European Commission President’s second in her College time “State of the Union” address to the European Parliament this fall featured EU’s recommendations for the states in “redesigning” further integration process and increasing EU’s role in the world. The annual seemingly modern “reset-priorities” for the next year include some existing directions, like combating covid-pandemic’s threats, European socio-economic recovery, climate and digital transformations, as well some new, like defense cooperation and semiconductor sovereignty…
Out of numerous priorities designed for 2022, our Institute decided to chose only some vital for the member states and European integration perspective issues. Although emulated from the US, the “State of the Union’s” idea has become in the EU a vital aspect of political agenda. Some historic examples from “over the Atlantic” suffice to mention…
SOTU: short history
State of the Union messages to the Congress is an integral part of American political culture; their origin is fixed in the US Constitution (art. II, sect. 3): the President “…shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”. George Washington clarified the phrase “from time to time”: since 1790, with occasional exceptions, State of the Union messages have been delivered once annually.
The State of the Union address (sometimes abbreviated to SOTU) is an annual message on the current condition of the nation delivered by a US President to the US Congress at the beginning of each calendar year. The message typically includes reports on the nation’s budget, economy, perspective agenda, as well as achievements and the president’s priorities and legislative proposals.
The SOTU –by tradition- in modern time, starting from 1933, is delivered orally to a joint session of Congress. However, beginning with Jefferson’s first State of the Union (1801) and lasting until Taft’s final message (1912), the State of the Union was a written (and often lengthy) report sent to Congress to coincide with a new Session of Congress. In some years there were both written messages and oral addresses. The actual term “State of the Union” first emerged in 1934 when Franklin D. Roosevelt used the phrase, becoming its generally accepted name since 1947. Televising the SOTU was a further transformation of the spoken message: the first televised address was Truman’s in 1947; at the end of the year Truman was the first to televise an address from the Oval Office. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson began the practice of making the address in the evening in prime time.
In 1966, began the practice of opposition party responses to SOTU: in the first instance, Senator Everett Kirksen and Representative Gerald R. Ford held a joint news conference 15 minutes after the end of the President’s address.
Recent presidents starting with Reagan addressed a joint session of Congress shortly after their inaugurations but these messages were not technically considered to be “State of the Union” addresses. Reagan’s 1981 address was called “address before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery”; while Bush’s 1989 and Clinton’s 1993 messages were called as the “Administration Goals” speeches. But there were different messages’ goals: thus, G.W. Bush’s 2001 speech was called a “Budget Message”, while Presidents Obama and Trump delivered a similar non-State of the Union “Addresses before a Joint Session of the Congress”; usually, these messages are regarded as SOTUs, as the impact of such speeches on public, media, and congressional perceptions of presidential leadership and power should be the same as if the address was an official State of the Union.
As to the timing, the SOTU has been delivered near the beginning of each session of Congress; before 1934 the SOTU was delivered usually in December. Since 1934 during the first term of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the SOTU has been given in January. Since the 1930s, the US Presidents made SOTUs annually in late January or early February: thus, between 1934 and 2013 the date has been as early as January 3 and as late as February 12. Quite remarkable is that during last two centuries (since 1900 up to 2021) there were 107 oral and written SOTUs.
Some examples: In 1956 President Eisenhower sent a written message to Congress, and also addressed the Nation via radio with a summary of his message; he did not deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress. In 1945 President Roosevelt sent a written message to Congress, and also addressed the nation via radio with a summary of his message; he did not deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress. During 1973 President Nixon delivered a series of six written SOTUs: one message was an overview, followed by five additional messages each focused on a specific public policy theme; the president also delivered a radio address to the nation before each policy-specific message was sent to Congress.
Other specifics: SOTU is seen as one of the most important events in the US political calendar. It is one of the few instances when all three branches of the US government are assembled under one roof: members of both houses of Congress constituting the legislature, the president’s Cabinet constituting the executive, and the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court constituting the judiciary. In addition, the military is represented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while foreign governments are represented by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
EU’s priorities: attention to the “Union’s soul”
Although the President’s speech was titled “Strengthening the Soul of our Union”, there was not much about it; instead, the Commission President underlined that in the “deepest global economic crisis for decades”, the EU has chosen a complex program NextGenerationEU. And in “the gravest planetary crisis of all time”, the EU chose to accomplish the European Green Deal. Besides, it is expected that the EU’s institutions and the member states will strengthen individual liberty through the community’s facilities: i.e. the member states will extend efforts to better understand the Union’s shared history and values with a due respect to European different cultures and common perspectives.
The Commission President reminded that the EU’s founding fathers (e.g. Robert Schuman) constantly repeated that Europe needs a soul, an ideal, and the political will to serve this ideal. All references in italics from the Commission’s speech: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_4701
= European socio-economic recovery. The aim of the European social market economy –as a guiding principle in its development – is to make sure that the next generation would have a perspective future with the most educated, satisfied and motivated generation of citizens. Thus, the member states have to step up their support for progressive education, training and employment; with this goal the EU will introduced a new education/training program, ALMA, which would help young Europeans to experience a temporary work in another state.
Alongside existing Erasmus+ program, ALMA project will create collective “European bonds” and help the new generation to forge their European identity. For this to happen, the EU proposes to make 2022 the Year of European Youth dedicated to empower job’s exchange and support.
The EU’s “NextGenerationEU” plan included long-sought structural economic issues in the member states; this task needs leaders’ attention and a structured dialogue at top-level.
The EU has already a positive example of 30 years in the Single/Common Market during which it served as a great enabler of progress and prosperity; it is still a good political economy’s platform for the European recovery and resilience, creating new jobs, enhancing sustainability and competitiveness. These issues are particularly important for the digital economy and society: thus, digital spending in the states’ budgets will increase by 20 percent.
According to the NextGenerationEU plan, the member states will invest in both short-term recovery and long-term prosperity by addressing structural issues in development and growth patterns; the President mentioned successful labour market reforms in Spain, pension reforms in Slovenia and tax reform in Austria. Besides, the EU’s budget will support increased investments in new technology, like the 5G and fiber-net, as well as investment in the digital skills.
The Commission will relaunch the discussion on the Economic Governance Review with the aim of creating a consensus on the way forward to 2023.
= Social protection: the Commission intends further assist the states in the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights to ensure decent jobs, fairer working conditions, better healthcare and optimal balance in people’s lives. Additionally, the EU will come forward with a new European Care Strategy to support the member states’ efforts for citizens in finding the best care and the best life balance’s models. However, social fairness is both a question of time and of fair taxation: the EU will insist that big companies pay the right amount of tax for the national budgets, which is becoming an issue of basic fairness in public finances.
= Climate change efforts: the UN’s recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change represents a global authority on the science of climate change. The report underlines that climate change issues are anthropogenic in nature: since they are man-made, the national governance is able to deal with it; some changes are already happening: e.g. more electric vehicles than diesel cars were registered in Germany in the first half of this year, Poland has become the EU’s largest exporter of car batteries and electric buses, the new European Bauhaus program has led to an explosion of creativity of architects, designers and engineers in the EU-27. When it comes to climate change and the nature protection, the EU intends to double funding for biodiversity, in particular for the most vulnerable countries with the so-called “climate finance” being essential for both climate mitigation and adaptation. There is a global commitment to provide $100 billion a year until 2025 for tackling climate issues; in the EU the Team Europe program will contribute $25 billion per year and additionally € 4 billion for climate finance until 2027. Closing the climate finance gap internationally would be a strong signal for the European global climate leadership. Besides, the EU climate policy makes sure that higher climate ambition is accompanied by social protection: i.e. with the fair green transition. With this in mind, the EU suggested creation of a new Social Climate Fund to tackle the energy poverty: presently already about 34 million Europeans are affected.
= European Green Deal with an utmost target of at least 55% emission reduction by 2030, has been already supported the legal obligations towards EU’s climate goals; the EU is the first major global economy with a comprehensive legislation in this field.
= EU’s defense capabilities and the European Defence Union issues: the EU has not been advocating European-wide army-units; instead, it suggested a creation of collective defense decision-making patterns using situational awareness and intelligence cooperation among the member states in the same region to share military information at the European level. The idea is about bringing together the knowledge from all services and sources: from space to police trainers, from open source to development agencies. With this in mind, the EU shall create Joint Situational Awareness Centre to fuse all the different pieces of information.
It is recommended that the member states have to improve interoperability and create synergy by investing in common European platforms: from fighter jets, to drones and cyber. For example, the member states could consider waiving VAT when buying defence equipment developed and produced in other EU members; it would increase interoperability and decrease present external dependencies. Besides, an important part in defense issues is cyber security: thus, cyber defence tools shall be developed in the EU followed by legislation on common standards under a new European Cyber Resilience Act.
= Semiconductor sovereignty: this priority reflects the importance of investing in the European technology’s sovereignty with additional attention to digital transformation according to the EU’s rules and values. However, digital progress goes together with massive chips’ production: despite growing demand and intensive whole production lines the member states feels a shortage of semi-conductors. Thus, the new European Chips Act is aimed at boosting European coordination in the world-class research, design and testing capacities in electronics with the national investment along the value chain. The aim is to jointly create a state-of-the-art European chip ecosystem, including production, which would ensure the EU’s security of supply and create new markets for ground-breaking European electronic technology.
Faced with a global chips shortage and heavy dependencies on Asian states and the US, the EU wants to boost its share of the global chips market to 20 percent by 2030. The US has already proposed in 2020 a Chips for America Act to pour tens of billions of dollars into the sector; other countries are investing heavily in the technology, too.
Global vision: the EU will soon present a new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway as a partnership with countries around the world aimed at investing in quality infrastructure which would connect people globally in production of goods and services, etc. with a values-based approach, offering transparency and good governance according to the EU’s values. To make the global gateway’s approach happen (as a globally trusted endeavor), the EU will create a “Team Europe” approach to connect management and investment, banks and the business community. This priority would be revealed at the EU-Africa summit in February 2022.
The EU member states’ societies shall be built on democracy, common values and trust in governance. In this way, underlined the Commission President, the new ideas can be formed, various changes happen and injustices overcome; trust in these common values has already brought various facets of European integration together. The “great European values” are coming from European cultural, religious and humanist heritage being part of “European soul”.
To a certain degree, European values are guaranteed by the Union’s legal order and are safeguarded by the binding judgments of the European Court of Justice with a due respect in the member states. However, protecting the rule of law is not just a noble goal, it is as well hard work and a constant struggle for improvement; the EU’s rule of law has become an important part of the European integration process: the Commission recommends that from 2022, the rule of law reports will come with specific recommendations to the EU member states.
General reference and source – Commission President’s speech at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_4701