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Europe in evolution: Prospects and goals for the young

Hybrid format - Rome , 24/05/2022, Meeting for The Aspen Junior Fellows

The first hybrid format Aspen Junior Fellows meeting offered a reflection on the future of Europe that took its cue from current events but also sought to form an image of the medium-term situation both at home and around the world.

The idea itself of the future has been complicated by both the pandemic and the war now underway. Furthermore, over a very short span of time some extremely intense changes have taken place with the birth, triumph and decline of globalization. Although the new world could become less global, it may still hinge on international trade and, in that case, a new Bretton Woods of common of rules would need to be written.

The Conference on the Future of Europe acknowledged how the European Union as we know it is less than effective in some respect and in need of more complete skillsets in areas such as, for example, healthcare. At the same time, the aspiration to keep the skills that work best at home emerged very clearly. The problem lies in the need for all member governments to agree to a revision of the Treaties to be submitted to ratification by respective parliaments. It is realistic to expect that the larger members will spearhead the specification of the functions the Union is able to undertake, not least through enhanced cooperation procedures.

The debate concerns the rules on the European Council’s internal decision-making. If the extent to which a qualified majority vote could replace a unanimous vote were to be expanded, the Union could probably respond to citizen demands more rapidly. This amendment would be even more important in light of further Union enlargement, since otherwise the Union would be unable to make decisions and there would be an excessive number of high commissioners.

This could have some negative effects on Italy, given that it is neither the strongest European nation nor the most coalition-inclined. Moreover, the political debate should no longer be taking place on a national but rather on a European scale; in this regard, transnational electoral slates for the European Parliament would be more representative of the European electorate. On the other hand, however, European members do not appear sufficiently interested in parties that embrace more than one state.  

The Union should seek, first of all, to define a European outlook that does not group the interests of each member over a single common denominator. Europe’s interests include, for instance, the development of autonomous strategies in areas such as energy, defense, immigration, public debt and economic growth.

European defense will call for a project complementary to transatlantic defense, which will have to acknowledge that the “minor” crises European defenses are theoretically able to handle independently are increasingly fewer than those on a broader scale. With regard to the economy, the lack of fiscal harmonization remains an obstacle to completing the integration that began with the single currency.

The Union should then set itself the goal of increasing its resilience in a world that has become narrower and less trustful of institutions and where populism proliferates, value chains are being shortened and the myth of unlimited globalization is in decline. These trends were exacerbated by Covid-19, which lacked the concerted global response that characterized the reaction to the 2007 financial downturn.

Participants also discussed the European Union’s perspective on enlargement, which already differs significantly from one country member to another. International conflicts have increased and a more marked dualism has formed between the United States and China, to which Russia has added its own dose of pressure. The result is an anarchical world with less room for autonomous European initiatives independent of allies.

Finally, the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine represents another toxic cloud and divisions over this within the Union could deepen over time. The outcome of the war will be decisive: a negotiated solution would revive the discourse on order and security in Europe, whereas a protracted low-intensity conflict would render such a development impossible.