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Commission makes recommendations for the EU’s next strategic agenda 2019-2024

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Ahead of the meeting of EU27 leaders in Sibiu, Romania, on 9 May 2019, the European Commission is today setting out a number of policy recommendations for how Europe can shape its future in an increasingly multipolar and uncertain world.

With the European Parliament elections on 23-26 May 2019 and the change of political leadership of the EU institutions that will follow, the time has come for new policy orientations and new priorities. As both the priorities we set and the way we explain and engage with Europeans will be decisive in strengthening our Union, the Commission is also making suggestions on how to better communicate our collective decisions. Together, these form the Commission’s contribution to the next strategic agenda for 2019-2024.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The duty of every generation is to change the destinies of Europeans, present and future, for the better. To make good on our enduring promise of peace, progress and prosperity. The challenges we Europeans collectively face are multiplying by the day. For Europe to thrive, the EU’s Member States must act together. I remain convinced that it is only in unity that we will find the strength needed to preserve our European way of life, sustain our planet, and reinforce our global influence.

The Sibiu summit was called for by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address, when he unveiled a roadmap for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union.

A strong track record

In a decade of unabated change and challenge, Europe has shown that it is able to deliver on its promise of peace, prosperity and progress for citizens (see Annex). By summer 2018, the Juncker Commission had tabled all of the legislative proposals it committed to at the start of its mandate and stepped up enforcement of existing rules. In total, the Commission made 471 new legislative proposals and carried over an additional 44 presented by previous Commissions. Of these, 348 proposals have been adopted or agreed by the European Parliament and the Council during the current mandate. Remarkably, in around 90% of the cases, the final compromise was approved by consensus in the Council of Ministers, and thus supported by all 28 Member States. The European Commission is today listing 20 key achievements, as well as 10 key proposals which remain ‘unfinished business’, as they are still pending in Parliament and Council.

The EU’s next strategic agenda

Building on the progress our Union has made in recent years, listening to citizens’ views in nearly 1,600 citizens’ dialogues and in the light of the outcome of the European Parliament election, the EU’s strategic agenda for 2019-2024 is the right moment to address the challenges and opportunities Europe faces today. Future action should, in the Commission’s view, focus on 5 dimensions:

Protective Europe: We should pursue our efforts to build an effective and genuine European Security Union and move towards a genuine European Defence Union to make defence cooperation within the EU the norm rather than the exception. We also need to be more proactive in managing migration. This requires comprehensive action at every level and a genuine EU approach built on the sharing of responsibility and on solidarity between Member States.

Competitive Europe: We need to upgrade, modernise and fully implement the single market in all its aspects. We need to focus research and innovation on the ecological, social and economic transitions and related societal challenges. We need to invest in key European digital capacities and work together to boost Europe-made and human-centric artificial intelligence. We need to continue to foster growth and ensure sustainable prosperity by deepening the Economic and Monetary Union. And we need to continue to support the transformation of the European labour market whilst ensuring its fairness.

Fair Europe: We must continue to deliver on the European Pillar of Social Rights. We also need to work with Member States to achieve social inclusion and equality, including by addressing regional disparities, minorities’ needs, gender issues and the challenge of an ageing population. We need to firmly uphold and promote the shared values on which the European Union is founded, such as the rule of law. We need a fair and modern taxation policy as well as high-quality, affordable and accessible health care and access to quality, energy-efficient affordable housing for all in Europe.

Sustainable Europe: We need to modernise our economy to embrace sustainable consumption and production patterns. We need to reinforce our efforts to fight climate change and reverse environmental degradation. We must transition towards a more resource-efficient circular economy by promoting green growth, bioeconomy and sustainable innovations. And we need to maximise the Energy Union’s potential by addressing major remaining challenges including energy security, energy costs for households and businesses, and the impact on climate change.

Influential Europe: Europe needs to lead in the world through consistent and strong support for a multilateral, rules-based global order, with the United Nations at its core. The EU should also make it a priority to develop strong relations with close neighbours, based on a clear balance of rights and obligations. A strengthened international role of the euro would also increase Europe’s economic and monetary sovereignty.

Both the priorities we set and the way we explain and engage with Europeans will be decisive in making our Union more united, stronger and more democratic. Over the course of its mandate, the EU institutions, and notably the Juncker Commission, have sought to communicate in both a more political and more strategic way. The lessons gleaned from this experience point to it being time to move past the tendency to nationalise success and Europeanise failure and instead better explain jointly our common decisions and policies.

Background

Five years ago, the European Council defined a broad strategic agendafor the Union in times of change. This took further shape in the form of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 10 political priorities, developed during his electoral campaign and in dialogue with Member States and the European Parliament. The Juncker Commission has since shown a strong track record of delivering on its strategic agenda.

The EU now needs new, ambitious, realistic and focused goals for the next political cycle.

In March 2017, ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, the Commission published its White Paper on the Future of Europe. It outlined five possible scenarios for the EU’s future at 27. This was the starting point for a wide-ranging debate on the future of Europe, which now can inspire the main policy priorities of the next strategic agenda. Having engaged with citizens in nearly 1,600 citizens’ dialogues and citizens’ consultations, the European Commission has today published a report, which confirms that most citizens see Europe as essential to tackling global challenges but expect it to become more efficient and more transparent.

In his 2017 State of the Union address, President Juncker unveiled a roadmap detailing the main steps towards a more united, stronger and more democratic Union. Building on this, national leaders met in Tallinn, Estonia, and agreed on a Leaders’ Agenda – a list of the most pressing issues and challenges for which solutions should be found, ahead of the European elections in 2019.

On 9 May 2019, EU leaders will meet in Sibiu, Romania, and are expected to mark the culmination of this process with a renewed commitment to an EU that delivers on the issues that really matter to people. They will reflect on our Union’s political aspirations and prepare the strategic agenda for the next five years.

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Von der Leyen Outlines Vision for Stronger Europe

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, outlined a vision for a stronger and more independent Europe based on trust and the values of liberal democracy in a special address on Thursday to business, government and civil society leaders taking part in the World Economic Forum’s virtual event, the Davos Agenda.

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, she spoke of European democracies showing their strengths. “The pandemic has demonstrated that democracies are the more powerful, resilient and sustainable form of government,” she said.

Democracy means liberty of research, freedom of science and independent choices for investors, she added. Europe has delivered over 1.2 billion doses of vaccines to its citizens, with more than 80% of the European population double vaccinated.

She also pointed to Europe’s leadership in discovering the mRNA vaccine technology and exporting it to the world. “Europe is the only region in the world to export or donate vaccines to other countries throughout the crisis, with 1.6 billion vaccine doses made in Europe having been delivered to 150 countries.”

On the path to recovery, Europe’s most valuable asset is trust, said von der Leyen. “Trust in science, for our health. Trust among countries, for cooperation. Trust in functioning societies, for competitiveness. Trust will be essential to build the world of tomorrow.”

Trust will also be essential for European citizens to embrace the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives with the overarching aim of making the European Union climate-neutral by 2050. The EC has issued the first NextGenerationEU bond for green and sustainable investments in the EU. This represents, she said, the world’s largest green bond issuance, adding that it was heavily oversubscribed.

“These developments demonstrate a clear sign of international confidence and trust in Europe,” she said.

Although von der Leyen said Europe is well positioned, it must do more to build supply chains we can trust and avoid single points of failure. Issues range from dependence on non-renewable energy to lack of local manufacturing of microchips and semiconductors to Europe’s gas crisis.

“Europe’s global semiconductor market share is only 10%. And today, most of our supply comes from a handful of producers outside Europe. This is a dependency and uncertainty we simply cannot afford. We have no time to lose. And this is why I announce here today that we will propose our European Chips Act in early February,” she said.

She emphasized that trust is also essential in the international arena: “At this moment in time, the world needs trust in democracy as much as trust between democracies.” Referring to intense dialogue with Russia, she stressed that Europe will not go back to the old logic of competition and spheres of interest, where entire countries were treated as possessions or backyards.

“We want this dialogue. We want conflicts to be solved in the bodies that have been formed for this purpose. But if the situation deteriorates, if there are any further attacks on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, we will respond with massive economic and financial sanctions.”

“And what I want us never to forget is the following. Russia and Europe share geography, culture and history. We also want a common future,” she added.

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Commission approves 2022-2027 regional aid map for Greece

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The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules Greece’s map for granting regional aid from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2027 within the framework of the revised Regional aid Guidelines (‘RAG’).

The revised RAG, adopted by the Commission on 19 April 2021 and entering into force on 1 January 2022, enable Member States to support the least favoured European regions in catching up and to reduce disparities in terms of economic well-being, income and unemployment – cohesion objectives that are at the heart of the Union. They also provide increased possibilities for Member States to support regions facing transition or structural challenges such as depopulation, to contribute fully to the green and digital transitions.

At the same time, the revised RAG maintain strong safeguards to prevent Member States from using public money to trigger the relocation of jobs from one EU Member State to another, which is essential for fair competition in the Single Market.

Greece’s regional map defines the Greek regions eligible for regional investment aid. The map also establishes the maximum aid intensities in the eligible regions. The aid intensity is the maximum amount of State aid that can be granted per beneficiary, expressed as a percentage of eligible investment costs.

Under the revised RAG, regions covering 82.34% of the population of Greece will be eligible for regional investment aid:

Twelve regions (Βόρειο Αιγαίο / Voreio Aigaio, Νότιο Αιγαίο / Notio Aigaio, Κρήτη / Kriti, Aνατολική Μακεδονία, Θράκη / Anatoliki Makedonia, Thraki, Κεντρική Μακεδονία / Kentriki Makedonia, Δυτική Μακεδονία / Dytiki Makedonia, Ήπειρος / Ipeiros, Θεσσαλία / Thessalia, Ιόνια Νησιά / Ionia Nisia, Δυτική Ελλάδα / Dytiki Elláda, Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda and Πελοπόννησος / Peloponnisos) are among the most disadvantaged regions in the EU, with a GDP per capita below 75% of EU average. These regions are eligible for aid under Article 107(3)(a) TFEU (so-called ‘a’ areas), with maximum aid intensities for large enterprises between 30% and 50%, depending on the GDP per capita of the respective ‘a’ area. The region Ευρυτανία / Evrytania, which is part of Στερεά Ελλάδα / Sterea Elláda, also qualifies as a sparsely populated area having fewer than 12,5 inhabitants per km². In sparsely populated areas, Member States can use operating aid schemes to prevent or reduce depopulation.

In order to address regional disparities, Greece has designated as so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas the regions of Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon, Ανατολική Αττική / Anatoliki Attiki, Δυτική Αττική / Dytiki Attiki and Πειραιάς, Νήσοι / Peiraias, Nisoi. The maximum aid intensities for large enterprises in Δυτικός Τομέας Αθηνών / Dytikos Tomeas Athinon is 15%. The other ‘c’ areas mentioned above border with ‘a’ areas. For this reason, the aid intensity in these regions has been increased to 25%, so that the difference in aid intensity with the bordering ‘a’ areas is limited to 15 percentage points.

Greece has the possibility to designate further so-called non-predefined ‘c’ areas (up to a maximum of 1.16% of the national population). The specific designation of these areas can take place in the future and would result in one or more amendments to the regional aid map approved today.

In all the above areas, the maximum aid intensities can be increased by 10 percentage points for investments made by medium-sized enterprises and by 20 percentage points for investments made by small enterprises, for their initial investments with eligible costs up to €50 million.

Once a future territorial Just Transition plan in the context of the Just Transition Fund Regulation will be in place, Greece has the possibility to notify the Commission an amendment to the regional aid map approved today, in order to apply a potential increase of the maximum aid intensity in the future Just Transition areas, as specified in the revised RAG for ‘a’ areas.

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20 years of the euro in your pocket

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Twenty years ago, on 1 January 2002, twelve EU countries changed their national currency banknotes and coins for the euro in the largest currency changeover in history. In these two decades, the euro has contributed to the stability, competitiveness and prosperity of European economies. Most importantly, it has improved the lives of citizens and made it easier to do business across Europe and beyond. With the euro in your pocket, saving, investing, travelling and doing business became much easier.

The euro is a symbol of EU integration and identity. Today, more than 340 million people use it across 19 EU countries, with 27.6 billion euro banknotes in circulation for a value of about €1.5 trillion. The euro is currently the second most widely used currency in the world behind the US dollar.

As it celebrates this 20th anniversary, the EU continues the work to strengthen the international role of the euro and adapt it to new challenges, including the rapid digitalisation of the economy and the development of virtual currencies. As a complement to cash, a digital euro would support a well-integrated payments sector and would offer greater choice to consumers and businesses.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “It is now twenty years that we, European people, can carry Europe in our pockets. The euro is not just one of the most powerful currencies in the world. It is, first and foremost, a symbol of European unity. Euro banknotes have bridges on one side and a door on the other – because this is what the euro stands for. The euro is also the currency of the future, and in the coming years it will become a digital currency too. The euro also reflects our values. The world we want to live in. It is the global currency for sustainable investments. We can all be proud of that.”

David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, said: “The euro is the embodiment of an ambitious political project to promote peace and integration within the European Union. But the euro is also a condition for protecting and relaunching the European economic, social, and political model in the face of the transformations of our time. The euro is a symbol, the coming to fruition of a historic political vision, an ancient vision of a united continent with a single currency for a single market.”

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said: “The euro has come a long way — it’s a true European achievement. I would even say the euro has become part of who we are. And how we see ourselves as Europeans. Part of our mind-set. And part of our European spirit. The euro belongs to all of us all European citizens. But it isn’t just a success within our EU borders. It has also anchored itself on the international stage. Despite the crises, the euro has proven to be resilient — a symbol of European unity and stability. And never has that been truer than during COVID-19. The euro has served as a bedrock of stability. A stable asset for the Union. The euro also fuels our recovery. Unlocking the full potential of sustainable development, quality jobs, and innovation.”

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, said: “The euros we hold in our hands have become a beacon of stability and solidity around the world. Hundreds of millions of Europeans trust it and transact with it every day. It is the second most international currency in the world. As European Central Bank President, I commit we will continue to work hard to make sure that we maintain price stability. And I also pledge that we will renew the face of those banknotes and that we will give them the digital dimension as well.”

Paschal Donohoe, President of the Eurogroup, said: “The euro has proven its mettle in dealing with great economic challenges. In particular, our response to the COVID 19 pandemic demonstrated that by sharing the euro we can achieve more collectively than we can individually. The euro has strengthened its foundations over the last 20 years. Now, we need to build on those foundations to make the euro the global currency for transitioning to a lower carbon future.”

A long journey

The euro has come a long way from the early discussions on an Economic and Monetary Union in the late 1960s. Specific steps towards a single currency were first approached in 1988 by the Delors Committee. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty marked a decisive moment in the move towards the euro, as political leaders signed on the criteria that Member States had to meet to adopt the single currency. Two years later, the European Monetary Institute (EMI) started its preparatory work in Frankfurt for the European Central Bank (ECB) to assume its responsibility for monetary policy in the euro area. As a result, on 1 June 1998, the ECB became operational.

In 1999, the euro was launched in 11 Member States as an accounting currency on financial markets and used for electronic payments. It was finally on 1 January 2002 when Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain swapped their national notes and coins for euros. Slovenia joined the euro area in 2007, followed by Cyprus and Malta (2008), Slovakia (2009), Estonia (2011), Latvia (2014) and Lithuania (2015). Currently, Croatia is taking the preparatory steps to join the euro area, which it plans to do on 1 January 2023, provided it fulfils all the convergence criteria.

Twenty years of benefits for citizens and businesses

The euro has brought many benefits to Europe, especially to its citizens and businesses. The single currency has helped to keep prices stable and protected the euro area economies from exchange rate volatility. This has made it easier for European home buyers, businesses and governments to borrow money and has encouraged trade within Europe and beyond. The euro has also eliminated the need for currency exchange and has lowered the costs of transferring money, making travelling and moving to another country to work, study or retire simpler.

A large majority of Europeans support the single currency. According to the latest Eurobarometer, 78% of citizens across the euro area believe the euro is good for the EU.

A strengthened international role

The euro is the second most important currency in the international monetary system. Its stability and credibility has made it an international invoicing currency, a store of value and a reserve currency, accounting for around 20% of foreign exchange reserves. Sixty other countries and territories around the world, home to some 175 million people, have chosen to use the euro as their currency or to peg their own currency to it. Today, the euro is used for almost 40% of global cross-border payments and for more than half the EU’s exports.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis, the EU has continued to strengthen and deepen the Economic and Monetary Union. The EU’s unprecedented recovery plan NextGenerationEU will further improve the euro-area’s economic resilience and enhance economic convergence. The issuance of high-quality-denominated bonds under NextGenerationEU will add significant depth and liquidity to the EU’s capital markets and make them and the euro more attractive for investors. The euro is also now the leading currency for green investment: half of the world’s green bonds are denominated in euros, and this figure is rising thanks to the new green bonds issued to finance NextGenerationEU.

To further develop the international role of the euro, the Commission has launched outreach initiatives to promote euro denominated investments, facilitate the use of the euro as an invoicing and denomination currency, and foster a better understanding of the obstacles for its wider use. This outreach will take the form of dialogues, workshops and surveys with the public and private sector, financial regulatory agencies, and institutional investors in regional and global partner countries of the EU.

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