Over the past twenty-five years, European leaders have tried dissimilar ways to improve the distribution of wealth and generate growth within the EU; however, European economic-focused approaches have largely been a failure since 2000. Each strategy has underperformed one after another because one main question went unanswered: ‘How could a pro-growth reform program be made deliverable by 2020, and appeal to electorates and decision makers alike at the national and European level?’

With respect to the ambitious Lisbon Agenda, by 2010, most of its objectives were still not completed. Nowadays concerning Europe 2020, there is a tacit acknowledgment that this ten-year strategy will also remain unaccomplished. The experts are divided about the reasons for these failures; but there are main issues that stand out including poorly defined objectives, communication inconsistencies, and feckless political leadership.

European countries are diverse and show entrenched differences, for example, economic, political, cultural, ecological, as well as conflicting culture dimensions. Hence, a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ is severely challenged, even when trying to fulfil local needs by translating a pro-growth agenda (Europe 2020) into country-specific recommendations (National Reform Programme).

From an organisational perspective, the EU is an imperfect political and administrative body. The EU is plagued by slowdowns in meeting expected targets, disconnections in key definite package deals from pro-growth reforms across Member States, serious disagreements between and among governments, lengthy decision-making processes, and difficulties in obtaining and redistributing resources across the EU.

Finally, most of the decision-makers have identified the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’ of the next development plan; nonetheless, the “How” remains unsolved. Therefore, unless this conundrum is unravelled, any action plan is merely aspirational.

The thematic issues and the challenges are well identified but remain unaddressed. According to Dewey’s viewpoint, we are halfway there; but that only demonstrates the necessity to move quickly to promote the idea of a democratic and proficient European Union to take root within the EU and beyond.

From Expected to Interpreted Behaviour: The EU Lost Its Way

Elaborating a process for comprehensively depicting the EU institutions can be the right approach to emphasise that the EU has deviated from its initial plans. What is needed is a clear strategic organisational diagnosis. The EU’s size, its management style, its organisational structure, its boundaries, its environment, and its strategy present management hurdles. All of these inquiry tasks may assist in clarifying the universal properties and means of the EU. We need to recalibrate the trajectory of the EU. The aim is then to harmonise the union in a manner that reflects the various Member States’ perception of rightful policies.

How can the EU be reformed with the smallest changes in the existing Acquis?

Broadly, treaties allocate the bargaining of power to established institutions. This division of power constrains the coordination among them. The Lisbon Treaty can be modified through many instruments. The simplified revision procedure, the ordinary revision procedure, and the passerelle clause allow many changes with varying degrees of granularity. At the same time small-scale institutional matters as well as broad EU competences can be revised through existing procedures and without treaty amendments.

The EU budget has too many objectives with not enough means to cover current policy ambitions. The budget must be more appropriately reallocated to the assigned tasks to ease the path for the EU to meet its targets and achieve critical common policies. Inasmuch, the Commission has responsibility for preparing the budget, and if no consensus is achieved, mechanisms need to be in place to adjust the budget.

On the Security and Defence side, the French National Assembly buried the idea of the European Defence Community (EDC) in 1954. Nowadays, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU are sharing the remaining responsibilities; however, their capacities and competences are far from what was expected at first. This results in reduced spending, less military control, and fewer legal abilities. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), even with an appropriate budget, cannot solve the problem because of the limitation of its present-day scope of action. Yet, now as a case in point, look to the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG) agency that is going to replace Frontex. This adjustment is made within the current ‘EU constitutional framework’.

The governance ‘paradox’, where the EU institutions have stopped to manage their own authority and jurisdiction appropriately, comes from a severe misunderstanding of European integration and its political nature. Many of those path-dependency challenges are active processes and the EU’s political leaders must not ultimately manage them the way Member States do.

There is a wide field for the reform of existing EU expertise. But, for instance exclusively changing treaties or implementing incremental alterations cannot solve EU integration challenges. It requires changing the way we look at policy, strategy and technical details. ‘It seems that what prevents the EU from taking bolder action in tackling the economic crisis is not the lack of a legal basis in the existing treaties but a lack of political will.’

The recent choices are based on misjudgements of the role of the EU. Consequently, the interpreted behaviour is a result of the deviation from the expected one, producing an external representation of the EU that is not appreciated by citizens and most of the Member States. Following these assessments, prospective changes based on EU’s secondary law instruments can be feasible. But, contrary to what seems the current belief, addressing those issues is far more complex than merely reconsidering our existing treaties and modernising our institutions.

How to emphasise political debates and democratic choices within EU institutions?

The European Council has swamped the Commission. Even if the European Council states the political agenda for the Commission, the role of the President of the Commission is to give statutory direction to the Commission and the EU. Having this legitimate authority is a source of power and so a chance to gather political leaders for more high-level and countrywide debates.

Elsewhere, the Open Method of Coordination has been a failure because it is seen as pressure from EU and other Member States to change national policies that have a very strong economic and emotional impact, and that touch the essence of the social contract of every country. Since the Lisbon Agenda and National Reform Programme, the use of inter-governmental methods was a sign of failure of the EU institutions to reform themselves and to reform European policies.

However, it has to be borne in mind that certain Member States are privileged over others resulting in disequilibrium in the household decision-making. This tends to influence the use of governance to pursue vested interests and short-term goals. As a result, long-term thinking is cloudy and this automatically results in extra bias in the decision-making process of the overall strategic behaviour. Chiefly, any pressure from national entities limiting long-term thinking along with the obsessions with immediate outcomes derives from decision-makers who focus on their re-election(s). ‘Any negotiation attempting to bring two sides together, reconcile differing interests or resolve disputes accept that there has to be a stage of dialogue, understandings and misunderstandings which must be protected from third party observation and interjection so as to avoid the pressure from outside interests on the issue which might detrimentally influence the debate. Diplomacy activity is essentially a negotiation activity.’

The Commission should be a didactic source of proposals by carefully certifying the benefits of the proposed blueprint. Potential drivers of this reformulation include focusing on more regulation in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure (COD) (Article 294 TFEU) and enabling faster and smarter adoption by the Council and Parliament.

Active trust implies generative politics, but only one inaccurate policy or lack of initiative of the President of the Commission and so from Parliament and the Council will be seen as a failure in aligning the resources needed for ‘long-term potentiation’, resulting obviously in a ‘long-term depression’.

Subsequently, any perception of imperfection will result in a lack of consistency, leading inexorably towards a democratic crisis. One unclear initiative without meaning will only result as an obstacle to more transparency and effectiveness. In that case, debates that continue to be held primarily behind closed doors must be held openly. This measure will emphasise that the reforms are democratically taken and that the legislative process is a result of an intensive debate and a common effort to tackle definite and complex issues. The President of the Commission should insist that institutional inertia might sometimes be due to Parliament and/or Member States who disagree with the political agenda because of the dread that decision will not come through with constituents, and therefore, leaders settle on inaction. Open dialogue and negotiation will sanitise the debate.

Legislation needs to be brought out of the back room. Simultaneously, improve the organisational structural design of the EU institutions by empowering leadership with authority. Realigning the EU institutions with a rightful leadership and legislative processes will drive achievement of strategic objectives. Reforms must be embedded in a ‘communicative knowledge management agenda’ to intensify the ability to see the EU as accountable, transparent, responsive and inclusive on any action step. The EU needs straightforward institutions that can be seen as a reliable union and not as another obscure bureaucratic and authoritarian administration. This general lack of innovative regulatory initiatives as well as structural reforms must be solved by enhancing both the decision-making and learning process.

From Order to Reproduction: Meaningful Principles to Guide EU Policies

The rationality of the Europe 2020 strategy does move from strategic thinking to strategic management. It enhances each stakeholder and fulfils the need of a multi-level policy implementation. This strategy is adaptive, such as supervising the scale of executions with specific and measurable indicators. The suitable goals and fitting values are conveyed and shared among the national entities. In spite of that, a rightful and well-designed strategy can be hard to implement at each level of the social system. Do not take for granted the local commitment needed to ensure the success of this kind of strategy. Policy must not be only created by a rationalistic process of Human Needs, but also through a pragmatic method driven by Human Ideals. The formulation of a strategy must reflect the integrative and contingent nature of our pluralistic society. Even a well-advised master plan will be short-lived if it does not encompass a framework that supports its sustainability.

How a Techno-Socio-Economic system, as the EU, may face with high levels of complexity?

By fair means or foul, the EU can be seen as a Complex System that involves 27 Member States arranged in structures that can exist on many scales. These actors interact at a national level and every actor is connected to the others within the EU, even indirectly. The overall structure goes through a dynamic process of changes that can be non-linear. Somehow, the term complexity illustrates the profusion of relationships, and the multiplicity of interactions between these actors. In this class of system, features may emerge and cannot be predicted from the current description of the structure. Thus, complex situations must be explored in terms of their overall patterns of behaviour.

The EU has lost the capacity to adapt. In this context, this quality of being adaptive refers to the characteristics of self-organisation through emergent patterns and co-evolution. Therefore, to regain this adaptive behaviour, the European policy may be set as a context for national economic reforms by establishing plain and indicative rules.

The notion of emergence addresses the possible evolution of organisations towards effective change. In particular, it relates to self-organising systems. It depicts an organisation as a system-as-a-whole behaviour pattern beyond the mere sum of the influence of each agent acting within the system. By definition, those emergent patterns are basically unpredictable. Nonetheless, the EU can relentlessly pursue to shape an environment for more methodical and systematic emergence.

How to generate a benchmark suite at the EU-level to support a pro-growth agenda?

We may review the scheme to provide EU policies to construct the EU through wholesome rules. These rules may follow an identification process of initial conditions such as the efficiency of the current reform and the areas of priorities for development. These rules should have as a requirement a focus on key opportunities such as a sound framework to involve private sector funding and non-financial incentives.

Through this policy framework, the EU-wide scenarios must be obvious to ensure its capacities to change and regulate the landscape of its environment. The EU has to feature uniform integration where the Member States will focus on flexible, sub-integration. But, settling approximate and ambiguous rules will only emphasise its inability to swiftly recognise and encourage social relations and interactions among its actors. Therefore, this blueprint must state the problem that determines whether this is part of the EU’s core feasibility and if solving it will not disseminate a feeling of alienation from the EU. In addition to that, this scheme must limit the fear of local peer pressure not to reiterate the mistake of taking domestic commitment as given.

The EU should avoid inter- and intra-governmental regulations and pay particular attention at the EU-level where the Member States should focus on the adaptive part. The EU should act either at a regional or local level, if and only if, the objectives of the suggested actions cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States. The EU institutions must apply the principle of subsidiarity through planned legislative initiatives producing strengthening interconnections and agreements among Member States. Interrelationships and partnerships need to aim towards more effective and efficient policies.

Depending on the context, the EU has the capabilities of defining and implementing meaningful rules. In routinised situations, blueprints are necessary and must be conveyed through simple rules, such as ushering Regulation exclusively to structure the environment.

Nonetheless, in the face of greater uncertainty and definite issues, the EU must continue to express resolute recommendations and opinions. EU institutions have to persuade electorates and decision makers to duplicate these focused initiatives by helping them to critically assess the opportunities and barriers for local pro-growth economic reforms not as autocratic leadership but as some wise advice. In many instances, the approach used is more significant than the idea behind it. EU leaders must predicate the local economic reform efforts on a volunteer engagement from Member States guided by a global regulation framework enhancing unitary integration.

How to balance the trade-off between governing and regulating?

The EU must manage itself first to effectively manage others to ensure more stability. Otherwise, any EU initiative will be seen as superseding and confiscating the Member States’ free will. The EU’s ideal must be revamped under common solid foundations for positive collective behaviour renewing with its ability to leverage the power of cooperation, and then increasing the effectiveness of the adaptation process. ‘The morality of breeding and the morality of taming, in the means which they adopt in order to prevail, are quite worthy of each other: we may lay down as a leading principle that in order to create morality a man must have the absolute will to immorality.’ By some means, the appreciation of the EU as a ‘welfare state’ can be achieved through the concentration of governance efforts at the EU-level. To do so, concurrent control is not enough; the EU must forge corrective and prospective interventions that will assist in reproducing orderly conditions for its environment to both explore and exploit good opportunities, as they authorise to pursue the dynamic of local changes by each actor within the EU.

From Self-organisation towards Self-cohesion: The Intentional Dynamic of Collective Actions

This diversity of prospects present at each level of the distribution of wealth and subsidiary behaviour can be steered. We need Member States which are innovative, creative, audacious, and that can easily stand for their own cultural dimensions without being afraid of doing so (within the EU, ideally). Those emerging patterns might hold a rich variety of economic potentials and ‘agree to disagree’ is the first step to unlock this valuable resource. It is preeminent that National Governments feel confident to attend sub-goals and turn away from their initial guided agenda if contingent situations arise. But, naturally without jeopardising the whole consistency of the EU contributing to maintain a well-integrated structure. Nonetheless, each Member State is incapable of looking beyond its own frontier because of tensions and local pressures that are destructive and time-consuming for national representatives and that misguide in the long run the decision makers.

How to induce Member States to behave in a particular way, especially when this involves making trade-offs in economics?

The entire function of our cognitive process is to give birth to thoughts that will typically generate beliefs becoming our means to produce our personal schemata and then determining what kind of ‘actions’ are pragmatic to infer. In other words, our internal and external environments influence our interpretation of a given situation.

For that reason, any considered initiative to influence behaviour may manifest more than only taking a moral position and encouraging others to act similarly.

The behaviour of a Member State can be apprehended after deep examination of how its structures and functions behave through the exertion of a certain authority generating order, and then look at the reproduction of explicit and recursive schemes. But the exercise of this authority should not result in Member States being prevented from exercising theirs. Mainly, their own judgement and flexibility in assessing whether it is propitiously advisable to follow EU’s guidelines depends on the regulation it is following. In that case, we can assume that its behaviour can be influenced by the key political leaders’ intentions. EU leaders must shepherd the coordination of diverse Member States’ policies to disseminate a belief. There is a need to encourage the politics of ‘how we govern all together’, and also to enable all Member States to actively be a source of proposals.

The benchmark suite may start by reviewing the power that gathers Member States into a union, and insisting of diffusing access to relevant information (regulatory and legal possibilities) as a priority to enhance collective actions and to deliver systemic changes. These uniform practices may indicate the rightful way on key matters such as government spending, investment programs, and economic development.

Looking at the EU as a union will certainly lead to more differentiation and specialisation within the EU. Consequently, downsides may occur as collateral out-turns of too many polarities, yet the entire meaning of this benchmark suite is to counterbalance those side-effects by establishing a framework and creating options that ensure the maintenance of the harmony of the whole European Union.

As befits methodical emergence of such systems, a compelling reform, that will embrace this medley to unlock economic dynamism, is compelled to steer the Member States’ relationships, regulate the information flow, clarify the distribution of power, hold a stance of continuous openness, and finally to shape the path to prosperity by guiding the adaptive behaviour.

How to deepen and strengthen European integration?

In a corporate structure people are intended to share values even if they seek different pay-offs. In a social system, as the EU, there are diverse moral principles across Member States and citizens. So, we may rather focus on how to bring together the pluralism of these societies than to establish a connection between the action steps and the expected outcome. I have deciphered how we get our beliefs and I claim that we are able to find some stimulus through the configuration of our socio-ecological system to influence them.

The EU needs a tireless force that never ceases to acknowledge people. The interactions between people are what make up organisation. ‘Firm strategies and decisions are the product of a socio-political process embedded in an organisational context involving multiple actors (Chattopadhyay et al., 1999; Kaplan, Forthcoming).’

The principle of self-cohesion can be defined as the aim to generate a unified union out of the diverse cultural dimensions that constitute the ostensible European Social Model. This last will emerge from a common desire by actors to resolve a problematic situation using the first resources of our union, Citizens. The EU has forgotten the role of people in its cohesion. ‘Organizations are dissipative structures that can only be maintained when members are induced to contribute energy to them.’ Therefore, maintaining a sustainable economy requires responsibly managing and aligning these resources.

The EU must become involved in a cross-institutional unit. This firm department will assess the stability, reliability and speed of a continuous integration. For instance, it will take the form of an ‘Integration Management Team’ within the Cabinet of the Secretary-General to directly advise the Commission through a transdisciplinary and cross-organisation approach involving all the Directorate-Generals. This unit will build upon existing knowledge acquired by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the Council of Europe (to involve non-EU executives) in order to lead to decisive decision-making. Encouraging the involvement of civil society and promoting a ‘pan-European identity’ ought to be the role of a permanent and official body attached to the EU Intuitions. It is not the duty of a lobbying association or independent agency such as the Agency for European Integration and Economic Development (AEI), even if it is acting within the European Network of Implementing Development Agencies (EUNIDA). While it is true that stakeholders at all levels can play a crucial role in communicating the strategy and helping to achieve greater ownership, the EU needs to further optimise the understanding and raise awareness of the decision-makers because the decisions are a result of a socio-political debate.

This unit might also have its own scope of actions and could work closely with both the EESC Policy Assessment Unit (PAS) and the EESC Liaison Group. It must be more than a program on behalf of the EU. Promoting the EU’s shared values, ensuring the coherence of the overall structures, has to be closely monitored and linked to the strategy and leadership. Each year may be the European Year for Integration, supported by a ‘Knowledge Management Program’ and a ‘Commitments-Based Approach’.

By doing so, it will be feasible to ensure a bright future of prosperity for the EU with the smallest change. It may be the sole solution for a European Union hoping for consensus in the manner to deal with its seemingly intractable inertia for decisive change. The EU has to be recognised as a source of policies, a culture-centred organisation and an integrative organisation of beliefs and values. An ‘EU Integration Governance Framework’, as depicted throughout this essay, promoting equality and equity, solidarity, and values can be our sole salvation to inspire a new ‘European Weltanschauung’ for the 21st century.