European integration was always a project created by the people, for the people. It was a movement carried by a generation who came together to proclaim: “Never again!”
With the signing of the treaty of Rome, on 25 March 1957, the EU’s first six members consigned the ghost of Europe’s past to the history books, leaving them as a cautionary tale for future generations never to repeat.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of that fateful date, we also mark the birth of the European project anew. With a changing and uncertain world around us, the time has come to reaffirm our commitment to a united future in which all citizens and all member states are treated equally. A new Europe of 27 must act resolutely to meet the expectations of its citizens, and show them both hope and determination.
For this we must seek new answers to the question: where do we go from here? Those answers are not mine alone, nor the European commission’s, to give. Europe cannot be instructed through executive orders or dictated in splendid isolation. We must ensure the democratic participation of the people.
For too long there has been a gap between what people expect and what Europe is able to deliver. We should not pretend Europe can solve all problems. “Brussels” should not have been constantly blamed in British political discourse for things the EU is not responsible for: we now know the result of such rhetoric. For example, the EU has few powers in three of the four most controversial areas of policy in UK elections: healthcare, education and welfare.
On the fourth – immigration – free movement is integral to the EU’s single market, which the UK has always strongly supported, and which is a right with clear limits. Furthermore, most immigration to Britain comes from outside the EU, where policy is made by the UK alone. It is also the UK that decides on the structural economic issues that have led to high demand from British employers for migrant labour.
Nor can individual nation states achieve everything alone. Pollution, terrorism and organised crime – just three examples – do not stop at national borders, so without collective policymaking there can be no effective policy. We need firm action within the EU, rooted where necessary in EU law. We also need close cooperation with external partners on trade, defence, security, climate change, migration and more. That includes partnership with the UK once we have negotiated the terms of its departure. Deep transatlantic cooperation too is essential to making the world more prosperous, cleaner and safer. I believe this is understood in Washington.
Individual nation states cannot achieve everything alone. Pollution, terrorism and organised crime don’t stop at borders
We need an honest debate about what we want from our union. We could carry on as we are doing today. Not resting on our laurels, but focusing all our energy on delivering on the big issues, on our positive agenda of completing the internal market, the digital single market, and on creating an energy union, capital markets union and a defence union.
We could also go the other way, by choosing an EU27 focusing only on the single market. But Europe is far more than a market of goods and money. To say otherwise is to betray the values we fought for, on battlefields and soapboxes over centuries.
As a third scenario, we could allow some member states to forge ahead in areas already framed by the treaties, leaving the door open for others to follow when they’re ready – as groups of countries are already doing today, with an EU patent court, or a European public prosecutor.
Another variant could be for the EU27 to do a lot more, all together, in a small number of areas where our actions have added value and in which citizens expect us to act. This would effectively mean “doing less” in areas where member states cannot agree or are better placed to act alone.
Finally, member states could also go full throttle and decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board.
These five scenarios are all feasible. In reality, Europe’s future is most likely to be etched in a sixth scenario, designed by its people. From now until the 2019 European parliament elections, I want every voice to be heard. Our future has to be designed and owned by us all. Not by institutions or politicians, but by the people they represent. When it comes to the EU, it has always been far too easy for presidents and prime ministers to say what they do not want. Now they should organise and take part in debates that reach every corner of Europe, every part of society, to decide on what they do want.
Whatever road we end up following, the future is ours for the making.
For 60 years Europe achieved the seemingly unachievable: a stay in the everlasting European tragedy of war and peace. But this Europe is not a given. Europe always was and remains a choice. And the choices we make today, tomorrow, in two years from now, have to be guided by a full understanding of their implications, for the generations to come. Because we will be judged not for what we inherited, but for what we leave behind.
Jean-Claude Juncker is president of the European commission.