This week the European Commission has published the "2021 Work Programme", which identifies the main actions that Brussels will take, or the projects it will try to drive forward in 2021. The document is important because it defines a clear strategy, at a time when the European continent is affected by the second wave of Covid-19, with partial lockdowns scattered throughout its territory. This becomes even more relevant if we consider the present geopolitical context. On the one hand, we have the United States, deeply afflicted by recent events and the election campaign. On the other hand, China adopted a very active foreign policy, and it is exploiting its financial weight while strategically investing all over the world.
The strategy of the European Commission can be synthesized with the phrase "Repairing the world of today by shaping the world of tomorrow". It is therefore clear that the first intention is to solve the health crisis as harmoniously as possible. Brussels claims the ability to act quickly and in compliance with the principle of solidarity. Many instruments have been introduced since the beginning of the crisis, especially economic instruments, but now it is time to think about the future. The action that the Commission wants to take forward focuses on six main areas that are worth analysing briefly:
Green Deal: environmental protection has always been one of the main themes of the von der Leyen Commission. One of its main proposals concerns the well-known carbon tax, mentioned by the document concerning the carbon border adjustment mechanism. The main aim is to make foreign producers and European importers act responsibly and reduce emissions, thus ensuring a level playing field for EU companies. This may cause many problems with our neighbouring countries, but also with our historical American allies. Granting a level playing field is also one of the reasons why Brussels and London have repeatedly blocked negotiations on Brexit;
Digitalization: digitalization is another area in which the European Commission wants to intervene. The ongoing challenge between the United States and China regards technological development, namely the field of semiconductors. In the European Union there are no high-tech giants like in the U.S. and some Asian countries. The document states that the first action to be taken is to adopt a Data Act, that is, a legislative tool that ensures greater control and better use of data, both of citizens and companies. The issue may seem irrelevant if we think about the information that everyone gives to social media, but things change if we talk about business or intelligence. In fact, in these fields there is still so much to do. A further central element for the European Commission wants is the establishment of a fair taxation system for tech giants. In case of failure, it would proceed with a European web that has been named digital levy;
Social policy: one of the most interesting aspects is certainly the European Child Guarantee: a fund to reduce economic inequalities and offer the same opportunities to every child, including those living in poverty. Numerous studies have pointed out that in recent years having a wealthy family has become an increasingly central factor in the possibility of access to education and health services;
Foreign policy: the pandemic plays a central role in this area. Brussels would like to be a global leader in ensuring safe access to a vaccine against Covid-19. It is certainly an important goal that would increase the European weight in the international arena. In addition, the Commission would like to relaunch multilateralism and propose to reform the functioning of the WHO and the WTO. Finally, the most geopolitically relevant element is the Arctic. The present increase in global temperatures calls for a new policy in this region. However, the same old conception of Europe as a "civil power" is what emerges from the document.
There is little talk of military integration or common defence policy, and this may have several consequences in the long run, especially considering Turkey's active foreign policy and the several tensions in North Africa;
European values: some interesting ideas have been raised on the promotion and defence of the European lifestyle. The first proposal was to create an agency for research and development in the biomedical field. The pandemic has shown that greater control over strategic production is needed. Also, the agency should grant constant access to high quality medicines. An additional major issue is the fight against anti-Semitism. The Commission wants to present a plan to help national governments to curb a frequent phenomenon that is gradually reappearing, especially on social networks;
Strengthening democracy: it's been a few years since the lack of democracy became a problem. It has certainly contributed to push citizens away from the institutions. In order to face this problem, the Commission envisages a long-term strategy focused on the rural areas of the European Union, with the aim of ensuring minimum standards of living and reviving the economy of these areas. One of the most interesting aspects is certainly the analysis of the impact of EU measures on the regions of its member states. In fact, a real evaluation of public policies would allow each territory to feel more represented.
There are many points to work on and each one presents difficulties. It is fair that the Commission presents a long-term strategy, showing that it has a clear idea of the European Union and its role in the world; the recovery of the pandemic could slow down such action or, on the contrary, relaunch it. European politics is a complicated game of balance between institutions, national governments and interest groups and the Commission has often indicated strategies that were not supported by the European Council.
Will it happen again?
Written by Leonardo Chierici
Translated by Simona M. Vallefuoco.
Original article: https://mondointernazionale.co... published on October 24, 2020.