Discussion on future of Europe
Ireland has more babies per head than almost anyone else at 1.92 per woman – just behind the French at 1.96. The EU average is 1.58 with Portugal in bottom place at 1.31 (2015 figures).
As we celebrate 60 years of European unity, it is important not only to look back on what has been achieved, but also look forward to where the EU should go from here.
To begin this debate, the European Commission has put forward a discussion paper — the White Paper on the Future of Europe — which looks at the big challenges and opportunities for Europe in the coming decade and suggests five possible scenarios for developing the EU post- Brexit. ( see panel below). The hope is the white paper will be a basis for a broad discussion among political leaders, citizens and any other interested groups.
The need for this discussion today is clear, and not only because of the UK’s decision to leave.
New technologies bring ever greater possibilities for European citizens, but raise new questions for governments — how should we regulate self- driving cars travelling between EU countries, for example? Meanwhile, automation is already disrupting traditional labour markets. On top of this, though the economy is recovering, long- term and especially youth unemployment rates in Europe make it clear this recovery is not yet felt evenly.
The growing threat of climate change cannot be dealt with by any country acting alone, nor do its effects stop at national borders. The same is true of instability and war to the south and east of the EU and the related migratory pressures.
At the same time, the EU must face long-term trends in terms of its relative decline among world powers — emerging nations will push EU countries from the top ranks of global economies, and by 2060 no EU country alone will have more than 1% of global population.
Our population is also ageing fast — by 2030, the median age in Europe will be 45, much higher than any other continent.
Finally, in light of rekindled nationalist rhetoric, the EU needs to think about how to deliver on the expectations of citizens, rebuild trust, and find agreement between member states.
The five options included in the white paper represent possible ways for Europe to respond to these challenges.
They range from re- centring the EU on just the single market, to options for some or all countries to move forward together on various issues. For its part, the commission has not rec- ommended one option above the others — the ball is very much in the court of national leaders and European citizens.
The debate on these options may seem distant, but we should take it seriously: the ‘ abstract’ choice between a single market- focused EU and our current path might make the EU easier to understand, but also means your rights to medical care abroad or to carrying your pension with you to another country are no longer guaranteed, and the EU rules covering air quality across borders disappear.
Meanwhile, advancing common social protections among eurozone countries could mean Irish citizens working in another eurozone country have more certainty in their rights, but rules might differ in complex ways in other EU states.
On the other hand, if all 27 countries were to agree to take big steps forward together, common rules and enforcement could remove that problem with taking your self- driving car on a trip across Europe. But any such moves might be viewed negatively by those who feel the EU is too distant.
There are plenty of ways to have your say. The commission is gathering citizens’ views online at: www.ec.europa.eu/commission/give-your-comments
It is also organising events in Ireland for citizens to discuss these and other European issues — the next event is in Dublin on May 22, with another in Kilkenny on June 1. You can also contact the commission’s representation in Ireland on the details below or your local elected representatives.
Democracy at work: The ‘Future of Europe’ white paper invites European citizens to indicate which of five scenarios they would see as the best strategic direction for the EU to work towards.