Perspective directions in the EU’s integration: key global and European challenges (Part I)

As an impetus into a perspective historic conference on “future of Europe” (so-called, CoFoE), the EEI provides its vision on the European integration processes. The first article reviews some theoretical and practical issues concerning EU’s socio-economic integration aspects which are in close connections with contemporary global and European challenges. Among the “sectoral challenges” with a lasting effect on the member states political economies are numerous policies, concerning e.g. agriculture, urbanization, circular economy, sustainable growth, energy, transport and digitalisation, as well as environmental quality and global climate actions.   

Two additional articles are dealing with: a) emerging patterns of political economies in the member states as a result of enhanced European integration efforts, and b) new corporate strategies influenced by sustainability and digitalisation.

This introductory article would not cover thoroughly all the existing global and European challenges, although most important for the European integration will be dealt with; the ultimate aim is to attract attention in the EU member states’ governances structures to urgent issues in the perspective growth. In order to be competitive in the world, the EU institutions and the member states have to include some new directions (so-called transitional measures) in their political economies’ agendas.

For example, for the world-wide issues, a global blueprint for such transition is already available on various websites: e.g. in the UN 2030 Agenda, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, to name a few.

As to the European Union, there are already developed numerous regional strategies towards perspective growth in the member states: e.g. strategic plan for 2020-24 in: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/strategic-plans-2020-2024_en.

Besides, a new European “strategic autonomy” has been roll-out in September 2020 as a partial regional “answer” to global challenges.

More in:  https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/09/28/    

 

Pandemic’s global economic effects, alongside the medical and associated health issue, have been coincided with an increasing “world-regionalisation” in trade and services followed by a subsequent increase in competitiveness among leading global economic blocks. This trend has had a vital effect on the EU member states development followed by two trends: a) strategic autonomy and b) intensive integration in almost all socio-economic and political spheres (additional aspects of the multi-vector’s regional and global “order” are covered below).

 

AS to the planned Conference on the Future of Europe, the Portuguese’s Council rotating Presidency has made a fresh attempt in January 2021 to reach an agreement on the main conference’s governance issue among the EU institutions. Portugal Prime Minister, A. Costa present its position on CofoE to all interested parties already in the beginning of 2021 in order to start the conference as soon as possible. However, the general opinion is that the “planning period” would run for a couple of years with an ultimate perspective to “wrap-up” the conference at a time of France’s Council presidency somewhere at the start of 2022. It means that the member states and the EU institutions have enough time to make a proper preparation for a vital discussion on European integration’s future.  

 

Agro-food sectors and the “green deal”   

Agricultural and all other food processing and manufacturing sectors involved in agro-food production is closely connected with the ecologic stability of the member states, which is displayed in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); it still occupies a vital role in the EU’s financial programming with about a third of the total budget’s spending.

However, the emissions limits are not fully integrated into the agro-food-sector, as they are used to work in other economy sectors. Regardless some CAP reforms in October 2020, there are still numerous loopholes in policy, which are already marking initial big failures of the EU “green deal” concerning agriculture. Besides, efforts to impose more rigorous environmental standards on CAP were not supported by the European Parliament, which is still influenced by well-oiled lobbyists for the benefit of the powerful agro-interest groups.

The agro-part in the “green deal” issue is, actually, about whether transport and cattle will be able to continue to stand up to growing public concern about climate change and demand for actions by policymakers in all the member states: e.g. by dealing with droughts, fires, storms and melting ice caps, etc. All that makes it clear that fierce efforts are needed in all states to pursue adequate steps in measures concerning global climate changes, as still diesel and gasoline cars are widely used in agro-sector. Besides, the biggest sellers in transport (and main profit generators for motor industry) are high emissions SUVs, with electric vehicles being increasingly attractive. In the second quarter of 2020, they accounted for over 7 percent of all car sales, up from only 2.4 percent in same period in 2019.

For farmers (and their methane-producing meat-sector) the solution is less obvious. The EU is hoping to persuade farmers with eco-schemes and encouraging them to reduce carbon imprint by changing their practices. But the digestive systems of cows and their nutritional needs aren’t going to change, so something has to give in the clash between beef and the “green deal”.

If agro-lobbies succeed in facing down green restrictions, the “social license to farm” would suffer: successful transition to ecological and sustainable agro-sector is a vital precondition of any perspective EU’s future.

During European debate on the Green Deal, a deputy leader of the CDU/CSU group in the German parliament described a push to raise the bloc’s CO2 reduction target for 2030 as a “drastic increase” that “represents a substantial risk for a country with an industrial economy like Germany’s, considering the economic and social consequences.” While on paper, initiatives like the Green Deal are extremely popular, however many voters are unaware of the real-world implications of these policies on the economy; in addition to the CO2 reduction targets, some people are afraid of reduced profit and lost jobs. The outcome of the public debate in the member states legislatures will depend on who takes over: either conservative leaders or “progressivist’s in national political economy on new emissions targets: if leaders want to save the planet, then there is going to be some adjustments in various economic sectors, including agro.

Reference: https://www.politico.eu/article/chapter-two-the-politics-of-the-green-deal/?  27.x.20  

 

There are already perspective trends of a cross-sectoral dimension in the member states’ new political economies through sustainability, circular economy, technological transformation and green growth, etc. The biggest opportunity for positive change in the post-pandemic time is for the European agro-food system to become more local, sustainable, and equitable. While so much of the Union’s collective actions and investment are being focused on providing consumer convenience, the pandemic has irreversibly shifted the conversation to building the member states resilience. Governments are now actively working with the entire agricultural supply chains among EU-27to promote and invest in innovation related to indoor farming, precision agriculture, food safety and preservation, waste reduction, and alternative proteins.

 

The European “green deal” is closely connected to the global sustainable development goals (SDGs): every part of the EU economy, ranging from finance to taxation, industry policy, agriculture and more (with all the directives, regulations and strategies) need to be given a “green deal-makeover” to bring them into line with the climate neutrality pledge. This trend is going to dominate the legislative and regulatory calendar both in the EU and the member states for years to come.

See: https://www.integrin.dk/2020/10/25/post-covid-effects-on-modern-governance-and-political-economy/

 

If the member states really want to indulge in a perspective transition, they need to introduce due improvements, not just incrementally increasing the targets. An adequate work is going to be done in 2021, when the Commission publishes some drafts to reform everything from energy taxation to car emission standards and targets for renewables. The main problem with the Green Deal is that the “general public” is demographically quite broad: at one side, there are climate campaigners who agree on a “perfect green deal” as a main instrument to halt climate change; at the other side are those states, companies and workforces worried that rapid change will undermine the industrial progress and future growth.

Many northern and western EU states’ leaders (being under pressure from voters worried about climate change) are pressed hard towards ambitious climate policies: therefore the European Parliament was calling for a 2030 emissions’ cut of 60 percent, above the Commission’s recommendation of a 55 percent cut compared to the current goal of a 40 percent reduction (however, fierce resistance came from coal-dependent countries like Poland).

The EU institutions have to find a middle ground: e.g. by spinning visions of a revived Europe when the Green Deal tackles climate change but also provides new jobs. For example the Bauhaus initiative announced in October 2020 (a European effort to rethink the living conditions) is intended to bring style and energy to the task by entering a broad engagement with wide support and lots of innovation and creativity.

More in: https://www.politico.eu/article/bauhaus-von-der-leyen-green-recycle/   

 

The Commission is well aware of the EU’ integrational complexes: the coming years will see EU’s intervention into everyday life in the states, and the governments would be forced to reduce emissions with the EU’s efforts to while away resulting popular anger. The Commission’s own analysis finds that the “green deal’s” costs will be mostly borne by households (as the cost of green regulation is being passed on to consumers); although some would definitely afford to adapt and shift to a more energy-efficient life styles. However, without adequate policies to cushion vulnerable people, the green deal will only widen inequality; to avoid that, the Commission proposed handouts from revenue raised by carbon pricing, support for energy-saving investments and progressive energy taxes.

The EU’s “just transition mechanism” represents a number of financial and other tools designed to redistribute the impact of climate policy: yet, even if the real economic impact can be reduced, the Green Deal faces a more essential fight for acceptance. A Paris School of Economics found that people in France overwhelmingly rejected putting a tax on carbon emissions: they disliked the idea even if sweetened with a cash dividend, and overestimated how much it would impact their budgets. Their views persisted even in the face of evidence to the contrary, leading researchers to conclude that the fundamental problem was a breakdown of trust in government.

 

Obviously, the EU’s efforts of a “great climate future” are taken differently in the member states: e.g. while confidence is high in Scandinavia, where tough climate targets are a part of “political faith”, but it is low in France, Italy and Spain. In the East, populist governments clash with Brussels, but their people are strongly pro-EU: some commissioners would like to solve the problem by addressing, e.g. coal-mining in Poland/Silesia with an “inspirational” way to show Europe the way to transform. In this regard, there are two main rivals: those in German industry and French agro-sector; German’s auto industry accounts for 14.6 million jobs across the EU, though cars and vans produce about 15 percent of the bloc’s carbon dioxide emissions. Another 20 million people work at the EU’s farms and agricultural facilities which are responsible for another 10 percent of emissions. If the Green Deal is going to achieve its goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050, it will have to face dramatic transformations in industrial and agro-sectors. The auto-industry’s power was seen during the Dieselgate scandal, when American (not European) regulators revealed how Volkswagen had engineered their cars to cheat during emissions tests. While the German automaker was forced to make huge payments in much of the world, European countries left Volkswagen largely unmolested…

 

Sustainability

This concept has a very practical importance for the member states: for example for transport to become sustainable, in practice this means the following:

  • Boosting the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, vessels and airplanes, renewable and low-carbon fuels and related infrastructure; e.g. by installing 3 million charging points by 2030.
  • Creating zero-emission airports and sea-ports, e.g. through promotion sustainable aviation and maritime fuels.
  • Making interurban and urban mobility healthy and sustainable, by e.g. doubling high-speed rail traffic and developing extra cycling infrastructure over the next 10 years.
  • Greening freight transport, by doubling rail freight traffic by 2050.
  • Pricing carbon and providing better incentives for users, by pursuing a comprehensive set of measures to deliver fair and efficient pricing across all transport.

The European plan for a green transition (the Green Deal) would bring about long-term socio-economic improvements: e.g. through creation of jobs by reducing negative externalities (such as health problems associated with pollution). However, decarbonisation policies would also have redistributive effects, and some particularly vulnerable groups in society would risk being further exposed to energy poverty in the absence of mitigating measures. Thus, energy poverty’s considerations are to be the mainstream lines in the member states’ energy policy and more focused on decarbonisation.

Source: European Commission, Recommendation (EU) 2020/1563 on Energy Poverty (C/2020/9600), 14 October 2020, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/reco/2020/1563/oj.

 

In mid-October 2020, the European Commission issued a communication on energy issues to member states published jointly with the “renovation wave initiative” for the building sector to give further impetus to the “just transition”.  Actions by the member states so far have been limited with wide differences regarding national definitions and approaches. Addressing energy poverty is urgent to protect the poorest segment of the society: presently, about 50 million households in the EU-27 experience inadequate levels of energy services such as heating, cooling and lighting or lack the means to power their appliances. Considering the average 2.3 members per household in the EU, this means that more than 100 million people, or approximately one out of four EU citizens, suffer from some form of energy poverty.

More in: https://www.iai.it/en/pubblicazioni/why-europe-should-care-about-energy-poverty-its-green-transition

 

As soon as the “renovation wave” has been launched with the aim of supporting the fight against energy poverty by improving housing conditions and energy efficiency, it is expected to bring about a decrease in energy bills alongside lower emissions of CO2. Besides, focusing on the construction sector is more than reasonable for the green transition: it is one of the largest energy-consuming sectors in EU and produces more than one-third of the EU’s total emissions. Around 75 per cent of buildings in the EU are energy inefficient and the rate of renovation to improve energy efficiency is still very low, with only 1 per cent of buildings being renovated every year; hence, this sector is logically placed at the centre of the “green transition”.  

 

Transportation’s challenges

Here are some practical examples on sustainable and smart mobility: one of the main issues in adapting transportation means and modes to contemporary climate change’s requirements is transition to hybrid and/or electric cars; several EU states have already declared their aims to forbid selling petrol cars around 2030, which will make most of the Eastern European countries “worried” about the renovation of their age-old auto-parks.

A Dutch-Irish company is leading the way towards greener roads, by selling cheap electric conversion kits for existing petrol or diesel cars. Drivers will be able to cut their carbon footprints by trading in an old car running on fossil fuel and turning it into a functioning, battery-operated electric vehicle. Its mission is to take good quality cars that may have been sent to the scrap and revamp them by installing batteries. Though converting a classic car-vehicle into an electric one (EV) is not an easy task: it largely depends on the weights and the costs; EV conversion can be pricey in converting a classic car or purpose vehicle; an 100km range is achievable for any conversion, but a bigger range can be reached with more batteries if there is sufficient space in the car.

Source: https://www.euronews.com/living/2020/12/02/how-to-future-proof-your-petrol-car-with-an-electric-conversion-kit 

As to classic and vintage cars like Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys, there are now also possibilities to retrofit them with electric engines: some companies are already working to restore vintage vehicles with modern electric parts (some cars can manage 400km on a single battery charge to give owners the climate-friendly elements of electric vehicles).

The European Commission presented in the beginning of December 2020, a “Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy” together with about eighty initiatives guiding transition in the states for the next four years. This strategy lays the foundation for achieving the European transport system its green and digital transformation and become more resilient to future crises: the result will be a 90 percent cut in emissions by 2050, delivered by a smart, competitive, safe, accessible and affordable transport system. With transport contributing around 5% to EU GDP and employing more than 10 million people in Europe, the transport system is critical to European businesses and global supply chains. At the same time, transport is not without costs to society: greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions, noise, road crashes and congestion represent around one quarter of the EU’s total GHG emissions. This push to transform transport comes at a time when the entire sector is still reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus. With increased public and private investment in the modernisation, “transport greening” would make European transport more sustainable, more competitive globally and more resistant to any future shocks.

Concrete measures towards smart and sustainable transport include10 key areas for action to make the vision a reality: thus by 2030, at least 30 million zero-emission cars will be in operation on European roads; 100 European cities will be climate neutral; high-speed rail traffic will double across Europe; scheduled collective travel for journeys under 500 km should be carbon neutral; automated mobility will be deployed at large scale; and zero-emission marine vessels will be market-ready.

By 2035, zero-emission large aircraft will be market-ready; and by 2050, nearly all cars, vans, buses and new heavy-duty vehicles will be zero-emission; rail freight traffic will double; and a fully operational, multimodal Trans-European Transport Network for sustainable and smart transport with high speed connectivity will be introduced.

Innovation and digitalisation will shape the ways passengers and freight move around in the future if the right conditions are put in place. The EU strategy foresees: a) making connected and automated multimodal mobility a reality, e.g. by making it possible for passengers to buy tickets for multimodal journeys and freight to seamlessly switch between transport modes; b) boosting innovation and the use of data and artificial intelligence for smarter mobility, e.g. by fully supporting the deployment of drones and unmanned aircraft and further actions to build a European Common Mobility Data Space.

Transport has been one of the sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many businesses in the sector are seeing immense operational and financial difficulties. The Commission therefore suggested to the member states the following priorities: a) reinforcing the market instruments, e.g. by additional measures and investments to complete the TEN-T by 2030 and support the sector to increased investments in the modernisation of fleets in all modes; b) making mobility “fair and just for all”, e.g. by making new mobility affordable and accessible in all regions and for all passengers including those with reduced mobility and making the sector more attractive for workers; and c) to step up transport safety and security across all modes by bringing the death toll close to zero by 2050.

More in the following Commission’s websites: = Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy; = Staff Working Document; = Legislative Action Plan; = Questions and Answers – Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy; = Factsheet – The Transport and Mobility Sector.

 

The EU’s decision to designate 2021 a “European year of rail” is part of the EU’s sustainable and smart mobility strategy. The European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) bring together more than 70 railway undertakings in the continent, their national associations as well as infrastructure managers and vehicle leasing companies. The CER’s membership is made up of existing and new entrants on the service (both private and public enterprises), representing over 70 percent of the rail network length, 76 percent of the rail freight business and about 92 percent of rail passenger operations in EU, EFTA and EU accession countries. It represents the rail network’s interests and transport stakeholders by advocating rail as the backbone of a competitive and sustainable transport system in Europe.

 

Over the past decade, digital transformation has turned every company into a tech company. The next decade is likely to see similar transformation in sustainability policies and strategies.

As every business becomes a green business, organizations will need to train green collar workers to combine tech skills with domain-specific training in environmentally-friendly business processes. These green collar jobs will range from solar installation technicians to ESG Directors that manage an organization’s overall portfolio of climate change reduction efforts.

 

 Climate actions

The EU is taking a leading position in dealing with the negative effects on climate change: recent European “climate pact” is an EU-wide initiative inviting people, communities and organisations to participate in climate action and build a greener Europe. As part of the European Green Deal, the Climate Pact offers a space for everyone to share information, debate and act on the climate crisis, and to be part of an ever-growing European climate movement.

The European Climate Pact provides a space for people across all walks of life to connect and collectively develop and implement climate solutions, big and small. By sharing ideas and inspiring each other, we can multiply our collective impact. The Pact is an open, inclusive and evolving initiative for climate action. It invites regions, local communities, industry, schools and civil society to share information about climate change and environmental degradation, and how they tackle these existential threats. Through an online platform and citizen dialogues and exchanges, it will foster the link between the digital and green transition.

More in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_2323 

 

The EU efforts are in line with the G-20 Riyadh Declaration: still after three consecutive summits it was not possible to reach a consensus; the EU leaders urged all G20 members to work towards the full and effective implementation of the five-year’s old Paris agreement. The EU also promoted a recovery based on green, inclusive, sustainable, resilient and digital growth in line with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. On trade and taxation of the digital economy, the EU leaders recalled their support to the WTO reform process in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference and recognized the contribution that the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO has made. They also agreed to strive to find a consensus-based solution for a globally fair, sustainable, and modern international tax system by mid-2021, built on the ongoing work of the OECD.

 

COP-26 and green transition

The UNFCCC Climate Dialogues (23 November to 4 December, 2020 in virtual mode), are set to design and maintain a critical momentum in the intergovernmental process supporting the robust international framework for climate action and increased climate ambition. The aim is to contribute to maximum progress and ensure a minimum of delays in the multilateral climate action agenda in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (so- called COP-26). The UN climate summit scheduled to take place in Glasgow during the end of 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the COP-26 event, was postponed to the end of 2021.

In addition to advancing technical work under the constituted bodies, the Dialogues will focus on engaging Parties and other stakeholders in exchanging views and sharing experiences on implementation of other activities mandated for 2020 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that are related to the work by the governing and subsidiary bodies. This includes work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the effects of climate change, science, finance, technology, capacity-building, transparency, gender, Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), and the preparation and submission of Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs.

There is a “silver lining” however: the new US administration from January 2021 is expected “to push countries” towards their ambitions to reduce the carbon emissions. The pandemic nevertheless has offered a feasible chance for a lower emissions world and it becomes easier to adapt people’s behavior to tackle climate change, e.g. the big climate news of 2020 came from China, the world’s leading CO2 emitter, to be carbon neutral by 2060.

However, one thing is to make a long-term emissions reduction target like net zero, another thing is actually working out the policymaking in the next five years in order to achieve these targets. The pandemic undoubtedly shifted focus and resources toward tackling the crisis: the global community revealed funding commitments to invest about $100 billion per year to aid countries in their green transitions. It shows that the threat of climate change is far more significant to all economies and wellbeing than the pandemic, at least in the long run. Besides, green technologies are now seen as a key pathway toward economic recovery and irreversible transition to a low-carbon growth.

For example, individual countries’ actions won’t be enough to stop climate change, but it can first motivate others to do so, and second best practices could be very useful.

            Note: About the UNFCCC. With 197 Parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep a global average temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The UNFCCC is also the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of all agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.

Full program of the Climate Dialogues in: https://unfccc.int/cd2020/schedule

 

The European Climate Pact will attribute key roles for all member states in climate action, giving them a voice and a space to contribute with new climate actions, to enter in dialogue, and to share optimal solutions.

 

Multi-vector’s regional and global “order”

Multi-polar politics’ necessity in “rotating” around existing economic blocks provide for changes in the global partnership. Thus the EU in the global context is gradually building on its geopolitical ambitions: e.g. the EU and ASEAN block recently decided to establish a “strategic partnership” in which ASEAN states would established strategic partnerships with other Asian countries (e.g. Japan, Korea, India, and China).

Among mentioned “sectoral” global challenges there are so-called sub-regional controversies, i.e. competitive contradictions among numerous existing global economic blocks including the EU, BRICS, African, Latin American, Middle and Far Eastern blocks. Some countries in these blocks are providing additional impulses to global challenges, i.e. the issues of China’s influence in the world. In all these challenges, the EU could help European firms compete on the Chinese market without long-time hurdles like forced technology transfers and favoritism for state-owned enterprises. Besides, it was absolutely urgent to relocate European strategic industries and to be less dependent on China: and the first step taken has been the European ideas in concluding and signing the mutual EU-China investment agreement. The deal contains some of the most ambitious provisions China has ever agreed to, particularly on market access and level playing field.  

The main task for national political economies is to manage the pandemic and set the stage for a sustainable, green and digital recovery: hence it is time to chart new courses towards national recovery, resilient policies and sustainable grow. The development and deployment of new green technologies (renewable energy, electric vehicles, battery storage, to name a few will benefit immensely from the EU states’ cooperation. Besides, the digital technologies provide for great opportunities in digital access to economic cooperation; as for example, the 5G-based technologies would promise path breaking solutions to numerous challenges – from improving energy efficiency to scaling up e-commerce and e-health.

For these reasons, a new “political deal” is needed, to provide for a new and clear vision for the global/regional communities, national governments, private sectors and civil societies for “advancing the sustainable development agenda in an integrated manner”. More in:

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/UN-DESA_Back_Common_Future_En.pdf

The national reports are accessible at: http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_sd21st/21_reports.shtml

      

The time for national governance’s reflection is over: rewinding the “reflective actions” in 2020, the extraordinary year, when people and businesses have been expecting more from existing technologies and to concentrate on recovery and resilience. Experts are usually correctly wondering about “looming questions” of how the COVID-19 pandemic presently affect and will be vital for socio-economic issues, democracy and human rights in the EU and around the world.

Numerous global companies are already on the track: e.g. Google has pledged to help 10 million people and businesses find jobs, digitize and grow through easy-to-use products and training; that would also assist creating innovative products that serve the needs of Europeans. From its side, the EU already pronounced at the end of 2020 the Digital Markets Act to assist fast-growing innovative companies that will help people and businesses in the member states grow and prosper.

It is obvious that modern technology will instigate the economic recovery and drive green policies on a local, regional and global level; this direction at the same time will both directly and indirectly will impact transport, energy, trade and other growth patterns.

 

As to the EU’s federal structure, the pandemic’s year was a breakthrough for European federalists, as the year that the ways to common EU debt issuance was finally agreed on a large scale. The EU recovery fund marks the biggest step the EU has taken since the introduction of the euro toward a fiscal union. While the leading states insisted that these steps had been a sort of “one-off-measures”, such decisions in the EU-27 have a tendency to become irreversible, some EU experts acknowledged: 2020 was the year when people “zoomed into the future”, replacing face-to-face meetings with videoconferencing.

Having various cultural traditions and values in the EU-27 member states, the main task is to avoid a cultural confrontation; fruitful dialogues must consider avoiding so-called “colonialism of values”, i.e. imposing a unified pattern on all the states. There are cultures in the EU that have different mentalities and “visions of values”; therefore serious efforts must be made to avoid confrontation and finding common suitable solutions.

As to the governance, the EU is pursuing the task of implementing the rule of law concept in the member states: i.e. EU’s officials confirmed the intention. A long and detailed report on the government’s implementation of the recommendations of the Group of States against Corruption, (GRECO) in the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body is just a recent example. The EU wishes to reiterate the member states’ commitment to uphold the rule of law through continued efforts in making significant reforms and strengthening good governance. Besides, the rule of law and constitutional reform processes in numerous states is seen as a bid to strengthen its institutional and legal frameworks.

Following the balance between the “national/EU’s interest” and that of independent path of growth, the whole debate is always about sovereignty. The Commission’s President mentioned after the Brexit final deal was reached, the notion of sovereignty actually means in the 21st century being able to work, travel, study and do business freely and pooling national strength in a multi-polar world; the EU shows how this works in practice to provide for sound and good guidelines for a perspective European integration.  

However, the British PM Boris Johnson presented his definition of sovereignty in a different way by “taking back control of our laws and destiny” through the right to the UK’s own standards. Hence, the British laws will be made solely by the British parliament, interpreted by British judges, sitting in the UK courts”. Remarkably, that his message to the “EU friends and partners” was the following: “I think this deal means a new stability and a new certainty in what has sometimes been a fractious and difficult relationship. We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter, and indeed, never let it be forgotten, your number one market. Because although we will have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe.” The European Parliament’s trade committee acknowledged that the deal “has a sour aftertaste because the nature of the negotiations is not a stellar moment for democratic participation; because there was no access to negotiating texts for parliaments, the negotiations proceeded behind closed doors, which is no longer in line with the present times where democratic participation looks different.”

 

EU’s strategic autonomy: effect for the member states

During last three decades, the EU continued successful efforts in creating the single market, the Schengen area, the euro currency and EU’s enlargement; finally, the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted about a decade ago further consolidated the EU-states institutional framework. Each of these integration stages has strengthened the EU and its autonomy by developing a huge market, a stable social market economy, an area of four basic freedoms helping the EU to become the world’s largest trading bloc.

According to the EU’s vision, the Union’s strategic autonomy must pursue three objectives: stability, disseminating European standards and promoting European values.

For example, stability generally means physical and environmental security with good air quality, access to drinking water, protection of biodiversity, respect for the planet and for the human wellbeing. Besides, it also means economic and social security, which calls for a favourable environment for investment and trade inside the EU-27 and in the rest of the world. Secondly, upholding fair market conditions and access to the EU large market means that the Union’s trading partners have to follow European high standards for goods and services. Besides, economic security also means securing of the supply of critical resources including medical products, rare earth elements, microprocessors, which are so essential for the digital sovereignty and digital transformation.

Thus, safeguarding the EU’s standards capacity is a key factor for the member states’ socio-economic growth: Union standards concerning, e.g. the use of chemical substances ensure that toys produced around the world are safe. Then, the EU’s general data protection regulation sets the global standard for the protection of online privacy online.

Presently, climate issues are becoming a new strategic front where Europe can impose its high goods and services’ standards: e.g. by introducing high environmental technologies and setting the relevant standards the EU will take the lead in this sector and assist other actors in combating global warming.

The EU’s third objective deals with the European values: by strengthening the EU’s socio-economic model the member states pursue the unique European values, which make Europe highly attractive in the eyes of many partners around the world. By upholding these values fixed presently in the EU’s basic law (art.2 TEU) the EU can forge a more peaceful, a more humane and a fairer world. We have solid instruments at our disposal. In order to make more use of these values and make better use of them, the EU has adequate financial resources: the recent adoption of the MFF-2027 and the recovery package is a major instrument in this regard. Besides, the EU has sufficient coordinating institutional instruments for pursuing common international strategy by establishing in the Lisbon Treaty a position of “high representative for foreign affairs” as a Vice-President of the European Commission and President of the Foreign Affairs Council. The EU’s foreign policy requires unanimity: sometimes, requiring unanimity slows down and often even prevents decision-making; but this requirement is important in order to push EU and the states to closely to reach a common unified decision.

Defence occupies a special role in the EU’s strategic autonomy, which is very sensitive issue for a number of states: thus, deepening common defence is necessary, which is not an ideological obsession but a matter of common sense. The EU security has to be carried out within NATO; it is, actually, the purpose of the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO. The EU has just devoted €7 billion for a permanent structured cooperation and the European Defence Fund, which are fully in line with the Union’s strategic autonomy. Bottom line, the EU effective strategic autonomy is focal point that brings together the EU institutions and the member states to secure European destiny, wellbeing of its citizens and having a positive impact in the world. 

Source: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/09/28/l-autonomie-strategique-europeenne-est-l-objectif-de-notre-generation-discours-du-president-charles-michel-au-groupe-de-reflexion-bruegel/#

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