Delivering annual “state-of-the Union”, SOTEU-23 address to the European Parliament on 13 September Commission President claimed that her office had kept over 90 percent of the pledges made about four years ago in the then program for a green, digital and geopolitical Europe. She also revealed the future in which a Union of nations, democracies and people would have to work together to share peace and prosperity.
Some focal transformations occurred in the EU as a whole and in the member states’ political economies; here are some of the features:
= the birth of a geopolitical European Union with supporting Ukraine, standing up to Russia’s aggression, responding to an assertive China and investing in partnerships;
= adopting ambitious European Green Deal as a centerpiece of the member states’ economy. Commission started by setting a long-term perspective with the climate law and the 2050 target, shifted the climate agenda to the socio-economic agenda which gave a clear direction for investment and innovation; this growth strategy has already delivered in the short-term. Thus, European industry is showing active readiness to power this transition by proving that modernisation and decarbonisation can go hand in hand: e.g. during last five years the number of clean steel factories in the EU has grown from zero to 38. The EU-27 is now attracting more investment in clean hydrogen than the US and China combined.
The price for gas in Europe was over €300 per MWh one year ago; it is now around €35.
= following the path through the digital transition and defending online rights. The EU has already overcome the 20 percent investment target in the EU-wide digital projects (mainly through the NextGenerationEU plan). Artificial intelligence can and will improve healthcare, boost productivity, address climate change, etc.; but the real risks should not be underestimated.
To avoid real threats, the EU will, together with partners around the world, is being creating a new global framework for AI and digital, built on three pillars:
Thirst priority is guardrails, i.e. protective means (to ensure AI develops in a human-centric, transparent and responsible way; the EU adopted the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive pro-innovation AI law, thus this act has become a blueprint for the whole world).
The second is digital governance (the EU works on foundations for a single digital governance system to also join forces with partners to ensure a global approach to understanding AI’s social impact and guiding innovation. The EU states have used that investment to digitise their healthcare, justice system, transport network, etc. However, managing the risks of the digital transition is the task for the EU and the world, as the internet was born as an instrument for sharing knowledge, opening minds and connecting people.
The third pillar is guiding digital innovation in a responsible way (e.g. thanks to massive investment in the last years, Europe has become a leader in supercomputing: 3 out 5 most powerful supercomputers in the world are in the EU; the Commission announced in mid-September a new initiative aimed at opening-up the EU high-performance computers to AI start-ups to train their models. But this will be part of the EU’s efforts in guiding digital innovation, next steps are towards open dialogue with those that develop and deploy AI. In the US seven major tech companies have already agreed to voluntary rules around safety, security and trust; the EU wants to bring all of this work together towards minimum global standards for safe and ethical use of AI.
Citations from the SOTEU-23: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/speech_23_4426
= embarking on the historic NextGenerationEU program by investing about €800 billion into reforms to create decent jobs for today and tomorrow’s workers. There are three major economic challenges for the EU-wide industry in the near future: labour and skills shortages, inflation, and making business easier for entrepreneurs. The EU’s social market economy concept is actively working: the Commission adopted the so-called SURE program, ever-first European short-time work initiative which helped already to save 40 million jobs. But still the EU is facing labour and skills shortages both on national level and across all major economies: e.g. about 74 percent of SMEs are saying that they face skill shortages. Examples abound: hospitals are postponing treatment because of lack of nurses; about two thirds of European companies are looking for IT specialists, at the same time millions of parents, mostly mothers, are struggling to reconcile work and family, because there is no childcare. Before the end of 2023, the Commission will appoint an EU SME envoy reporting directly to the President; the idea is to take into consideration the challenges the SMEs are facing every day. Besides, for every new piece of corporate legislation the Commission will conduct a competitiveness check by an independent board; then, in October the Commission will make the first legislative proposals towards reducing reporting obligations at the European level by 25%.
= setting main building blocks for a “health union’, helping to vaccinate both the European continent and large parts of the world;
= adopting programs to make the member states more independent in critical sectors, like energy, chips or raw materials, with massive investment in renewables and fast-track the clean transition;
= performing ground-breaking and pioneering work on gender equality.
Administrative conclusion is clear: with all the declared achievements she seems to say: look how much I’ve done, wouldn’t it be better to keep me around for another five years?
The President actually never campaigned for the job but was picked as a wild card by the EU leaders in 2019. She successfully presided over the most geopolitical and local issues in the generation, e.g. backing Ukraine, toughening the bloc’s attitude to China and building closer relationship with the US among other things.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “trumpeted” her achievements by her office’s term but still stayed vague about her plans for the future.
For example, former President Jean-Claude Juncker, who left the Commission in 2019, made it clear months earlier that he would not seek a second term, giving commissioners and their staff good time to plan their future; this time, the leader’s plans are shrouded in mystery, which is only just providing growing anxiety in the internal cabinets and in the EU leaders’ heads.