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EU28 leaders’ promises for Europe’s future in four chapters

The meeting of Heads of State and Government of 20-21 June delivered few concrete results while formalising the 2019-2024 Strategic Agenda. Security, sustainable economy, social rights and foreign policy: a roadmap that must now move from words to deeds. Without neglecting potential reforms from Brussels to Strasbourg

“As the effects of climate change become more visible and pervasive, we urgently need to step up our action to manage this existential threat”: this declaration of principles – contained in the Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 – lacks a political and economic framework. A fundamental agreement on “zero emissions” by 2050 endorsed by EU28 to ensure that the old continent pursues “climate neutrality”, is still in a state of latency. The European Council of 20-21 June (in the photos) failed to reach a common stand on EU nominations (an extraordinary summit is tabled for June 30), and postponed discussing the Multiannual Financial Framework. It analyzed large-scale problems, such as Brexit, the strengthening of the Eurozone, the threats to democracy caused by “disinformation.” But it did not succeed in convincing all the Heads of State and Government to pursue the path of a fully sustainable economy with determination and foresight. Countries such as Poland, which the Czech Republic and Hungary have aligned with, almost entirely dependent on coal, refuse to reduce pollution – unless they are compensated otherwise. For the time being, the commitments of the Paris Agreement remain valid: a CO2 reduction of 40% – compared to 1990 – by 2030. Better than nothing.

Change of direction. Moreover, the Strategic Agenda appears to be a success – underestimated by the media – of the early summer summit. Admittedly, it is not a very ambitious and binding work programme of EU institutions and Member States, but rather the suggestion of a path that, if undertaken with courage, could deliver practical results for the benefit of European citizens.

“In recent years, the world has become increasingly unsettled, complex and subject to rapid change. That creates both opportunities and challenges”,

wrote and signed the Heads of Government and State in the policy document on the next five-year period. “Over the next five years, the EU can and will strengthen its role in this changing environment. Together, we will be determined and focused, building on our values and the strengths of our model. This is the only effective way to shape the future world, promote the interests of our citizens, businesses and societies, and safeguard our way of life.”

Steering the course of action. The Strategic Agenda “provides an overall framework and direction for that response.” Its goal is “to guide the work of the Institutions in the next five years.” The Agenda focuses on four main priorities: protecting citizens and freedoms; developing a strong and vibrant economic base; building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe; promoting European interests and values on the global stage.” Finally, it sets out “how to deliver on those priorities”, with some indefinite reference to domestic reforms.

Protection and security. Europe  “must be a place where people feel free and safe”  and the EU “shall defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens.” It includes pompous statements on values: “We must ensure the integrity of our territory. We need to know and be the ones to decide who enters the EU. Effective control of the external borders is an absolute prerequisite for guaranteeing security.” 

“We are determined to further develop a fully functioning comprehensive migration policy”:

These words have often fallen on deaf ears in the EU headquarters, where national leaders undertake commitments – in the area of migration – which they fail to follow through. The same chapter goes on: “We must protect our societies from malicious cyber activities, hybrid threats and disinformation originating from hostile State and non-State actors.”

Economic chapter. “A strong economic base is of key importance for Europe’s competitiveness and prosperity” and “for “the creation of jobs.” At a time when “technological, security and sustainability challenges reshape the global landscape, we need to renew the basis for long-term sustainable and inclusive growth and strengthen cohesion in the EU.”

“We must ensure that the euro works for our citizens”, deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, completing the Banking and Capital Markets Union.

“Over the next few years, the digital transformation will further accelerate and have far-reaching effects. We need to ensure that Europe is digitally sovereign.” A modern economy also entails “stepping up investment in people’s skills and education”, doing more to foster entrepreneurship and innovation and research.

“Climate-neutral, green, fair”. Third point: “Europe needs inclusiveness and sustainability, embracing the changes brought about by the green transition, technological evolution and globalisation while making sure no-one is left behind.” The EU “can and must lead the way, by engaging in an in-depth transformation of its own economy and society to achieve climate neutrality.” 

Thus the point on zero emissions by 2050 was skimmed over.

Moreover, “the success of the green transition will depend on significant mobilisation of private and public investments, on having an effective circular economy, and an integrated, interconnected and properly functioning European energy market”, notwithstanding Member States’ right “to decide on their energy mix.” The document devotes a paragraph on social issues: “the European Pillar of Social Rights should be implemented at EU and Member State level, with due regard for respective competences. Inequalities, which affect young people in particular, pose a major political, social and economic risk.”

Europe in the world and domestic reforms. Finally, a long chapter focuses on external relations and the much-needed reform of EU institutions. It affirms, inter alia, that the European Union “will remain a driving force behind multilateralism and the global rules-based international order, ensuring openness and fairness and the necessary reforms. It will support the UN and key multilateral organisations.” Further emphasis is given to international cooperation, neighbourhood policy, along with an “ambitious” trade policy. The document thus addresses the performance of the “common home”: “each institution should revisit its working methods and reflect on the best way to fulfil its role under the Treaties.” The populist, anti-EU drive requires a conscience examination from Brussels to Strasbourg.

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