The European Union has formed a "reflection group" to ponder Europe's future. Its findings could be a bit surprising.
The European Union faces no shortage of challenges. Having 27 members makes unanimous decisions almost impossible, the Balkans are a perennial headache, China threatens to hollow out its economy and a resurgent Russia dominates the eastern skyline. At the end of the union's Dec. 13-14 summit, the group announced its decision to form a "reflection group" to ponder such problems and "to identify the key issues and developments which the union is likely to face and to analyze how these might be addressed" up to the years 2020-2030. The group has no explicit mandate, but the broadness of its tasking ensures that it will try to tackle a range of issues. These will include potential membership for Turkey, where the European Union should stop expanding, what sectors are plausible for further pooling of sovereignty, long-term economic relations with the United States, long-term energy relations with Russia, and how to relate to all of the states in Europe's general neighborhood. The decision to reflect most serves the interests of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who arrived at the summit in Portugal with a demand that the European Union halt all further integration efforts for a decade. The group will not report back to the Council of Ministers until June 2010, and that date will only launch the beginning of formal discussion about what the European Union should do next. It will likely be another decade before Europe can launch another treaty on integration. But taking into account the obvious criticisms of a group that is charged with nothing but reflecting for 30 months, some interesting outcomes are bound to bubble to the surface when one considers the group's makeup. The chair is former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, who spearheaded his country's efforts to join the European Union and NATO as Spain emerged from the Franco dictatorship. One vice chair is former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who spearheaded her country's efforts to join the European and NATO as Latvia emerged from the totalitarian rule of the Soviets. The other vice chair is the Finn Jorma Ollila, chairman of the telecommunications group Nokia, arguably Europe's most successful company in the past generation. Collectively, the three represent the idea that a strong alliance with the United States is in Europe's best interests, that Europe should not shy from confrontation with Russia, that free market economics will energize European growth, and that EU expansion — even to seemingly poor regions — is ultimately a sound policy. In a Europe where anti-Americanism is popular, leaders are nervous about upsetting Moscow, strikes and subsidies are applauded, and the idea of allowing Turkish membership is controversial, these are some rather radical ideas. June 2010 is shaping up to be a lively month for what is normally the quiet European summer.