Krzysztof BledowskiCouncil Director and Senior Economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation

It depends on which reforms.

The EU thrives on smaller legislative proposals. In 2014, the Commission adopted the “2014 – 2019 Strategic Agenda,” and by last week it claimed there were “348 cases [legislative proposals] the Union was able to agree on moving Europe forward” during the period. By contrast, the EU does poorly with heftier reforms. The same agenda also called for completing the internal market and the digital single market by 2015 and clinching TTIP, the free-trade agreement with the United States, by the same year. Other major reforms-in-waiting do not have deadlines because their achievement seems out of reach.

The EU might want to swap the least common denominator among members to agree big reforms on how to manage crises. What minimum means would stop a financial crisis from breaking up the eurozone? How does the EU respond to a crippling cyberattack on just one member? What is the EU’s response to a possible outbreak of hostilities, or war, in the Balkans? What strategic cost is the EU willing to bear if it walks away, again, from negotiating a trade deal with the United States?

Think about it: the European Union has accumulated riches. Losing them has an opportunity cost.

Robert CooperVisiting Senior Fellow at LSE IDEAS

“Reform, reform! Aren’t things bad enough already?”

Forget grand reform. Let’s think renewal: take the opportunity of fresh faces to look again at what we’re doing. Do more of what works, and try something different where it doesn’t. Even with the good bits there’s always room for improvement. Build it into the system—“kaizen,” as it’s called in Japanese. All workers have duty to make proposals.

Offer a series of annual prizes for ways to eliminate waste, especially waste of time. (Let them propose anonymously if they like, the Ombudsman’s office can judge).

One particular suggestion: we need to put new life into the enlargement process, but without lowering standards—let’s invite ideas from anybody who can offer them.

Martin EhlChief International Editor at Hospodářské Noviny

No. With the expectation that populists and nationalists will gain a lot in the upcoming European elections, EU reform is needed more than ever. Because the Union will either be reformed by a pro-European camp, in the broadest sense of that word, or it will be reformed by the so-called Euroskeptic camp, represented by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and French politician Marine Le Pen. Their aim now is not to destroy the Union, but to shape it to their interests that deviate so far from the original EU values of solidarity and respect for consensus-making policies.

We can see that in Central Europe, where it’s false to call Hungarian or Polish governing parties Euroskeptic. In fact, they are very pro-EU—but according to their own visions of a Europe made up of strong nation states. There is a complete lack of energy and ideas from the values-based pro-European camp to challenge and fight that competing vision, which, to a great extent, is because of the technocratic nature of the European project. The simplest reform should be to change EU communication from regulatory technocratic newspeak to political dialogue. The EU needs to treat Europeans not as clients but as citizens. If the Union gives up the effort to reform itself, then it is giving up its future as a values-based project.

Julian RappoldResearch Fellow at the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations

Yes, for the foreseeable future. The Sibiu Summit closes the precious window of opportunity for EU reform that had opened with the election of French President Emmanuel Macron. The party-political reshuffling after the European elections will impair the inter-institutional functioning of the EU leaving the bloc even more fragmented.

Two tasks will absorb most political capacity to the detriment of a forward-looking reform agenda: first, Union leaders face a complex EU leadership puzzle with five top jobs at the helm of the institutions to be filled. Finding an agreement that takes into account party-political, geographic, age, and gender criteria may well take until the end of 2019. Second, the lengthy and tedious negotiations on the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021 to 2027 will become even more complicated and may only be concluded under the German EU Presidency in the second half of 2020.

Given the conflicting environment and that these two major tasks are to be tackled, the most viable course for action for EU leaders is to aim for pragmatism rather than large-scale ambitions. Where stalemate cannot be overcome, EU member states should explore flexible forms of cooperation in specific policy fields to move beyond the smallest common denominator.

Zsuzsanna SzelényiERSTE Stiftung Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

European politicians need to think differently about Europe. In spite of the fact that the EU has achieved a lot over the years, it could not change its way of thinking. Instead of the usual muddling through the most pressing political problems, it should have been able to carry out substantial reform, for example on rule of law protection and the establishment of a common European interest in foreign policy. The last five years have made it clear that these flaws have been at the forefront in threatening the integrity of the Union.

After the European Parliament elections, the EU will be involved in deep power struggles. The chances to concentrate on future collective challenges will be less likely. As it is, the mainstream parties in Europe are in a crisis of decline that is pushing them into a survival-operation mood and mode. Focusing on the protection of their power has made them unfit to think more visionary—and let’s not mention the word “strategic.” In order for the European Union to act more efficiently, there is a need for more courageous politicians who see their future careers in a decent Europe based on integrity and based on a broader political alliance! 

Tomáš ValášekDirector of Carnegie Europe

There will be future changes, even if Sibiu is turning out to be a bit of a dud. The EU reforms when circumstances leave the member states no other option.
The trouble with this approach is that waiting for a crisis to launch a reform is ill-suited for the creeping, gradual urgencies such as climate change. Like the proverbial frog that failed to jump out of boiling water, we seem inclined to leave things too late. The combination of demographic change and robotization of the workplace is another such low-burning crisis. At some point, on present trends, those two developments seem destined to break our tax systems and pensions schemes. But the matter is not imminent, and resolution always deferred.

Some may argue that we cross that bridge when we get to it. Wrong, actually. When you let crises such as climate change simmer (pun intended) you are left choosing from among much poorer options than would have been the case had it been addressed early on. Same applies to demographic change, which may drive up national debt to unsustainable levels before it is taken seriously. The time to act is now.

Ivan VejvodaPermanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

EU treaty reform has certainly not been on the cards for a long time, but non-treaty reforms have been discussed, advocated, and pursued, albeit not with the desired or necessary vigor.

The EU has been buffeted by strong external and internal headwinds. It has been slow, all too slow in responding to the tectonic shifts that have been occurring and are ongoing in the geopolitical and geoeconomic global and European environment.

The 2016 EU Global Strategy clearly spells out all the key problems of the world and the EU’s possible much stronger and positively assertive place in it, based on its core democratic and rights-based values. But this would need a much stronger joint foreign and security policy based on qualified majority voting.
It is on the internal front that most, if not all EU member states and their governments are the cause of snail-paced EU reform. If the Union is to meaningfully pursue its destiny in the world as a beacon of a democratic and rule of law based bloc, it must pull itself up by its bootstraps.

And finally, the eternal debate on deepening and widening goes on with President Macron, among others, saying there shall be no enlargement until the EU gets its house in order. But these have always been parallel tracks. And as we celebrate fifteen years of the big bang widening of the EU, it is essential for the Union’s credibility to “keep-the-door-[fully]-open.”

Pierre VimontSenior Fellow at Carnegie Europe

The Sibiu Summit will not deliver much. Initially intended to sketch out a strategy for the future of Europe with the Brexit process over, this meeting looks now somewhat out of sync. Too close to the European elections, with Britain still on board (but not present at the meeting), and no real substantial agenda, this Summit can only conclude with a very bland statement.

Does it mean that reform is definitely out? Not really. EU leaders are aware of the increasing frustration expressed by voters as the current electoral campaign unfolds. Turnout expectations remain alarmingly low and discontent toward the Union can be heard everywhere. So the urge for reform is largely assessed. Yet Sibiu cannot settle the issue. What is missing for all to see is a strategy with a detailed road map and a revised process to transform all too often ambitious concepts into concrete action. It will require strong leadership of the Union institutions, solid political will among leaders at home, and probably a more flexible union should divisions and lack of solidarity still prevail.

Sibiu comes too early. But it could be a useful reminder for Europe that the indispensable decisions cannot possibly be delayed for too long.          

Richard YoungsSenior Fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at Carnegie Europe

The prospects are reasonable for reforms to select EU policies—even if it is not as much as some member states would like. Moderate eurozone reform, defense procurement, digital misinformation, and border control are all areas where coordination has inched forward in the last year. In contrast, reform to the core structure of EU integration has stalled. EU reform is still framed in terms of improvements to policies not the polity.

For many years most member states have agreed on the general principle of flexible integration, but no single model of this notion commands their consensual support.

The constant promises to reconnect the EU to its citizens also have a longstanding tendency to remain unfulfilled. The European Citizens Consultations were useful, but have not added meaningfully to the EU’s democratic legitimacy. Union leaders may commit to another such exercise, but would need to be far bolder if democracy is to sit at the heart of the EU reform agenda.

As leaders discuss their five year strategic agenda in Sibiu, they will be minded to pledge EU reform once again, yet also hedge their positions in anticipation of the European Parliament elections later this month. Ironically, they tend to agree that the status quo in EU integration is unsustainable, yet because they differ on how to move forward, it is this that endures.