Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team
Europe’s decision makers face many challenges in addressing the pressing concerns of EU citizens. The way in which the EU institutions manage expectations is by establishing a set of priorities at the start of each mandate. These priorities are set by the newly elected European Parliament and the newly appointed European Commission and adopted by the Council of the European Union. Ownership and responsibility for delivery fall to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. The current term is 2019-2024 and six priorities have been adopted. Coronavirus was not on the visioning board when the six priorities were identified.
The European Union priorities are political, economic and social. The Commission outlines the main policies, steps and a time frame which it will follow to ensure the objectives of each priority are reached. This is the annual Commission Work Programme. All the EU institutions and 27 member states commit to work closely together and to implement the actions and outcomes associated with each priority.
The six priorities of this Parliament and Commission mandate are:
1. A European Green Deal – Transforming the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, while preserving Europe’s natural environment, tackling climate change and making Europe carbon-neutral and resource efficient by 2050.
2. A Europe fit for the digital age – Embracing the digital transformation by investing in businesses, research and innovation, reforming data protection, empowering people with the skills necessary for a new generation of technologies and designing rules to match.
3. An economy that works for people – Reinforcing the EU economy, while securing jobs and reducing inequalities, supporting businesses, deepening the Economic and Monetary Union and completing the Capital Markets Union.
4. A stronger Europe in the world – Strengthening the EU’s voice on the world stage by enhancing our global standing as champions of strong, open and fair trade, multilateralism and a rules-based global order. Enhancing relations with neighbouring countries and partners, as well as building up the EU’s ability to manage crises through civilian and military capabilities.
5. Promoting our European way of life – Upholding fundamental rights and the rule of law as a bastion of equality, tolerance and social fairness. Addressing security risks, protecting and empowering consumers, as well as enhancing a system for legal and safe migration while effectively managing the EU’s external borders, modernising the EU’s asylum system and cooperating closely with partner countries.
6. A new push for European democracy – Strengthening Europe’s democratic processes by enhancing relations with the European Parliament and national parliaments, protecting EU democracy from external interference, ensuring transparency and integrity throughout the legislative process, as well as engaging more widely with EU citizens in shaping the EU’s future.
The main reasons for the focus on these chosen priorities were to protect European citizens and their freedoms and to develop a strong and vibrant economic base. Additionally, the last decades have particularly highlighted citizens demands for Europe’s decision makers to support and build a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe and to implement the long debated European Pillar of Social Rights. Furthermore, European interests and values on the global stage have also been considered within these six priorities through Europe’s foreign and trade policy and their obligations to the promotion of global peace, stability, democracy and human rights.
The new strategic agenda for the EU 2019-2024 will not be easy to accomplish. The health pandemic has caused in-depth suffering, the long term consequences of which may still be unknown. The known impacts have already added challenges and increased budgetary constraints to the EU27 and to previously weak health systems and struggling economies. Yet, this has not deterred the European Commission who are insisting that there can be a “great acceleration of change”, one where the pandemic has shown that human behaviour can change when necessary.
With a €750 billion ‘Next Generation EU’ (NGEU) recovery fund at its disposal the Commission will have a Recovery and Resilience Facility, and is hoping to deliver on ‘an economy that works for people’, but it has also promised climate-neutrality as a continent by 2050 and a significant digitalisation modernisation, both of which will demand substantial investment. Financing of the European Union, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), remains the thorn in side of the EU institutions, as certain member states continually fail to agree on budgets without concessions being given and hold the Union to ransom until their demands are met. This causes a redistribution of financing. Plus, although adopted in December 2020, the unprecedented budgetary package for the years 2021- 2027, the Own Resources Decision, is still awaiting ratification, something that needs urgently addressing in the next Council meetings.
Currently working behind most of their initial timelines due to the pandemic disruption in travel, meetings and methodology changes, the European Parliament, European Commission and Council of the EU are all now playing catch up. This may, ironically, present the ideal opportunity to accelerate the decision-making procedures and remove the antiquated bureaucracy for which the EU institutions are most well known. A change in working methods would allow for greater transparency and engagement where the decision making processes are visible for all to observe. Meetings and consultations would be held online, avoiding lengthy, and costly, documentation translations and pointless travel and reimbursement costs for the plethora of ineffective so called “representatives” of citizens and civil society. This could provide the genuine pathway towards allowing citizens, regions and active civil society to begin participating directly in the democratic process, as is the ambition of the Conference on the future of Europe.
Including citizens in any fully functioning democracy should always be an overarching priority, and maybe the pandemic has provided a solution for that barrier to be overcome in all six priorities.