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EU's Juncker unveils plans for 'new chapter' after Brexit
[BRUSSELS] European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker revealed Wednesday his plans to save the EU, warning the troubled bloc must now write a "new chapter" after Britain's expected exit in 2019.
The former Luxembourg premier laid out five "pathways to unity" for European Union leaders to consider at a special summit in Rome on March 25 to mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc's founding treaty.
They range from reducing the EU to just a single market, to creating a "multi-speed" Europe in which like-minded countries can push on with plans even when others disagree.
Since the shock Brexit vote last June, the other 27 EU states have been soul-searching about how to deal with challenges including rising populism, the election of Donald Trump and an increasingly assertive Russia.
"Rome must also be the start of a new chapter," former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker says in the "White Paper on the Future of Europe", which is 32 pages long including appendixes.
"A united Europe at 27 needs to shape its own destiny and carve out a vision for its own future," said Mr Juncker, who unveiled the plans to the European Parliament in Brussels.
Mr Juncker said he hoped EU leaders could draw their first conclusions based on his suggestions by the end of the year, and decide on a course of action by European Parliament elections in June 2019.
The plans have already met resistance from poorer, newer Eastern European states that fear they could be frozen out by the traditional "big guns" of France and Germany, particularly on issues of immigration.
There has also been grumbling about the timing of Mr Juncker's plans shortly before crucial elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.
One of Mr Juncker's option will be to allow EU countries to integrate at different speeds, with some nations choosing to cooperate more closely on areas such as the euro currency and defence even as others opt out.
Another is to concentrate on finalising the EU's single market of 500 million people, in a bid to end the economic crises that have beset the euro currency.
Further scenarios would be to defy the eurosceptics and follow the dream of a fully federalised Europe, or to follow the American model and focusing on a reduced agenda and leaving lesser matters to member states.
Finally he suggests keeping the status quo, with EU countries trying to stay more unified, but with the downside that it would mean more bitter arguments on issues like migration.
"We see Juncker's white paper as being the birth certificate of the EU at 27," an EU source said on condition of anonymity.
"We want Rome to be a birthday celebration but also to start a very organised debate on a number of specific options that we think bring unity and cooperation."
In Rome, the 27 EU leaders are set to issue their own declaration on the future of the bloc, focusing on the next 10 years.
Leaders will discuss Juncker's blueprint in Rome but will not go into depth as "we can't create divisions" at this stage, another European source told AFP.
The 27 EU leaders are eyeing a further summit in Brussels on April 6 after British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggers the two-year divorce process, EU sources said.
Poland has led Eastern European states in expressing concerns about a two-tier EU, fearing they could be frozen out by core Western states, especially on issues like migration where the east has taken a more hardline stance.
Others will be suspicious of Mr Juncker's white paper, given his history as a key proponent of further integration and a key figure in the establishment of the euro before he took over as head of the EU's executive branch in 2014.
"It is a political paper. Juncker wants to give input at an early stage before the hot phase starts in order to have a say in the discussion," Janis Emmanouilidis, of the European Policy Centre told AFP.
"Before November or December not much can be decided because of the elections in France and Germany."