The Berlaymont is battling back.
As EU leaders gather for the summit Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has stunned allies and rivals alike by seizing the initiative – plus the narrative – over the way ahead for Europe, starkly challenging critics inside the bloc to pick as long as they want the EU “more or less reduced to the free-trade area.”
It’s a turnaround for Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, who’s got often seemed wobbly within the first half of his five-year term and sometimes struggled to project confidence and competence. It is usually a bet by way of a man who has little time left to reshape a legacy – dented by Brexit and tax scandals home – designed to hinge on his capability to hold Europe together.
Juncker’s so-called white paper laying out five scenarios into the future is not planned for publication up until the spring. Though with Brexit negotiations anticipated to be triggered later this month and leaders preparing to use Thursday’s meeting to discuss their own declaration concerning the future, Juncker with the exceptional closest aides increased the document, expecting driving the conversation.
In this, the Commission capitalized for a moment when officials in primary capitals, including Berlin, Paris along with the Hague, were aimed at upcoming national elections and European Council President Donald Tusk may be as a minimum somewhat preoccupied together with his own bid for reappointment into a second term.
“This summit is not an crisis summit, and we’re thrilled and grateful for that” – Senior EU diplomat
Juncker’s move raised eyebrows among some ambassadors who expected the leaders would get the opportunity to go over their vision of the future first. But, by all accounts, he have succeeded – for now at least.
“He’s a political fox; they have put the ball clearly at the disposal of the member states,” a senior Commission official said, adding: “It’s a significant moment.”
There are also other signs that Juncker is off of the ropes.
Economic data paint a brightening picture all over the Continent, with growth, however slight, in all 28 EU countries. The migration crisis that fueled nationalist backlashes and spawned poisonous in-fighting seems manageable, thanks largely to some tenuous address Turkey and up to date outreach to African governments. The eurozone crisis, while hardly resolved, has largely turn into couple of maintaining a pokey but steady comeback in Greece. Meanwhile, the external challenges of Brexit and U.S. President Donald Trump’s Euroskepticism have with the remaining members of the bloc why you should rally together.
“This summit isn’t a crisis summit, and we’re delighted and grateful for that,” a senior EU diplomat said. “Crisis management definitely seems to be place on the back burner this occassion, and that we think it is a great thing.”
But while giving some credit towards the Commission for steering the bloc through recent crises, the diplomat accused Juncker of maneuvering – successfully – to preempt the conversation among EU leaders about the future.
“Let me be rather frank,” the diplomat said. “Our original understanding could be that the white paper belly then European Council. I do think which had been everybody’s understanding, and that we took it as a a variety of gentleman’s agreement to accomplish it like this.”
“Now as to how viable or, if you like, credible his five scenarios are, you are making your own private judgments,” the diplomat continued. “My judgment is the fact some are pretty fictitious, and my judgment is how the EU next decade will not be able that you follow any kind of his five scenarios.”
Aides to Juncker said that was precisely his point: to give some options, not just one of which would necessarily stand on a. Instead, taken together, the scenarios would spark a discussion round the Continent. Most strategically, it had become geared towards silencing several of the bloc’s most cranky internal critics by forcing these phones take a position in favor of some vision of Europe, as opposed to just carping in regards to what they just don’t like currently.
In certain techniques, Thursday’s summit will showcase Juncker’s recent success.
While Juncker has never expressed a preference among the list of five scenarios (besides his clear opposition to becoming the manager on the free-trade zone), the white paper pointedly excluded any disintegration scenario, regardless of the existential queries about the bloc’s future that seemed to be raised by Brexit and Trump. “If we Europeans are doubting the way forward for Europe,” the senior Commission official said, describing Juncker’s thinking, “there’s nothing left.”
In some tips, Thursday’s summit will showcase Juncker’s recent success. Leaders need to give a pointed pro-trade message that could be partly geared toward Trump. Also, they are likely to give a green light for the introduction of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, despite the fact that its not all EU countries approve – an example of European integration at different speeds.
And the leaders can even discuss the condition of food standards – a vivid, real-life example that Juncker aids write up techniques, in their view, the EU should play a significant but limited regulatory role.
That Juncker, who served nearly 19 years as pm of Luxembourg prior to the helm with the Commission, had spotted his moment and had been able seize that it was perhaps best confirmed by the generally positive a reaction to the white paper in the European Council across the street.
Aides to Juncker declared that the reason for any positive response was they had consulted closely with Tusk and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who currently sports ths EU’s rotating presidency, making sure they had potential for input and feedback. There seemed to be similar outreach to Paris and Berlin.
The Italian government had already prepared scenario paper over the declaration for being issued by EU leaders in Rome, while Tusk’s office had also pulled together a thought paper, effectively calling on EU countries to resume their wedding vows. Both have been vastly overshadowed by Juncker’s document.
For Juncker, however, the white paper may perhaps be most critical in how it illustrates his deal with the very idea of Ordnungspolitik – a German word that generally means a philosophy of limited government but is actually difficult to result in English. Juncker presented the word for a challenge to EU translators during recent remarks as he thanked them with regard to their work, including to the white paper, letting them know “it means nothing and everything together.”
Calling language a significant tool of politics, Juncker added, “It is actually by words that individuals can try and influence the direction of where everything’s going.”