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Policy brief: the Future of Europe – busting myths

By Claire Roumet on 7 September 2017

“The Future of Europe” is the title of a White Paper published by the Commission last March with 5 scenarios for the EU27 by 2025. Busy as we were analysing the 1,000 pages of the Energy legislative package, we did not take a really close look at the various options put on the table for discussion.

Revitalising the European Union is not like reheating leftovers

Summer being the ideal time for catching up on “essential reading”, I threw myself into it. But summer is also a time for disconnecting from Eurocrat conversations in the corridors of Brussels; and leaving behind the political bubble to read a text with so little connection to reality made the shock even harder to take!

To begin with, there is the choice of the starting point. Despite the recent elections, the Brexit shockwave and constitutional reforms which, in some countries, are directly threatening the rule of law, the Commission sees no reason to question existing policies and to put forward its thinking for a genuinely renewed European project. Serving up the same old dish will not revitalise the European Union, and microwaving it every 5 years not only makes it less tasty but also less nutritious.

This summer in a village in central France, I was able to see for myself many local initiatives contributing to changing energy systems. Like this farming couple who, aware that their pensions will not be enough to live on, have decided to invest in solar energy production to have a supplementary income in ten years’ time; or this small businessman who injects the gas produced by his biogas plant directly into the neighbouring city’s district heating network…

Reconnecting reality with the European agenda

This is what should be at the heart of decentralised debates across Europe that can breathe new life into the European project; not simply cutting or expanding current policies but coming up with a brand new agenda based on each territory’s potential. In the last 30 years, successive waves of disruptive technologies have radically changed the economy. What we need is more cooperation between businesses to coordinate their production locally rather than new technological standards.

As a reminder, the prime aim of the European Union is, as set out in Article 2 of the Treaties: “The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples”. The world has changed in 30 years, but what of the European political strategies pursuing this aim? The Lisbon strategy (2000) proposed a sustainable European integration agenda. Agenda 2020 (2009) focused policies on the “growth and job” mantra with specific climate objectives that spurred change, at least for the energy transition. Since 2014, the Juncker Commission has been handling crises without setting a new horizon and the 5 proposed scenarios do not change the existing framework.

In a world where even chicken legs are globalised, the European internal market can protect us from products we do not want, but does that make it a project?

Solutions for relocalizing development and decarbonating it exist

All areas can carry through their ecological and energy transition but if we want this movement go beyond new neighbourhoods and wealthy conurbations, we need a wide-ranging integrating project. “Sustainable Europe for its citizens” is the 6th scenario proposed by a vast coalition of civil society representatives and a good starting point for a genuine debate on the Future of Europe.

But we must also overcome “psychological” barriers that block us and prevent us from thinking outside the box:

Received idea No.1: “The European Union only has added value for large transnational projects”
….. future infrastructure will look more like a series of connected nodes (cities) than large gas pipelines; all investment policies have to be reviewed

Received idea No.2: “The European Union must comply with the principle of subsidiarity and must only work with Member States”
But what does a “national energy mix” mean when each region can decide on its horizon and strategy for becoming 100% renewable? If cities have a role to play in the energy policy debates and decisions, it is not against the States but because the energy system of the future will be decentralised; like perhaps food production and industry….

Received idea No.3: “the European Union must be a world technological leader to guarantee jobs”
…any innovation is almost instantaneously global, but what will never be is organising efficient sectors close to resources and potential. The European Union is certainly a world leader in complicated governance and it is a strength, not a burden to have concluded so many successful multi-party negotiations and invented various management methods for so many political objectives. Diversity and complexity will be our competitive edge in the world of tomorrow!

Received idea No.4:
….the rest of this list, I hope we will compile together very soon, since European cities must actively contribute to shaping the Future of Europe!
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