The Aspen Institute Romania is project lead of the ongoing program, Cores and Peripheries in Europe? A Europe NEXT Projectdedicated to this critical topic, on behalf of the Aspen Initiative for Europe (AIfE), a consortium comprising of the eight Aspen Institutes in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Central Europe, Romania, Spain, Ukraine, UK). The Aspen Method of involving different players in a non-partisan and evidence-based dialogue has proven its effectiveness in approaching complex topics and divergent views in a constructive and action-oriented way. The conference’s main aim is to respond to the mission and values of the Aspen family to defend and promote the European integration project, at a time of intense and multi-faceted internal and external pressures.

The goal of this first edition of the Cores and Peripheries in Europe? A Europe NEXT Project, to be held in Brussels, December 4-5, is to identify through a facilitated policy dialogue, fresh arguments in defense of a united Europe and outline an impetus for a new stage in the European Union’s journey, with a renewed emphasis on respecting and reflecting the different views, interests, and ambitions of the 27 member states, as well as those of the potential new members. The purpose of this conference and its follow-up actions is to push the deliberative process about the future of Europe beyond the existing divides between the Union’s core and peripheries. For as the Juncker Commission’s paper Reflections and Scenarios for the EU27 indicates, there is no single center or just one periphery in the EU27, but several.

The conference will gather high-level officials and individuals with extensive experience in policymaking, political analysis and business, with the aim to map concrete and innovative outcomes for the following topics:

Competitiveness and the Single Market in the Era of the 4.0 Industrial Revolution;

The Politics of Europe: Is there a common way forward?; The New Social Compact: Striking the Right Balance in Times of Social Polarization and Disruption; Fracture Lines in Europe: Cohesion, Investments and Multilevel Governance; Human Security & Migration;  Generation Next of the EU.

The Cores and Peripheries in Europe? A Europe NEXT Project envisages a 3 year endeavor, with a series of conferences and policy papers in each of the country holding the rotating presidency of the EU Council and the Aspen Institutes host countries. Thus, a number of conferences are under preparation or took place already in seek of more continuity on the key aspects of Europe’s topical issues: Generation Next – Future of Europe Conference, held in Vienna on September 24-25 (in partnership with Aspen Central Europe and Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschenand the Young Strategic Leaders Forum – Generation Next held in Bucharest on October 8, opening the 7th edition of the Bucharest Forum, thus, reflecting on the challenges ahead.

Since the Great Recession the social and economic gaps between North and South have widened, but anti-establishment and anti-EU political parties have been particularly successful in core member states such as France, Italy, Germany and, most spectacularly, in the United Kingdom. Despite its fast economic recovery, the Eastern periphery has experienced systemic challenges to its political status and traditionally integrationist positions against the background of unfulfilled social development aspirations. Indeed, the convergence of views and capacities towards a renewed integrationist line seems more elusive than ever.

The debate on managing convergence and divergence in the EU, as well as on the future of the Cohesion Policy are essential in the context where there are still significant differences in economic and social development. The European project and the European budget have to deal with both “old” and “new” issues, Northern and Southern Europe, as well as increasing disparities at subnational level against the background of proliferating disagreements. At stake is nothing less than the capacity of the Union to close the widening gaps between the political, economic and social understandings of the future of the European project. The conference will contribute to this debate by drawing on comparative analyses of the Juncker Commission’s scenarios for the future of the Union to provide fresh ideas to the coming European Council in Sibiu, the Presidencies of the Council of the EU (Austria, Romania, Finland, Croatia) as well as to the new Commission and European Parliament resulting from the upcoming European elections.

The future of the Union will depend on an ambitious political vision and the full deployment of its budgetary and investment capacities, but also on an indispensable reconnect with its multiple constituencies and public opinions. The Aspen Institutes in Europe are uniquely positioned in terms of network, programs, reputation, and geography to spearhead and sustain such a complex and multifaceted debate.