Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team
Almost two years into a five year mandate, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is expected to deliver a strong State of the Union presentation by September this year. She has less than 3 months to prepare that speech and ready her troops for battle by proving that they have left no stones unturned in their desire to rejuvenate a somewhat lethargic European Union.
Proposed as the first woman President of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen took office as President of the European Commission on 1 December 2019, with the same six priorities that she had pitched at her interview for the prominent position. Von der Leyen was ambitions and promised to reinvigorate the Commission and the 27 member states following the exit of the United Kingdom. However, the President of the Commission could not have foreseen the health crisis, and all its variants and mutations, that affected not only Europe but globalisation as a whole, throughout 2020 and well into 2021.
In this respect, von der Leyen must be given credit, she has not detracted from her six priorities of a ‘A European Green Deal’, ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’, ‘An economy that works for people’, ‘A stronger Europe in the world’, ‘Promoting the European way of life’ and ‘A new push for European democracy’. Whilst she appears to be single handedly battling the pandemic, she has also insisted, without blinking, that her priorities are on target and that they will all be achieved.
Did we not hear similar rhetorical insistence with regards to the Lisbon Strategy of 2000? A strategy which was promised to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”, by 2010. By 2010, most of these goals had not been achieved, no doubt due to the financial crisis of 2008 and no one was ever held accountable for its failings. The Lisbon Strategy was succeeded by the Europe 2020 strategy, which also largely failed and, similarly, no one was held accountable for the lack of results there either. The question now is, will von der Leyen’s priorities follow a similar path? Let’s hope not!
Regions, communities and citizens of Europe’s 27 member states are currently in desperate times. Many people have not been to the workplace for over a year, many have lost their jobs and many have seen immense insecurity enter into their lives. At the same time, European consultants and experts have been paid huge sums to secure and procure vaccinations that would return their lives to some form of normality. Sadly the nepotism failed there also and much of Europe was left vaccine-less, something the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, used to his advantage in confirming that Brexit had been justified.
So leadership and implementable vision is what is urgently required now from all of Europe’s leaders. An ambition where the people come first, not the politicians nor policy makers who have all the security with their tax free, substantial, protected incomes and pensions. A walk around Brussels today is evidence that most of the EU institutions are empty, with minimal staff in the offices – This may not be a bad thing if staff are now working from home and can finally see the challenges of their neighbours instead of being retained in the “Brussels bubble”. Its could also be the ideal opportunity for reflection, an in-depth look at the EU Treaty and the relevance of some of the EU institutions and the vast amounts of office space occupied by administration and bureaucracy officers.
The Commission cannot abandon its priorities now, it has already begun all of them and some actions are already starting to show small results. However, it must retain, if not increase the momentum of delivery, and make the actions visible and relevant to the citizens who are now so far distanced from the decision making bodies of Europe and the decision makers that they themselves do not feel part of any union. Von der Leyen has been clear, there will be a seventh priority which will be a de facto priority to contain the coronavirus crisis and promote economic recovery from it, and that this will be achieved by integrating it into the daily work. So, she has the ability to answer all the citizens concerns by clarifying that the seven priorities are for the people.
The President of the European Commission has a huge army of bureaucrats under her control so there is no reason why she should not achieve the ambitions of her 5 year term, 2019-24. She cannot hope to achieve these goals without leadership, delegation, communication, responsibility and accountability. The world is watching, and waiting, to see whether the European Union will fly or yet again falter. So it is time to put the vaccine crisis, the geo-political tit-for-tats and the blame culture in the past and move forward with optimism that can be realised and action plans that will materialise, whilst utilising the strengths of Europe’s real assets, its regions and its civil society – those directly on the front lines.
The Conference of the Future of Europe is the ideal opportunity to bring on board all those parties who genuinely have a willingness to support von der Leyen and see the European Union achieve its true potential.