Quo vadis Europa at 27? Avenues for a united future at 27

Brussels, 1 March 2017

Speech by President Juncker at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament on the occasion of the presentation of the European Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe



Mister President,

Honourable Members of this House,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Later this month, in Rome, 27 of our Member States will stand shoulder to shoulder in peace, solidarity and friendship to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, and I would like to see the President of the Parliament being associated to these ceremonies.

However, this will not simply be a birthday celebration. It will also be the ‘birth moment’ of the European Union at 27.

And as we turn the page and commence a new chapter in our history, it is time we sought new answers to a question as old as our Union is young: quo vadis Europa – at 27?

Europe’s founding fathers were visionaries – Spinelli and Rossi, imprisoned by a fascist regime, dared to dream of a place where allies and adversaries would unite. Unable to speak freely, they penned a manifesto For a free and United Europe which had to be circulated secretly in Rome among the Italian resistance movement in 1943.

Writing this manifesto – this new chapter – Spinelli and Rossi decided not to cling to the darkness surrounding them in their Ventotene prisons cells. They stretched out their arms to the light instead. They dreamed of a better future and paved the way towards it.

60 years later, this should be an inspiration for us. With nothing to dim our voices, will we be forgiven for not speaking up? In 60 years’ time, what will our grandchildren say of our legacy? I want them to be proud – as Spinelli and Rossi probably would have been today.

Now is our time to be pioneers and carve out a vision so that we may walk hand in hand, united at 27, towards our future.


Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

Every day the world around us is changing. The changes and transformations are rapid. Globalisation, terrorism, migration and the impact of new technologies on society and jobs are profoundly changing the daily lives of Europeans. Circumstances, conditions and connections are not changing annually, monthly or weekly. They are changing daily – so vastly and so fast that they sometimes leave us breathless.

The challenges and hurdles before us are great. They are big and tall but by no means insurmountable.

Either we can let ourselves be swept along by these trends, or we can embrace them, shape them and seize the new opportunities they will bring.

Europe must not grow tired but must be active – and sometimes proactive.

As my good friend Frank-Walter Steinmeier was saying so eloquently – if courage is asked of others, leaders must first show it themselves.

The future of Europe cannot be held hostage by electoral cycles, party politics or short-term wins.

Brexit – however regrettable and painful it may be – will not be able to stop the EU on its march towards its future. We continue. We must go on.

Quo vadis Europe at 27? There is no better time, there is also no other time, than now to have this admittedly difficult debate.


In any discussion about where we go from here, we must have one crucial task at the centre of our actions.

Let us be honest: For too long there has been a gap between what people expect and what Europe is able to deliver.

We have to be able to show what Europe can and cannot do.

Take for example the fight against youth unemployment. We hold summit after summit promising to bring down the unemployment numbers – particularly youth unemployment – despite this being far from the realm of Europe’s capability. Tools at EU level cannot do miracles if national action is not enough. We can fund traineeships, we can stimulate investment – quite successfully in fact – but this does not automatically and per se lead to a systematic decline in unemployment. The EU budget only covers 0.3 percent of European social services. 0.3 percent! Member States cover the other 99.7 percent. To say that Europe is responsible for combating unemployment is simply wrong.

So we should not pretend that Europe alone can solve the problem. It is time we – and Member States – were honest about this.

We should not make people believe that we can deliver the sun and the moon if we are only able to deliver a telescope. We should stop communicating on intentions and start focusing on where we can deliver the most tangible results instead.


That is the starting point of the Commission’s White Paper, which I am putting on your table today.

It is time – I repeat – we made clear what Europe can deliver and what it cannot.

Too often, the discussion on Europe’s future has been boiled down to a binary choice of “more” or “less” Europe. That approach is misleading and simplistic.

In the White Paper, we offer a range of avenues for Europe’s future at 27: 5 scenarios for the EU at 27 – though in reality the possibilities are infinitely more numerous.

Not all scenarios find the Commission’s spontaneous backing. But all 5 are on the table. So have to address them. We would like to explain the consequences of these scenarios.

Scenario 1

Let’s take scenario one, which is a continuation of today’s policy. When this Commission took office, I promised in front of this house to do things differently in order to regain the trust of citizens. And we are already doing this to a great extent.

This Commission has made great strides in putting a stop to the misguided reflex of wanting to regulate and meddle in every aspect of people’s lives. People do not want us to regulate toilet flushes or the height of swings. By withdrawing hundreds of proposals and only proposing 23 initiatives per year, instead of the stream of 130 as in previous years, we are focusing on the big things that matter to citizens instead.

And yet the Commission is accused of over-regulation in almost all national parliaments, sometimes also in almost all media, in all capital cities. This permanent Brussels-bashing makes no sense because this bashing has no ground since the start of this Commission’s mandate. It would be a good thing for everyone if this Brussels-bashing stopped. It is very often a substitute for national shortfalls.

We could continue in this fashion, focusing all our energy on delivering on the big issues, on our positive – which was supported by this House – completing the internal market, the digital single market, energy union, capital markets union and a defence union. And we will do that. But we have to ask whether this will be enough.

Scenario 2

We could go the other way entirely, and choose an EU27 focusing only on the Single Market: Scenario 2. If Member States are not able to find common ground in an increasing number of policy areas, if more and more governments want to reduce the Commission down to a simple internal market manager, this could be the only viable solution. This is not our option! The European Union would be more or less reduced to a free trade area. But Europe is more than markets, goods and money. The single market and the euro area are not ends in themselves. They have to serve man.

Nevertheless, there are governments which want to reduce the role of the European Union and ergo the Commission to the internal market. I am strictly against this.

Scenario 3

There is a third option: must all Member States move at the same pace? If we cannot find an agreement within the circle of 27 – neither in terms of objectives nor in terms of the means of doing so – then it should be possible for those who wish to make progress in areas where it is necessary. At the same time, the others who cannot or do not want to be there at the start must have the opportunity to join the first-starters later.

But would the impact of this system be?

It could mean vast progress in a number of countries: for countries that exchange information in the fight against terrorism, set up a genuine asylum system and consolidate defence capacities. This would undoubtedly be a viable option.

However, a complex system of concentric circles could emerge, in which many countries would circle outside the orbit of central policies.

This could make Europe even harder to understand than it already is. How to explain to citizens that Europe is responsible for harmonising the frequencies that automated cars need to call the emergency services in case of an accident – but only in countries X, Y and Z and therefore you will not be able to get help if you are driving in country A?

We see the challenges of this approach already today when we try to explain that Europe takes some of the responsibility for monitoring the management of Schengen external borders, but not all.

And yet the notion that some Member States might advance and forge ahead in some areas cannot be easily rebutted. This kind of forging ahead should not aim at excluding anyone, but at eventual inclusion. I could work in this scenario. The goal must remain to move forward. But if this proves impossible, it must be possible for a coalition of the integrationists to move forward. European success has almost always been the work or leading pioneers – take the Schengen area, the Euro.

Scenario 4

But there is still a fourth possibility. The EU27 could collectively decide to do a lot more, all together, in a small number of areas where our actions really have an added value and where citizens expect us to act: Scenario 4. This would effectively mean more of ‘doing less’.

Good examples of where citizens would expect us to act include security and on things like the so-called ‘Diesel Gate’. A fully-fledged European Counter Terrorism Agency for the whole European Union exchanging information across borders and systematically tracking suspects would, I am convinced, have a real ability to provide security.

Likewise, European consumers misled by “defeat devices” of car manufacturers could rely on an EU enforcement agency to sanction companies and ensure they also have to pay compensation. Instead of people being disappointed that we are only sending strongly worded letters calling on Member States to act, we must ensure these calls can be met.

Scenario 5

Finally, Mr President, scenario 5, Member States could also decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board. They could go full throttle towards a common future and ensure the “leadership” of the European Union. Climate protection – here Europe must continue to play a pioneering role, no matter what is on the other side of the Atlantic. Sustainable development – a permanent European occupation. Defence – here again, independent European structures must be put in place.


All these theoretically possible perspectives, ideas, projects are all choices available to us. I will not share with you now which avenue I prefer – while clearly rejecting the idea that the European Union should be reduced to the status of a free trade area, which is not my concept and does not correspond to Europe’s ambitions. I am not going to tell you my absolute preference today because at the end of the day, these are not choices for me alone – unfortunately – or for the Commission to take in ‘splendid isolation’.

I did not want to present the definitive views of the Commission. I do not deal, as is the fashion these days, in executive orders. The floor has to be given to this Parliament, national parliaments, governments, civil society – in brief, citizens. Contrary to how it may have been done in the past, this Commission does not prescribe, it does not dictate, it does not instruct.

This Commission wants to listen before deciding.

No diktats – this is not compatible with my character. I am no dictator.

But I do like to say it like it is. And I would like to show my colours already today, my vision for the European Union. I can measure the disappointment of those who would have liked me to show my colours. But I prefer to listen before speaking. To those who say that the Commission should speak before the debate, I would say you should not confuse leadership with dictatorship. Unlike what has been done so far, we want to listen before making a decision. This may lead, I understand, to major disappointments but it is a method that honours not only representative democracy but democracy itself.

Talking about institutions, Treaty revisions, institutional procedures – a debate that agitates those sitting comfortably in the Brussels bubble which we should all leave – does not interest me now. Moreover, such a discourse would not interest citizens. You, meeting in all your countries, have you ever been asked about the balance of power between the Council, Commission and Parliament? Never, never, have I been asked such a question, as it is a typically Brussels debate, which, does not interest anyone outside the Brussels bubble. So we should not be leading this debate.

There will come a day – I am sure – when the Treaties will have to be adapted because there is a collective will to do so. That collective will does not exist today.

In order to shape this collective will, we need a proper and honest debate about Europe and what people want and expect from the European Union.

That virtuous conversation is not one that we should have in Rome or only at our numerous Summits or in our numerous debates here. That conversation should be taken to cities and regions across Europe. Together with you, honourable members of this House, and with interested Member States we will host a series of ‘Future of Europe Debates’. Every voice, however small, even those barely audible, should be heard.

Citizens will tell us what they expect of the European Union. They will likely express their doubts, their questions, but also their hopes. Then it is for us to respond.

Reading the White Paper, and I invite you to read it, including its introduction and the pros and cons, will help us formulate good answers.

The Commission will contribute further in the coming months with a series of reflection papers and more precise proposals on some of the major opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of us.

We will present ideas on strengthening the social dimension of Europe – a debate which for me is essential and which I devote all my attention to. They are not many people in this room applauding when we speak of social Europe – shame on you. Because social Europe is a key issue for the decades to come. We will present our ideas on the deepening the Economic and Monetary Union and notably on the mechanisms which will improve the very necessary coordination of economic policies. We will present our views on harnessing globalisation. We will also present our reflections on the future of Europe’s defence and the future of European Union finances.

When it comes to defence, it is clear that European states should increase their defence budgets. But global stability is not only dependent on defence spending. International, global stability is also a function of the budget for development aid and the financing of the fight against climate change. Reducing the budget for development aid, questioning the commitments we made, and those of others, in matters of climate change – I am talking about the COP21 – will be to the detriment of stability on the whole. The European Union must and must continue to make this point. Stability is not just a matter for armies, it is also a matter for those who wish to allow those behind to catch up to those in front. Stability is defence spending, but not exclusively, it is also development aid and the fight against climate change.

This Parliament has been looking into all of these issues and we look forward to continuing working with you – and notably with the rapporteurs who have just seen their reports adopted.

I will come back in front of you in September for my State of the Union speech where I will develop these ideas further, not before but after having listened to others. I would then like the December European Council to offers some first guidance in a process that will ultimately culminate in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

In 2019 we have a date with European universal suffrage. This will be foremost about explanations. Explanations by political forces, between political families, which will each have to say how they see Europe in 2025 and beyond. And I would like the democratic process that started in 2014 to be extended. What I mean by this is that in 2019, European political parties should give their electorate a choice of heads of list – something that is necessary for European democracy to work and remain credible. We cannot renounce in 2019 what we achieved in 2014.

European citizens should be able to decide who the next Commission President is. Citizens should then make their choice, not government machinery. I will not run for a second mandate, as I have told you from the very beginning. I am neither tired nor out of ideas. Quite the contrary. And you will see this.


Mister President, Europe rose from the ashes of the Second World War to achieve the unachievable: a stay in the everlasting European tragedy of war and peace. Forty wars and military conflicts continue to rage around the globe but not one on European Union soil, despite us being specialists in the matter.

Seen from afar, from other continents, Europe is still seen as a beautiful thing. To have reunited a continent – to have put an end to the post-war decree that wanted to see Europe forever divided into blocs, to have created a haven of stability, prosperity and equality has earned us the applause of the whole world. Very often I have the impression that others admire us, when we dislike ourselves.

But this Europe, the one I describe, is not a given. Europe always was and remains today, a deliberate choice and one that must be defended against the tides and counter winds, against the attacks from those who do not want to understand history.

And the choices we make today, tomorrow, in two years from now, until 2025, have to be guided by a full understanding of their implications, not for us, but for the generations to come.

Because we will be judged not for what we inherited but for what we leave behind.

Our citizens often tell us we have to do things differently. Yes, we are ready. But not everything has to change. We should try to better understand the constraints and opportunities of a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity – something which should not substitute solidarity but should become the guiding principle of all our actions at European and national level.

Listening to those who defend the principle of subsidiarity, I often have the impression that since they do not want to talk about solidarity, they talk about subsidiarity. We need to understand the exact definition of subsidiarity.

We do not have, Mister President, the right to be patriotic against each other. The patriotism of the 21st century is two dimensional: a happy patriotism, accepted and acceptable looking inwards and a form of solidarity, which is the extension of patriotism to the outside. There are values that continue to bind us together: peace, democracy and solidarity, the rule of law – often threatened – as a foundation helping us to build a fairer society, the equal dignity of all human being, a free and independent press. Look at what is happening in Turkey, where they imprison German journalists without any justification, just because they said what had to be said. These values include too rejecting intolerance of those who are different, but not less noble than we are.

We cannot allow the people who defend these values – which I wish were universal – to be drowned out by loud nationalistic slogans which use patriotism as a weapon against others. Patriotism is not patriotism when it is used against others.

Europe must continue being the positive global force we are today. Our society, our European societies are built on openness. We should be more proud of that.

Other parts of the world prefer to close ranks and look inwards. Isolationism is making alarming progress across the globe. But such an attitude, such isolationism, is not in our nature or interest.

Democracy is a European product and we will defend it everywhere and with all our might.

So let us have the courage, patience and determination that long journeys and great feats require.

Europe continues to be a great feat and one that has a journey stretched out far behind and far ahead of it.

There are many roads we can now choose to take, some more pernicious, some more promising for the future than others.

Whatever we choose, Europe’s destiny at 27 is in our hands.

In our hands, yes. But it is first and foremost a matter of the heart. And the values that give real meaning to European states.

I am not reciting a European poem. I am describing a continental necessity.

Thank you for listening.