness, this might be a symptom of a breakthrough. So maybe the year 2017 was truly a year when the EU force/Sleeping Beauty has awakened, and the following years will be its Renaissance? It has the potential, now it is all about making the best of it.

The article was originally published in Polish at: http://liberte.pl/2017-w-unii-europejskiej-przebudzenie-mocy/

Translated by Ola Łabendowicz

Karol Chwedczuk-Szulc