Agriculture & Food
The field of agriculture and food production is notably one of the oldest common European policies, as well as one of the most relevant parts of the EU budget. In addition, agriculture and food production play an important role in improving the health and well-being of European citizens, while enhancing Europe’s economic competitiveness and food security. However, as the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) sets out, this sector will be fundamental in securing not only the future of agriculture and forestry, but also in achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal and the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. The European Commission’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies represent the principal guidelines through which Europe should manage the sustainable transformation of the EU food supply-chain in the coming years. The most important features of the transformation of the agri-food sector in Europe are the aims of protecting and supporting rural communities and the introduction of a member state-based evaluation framework of performances and results which is based on environmental and social sustainability, along with competitiveness-related benchmarks. By facilitating a successful transition to a sustainable food supply-chain, the EU could set a new global standard for the farming sector.
Climate, Energy & EU Green Deal
As one of the greatest challenges of our time, the climate and energy policy areas stand at the centre of EU policy action. Indeed, the European Union has committed to making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. The EU is aiming to achieve this objective with the policies laid out in the three main pillars of EU climate action, namely the EU Climate Law, the EU Green Deal, and its implementation packages. Other main questions that must be tackled are the reform of the emission trading system (ETS), the trade of low carbon production, and the investment in new infrastructure and sustainable technologies. Not by chance have the green and the digital transitions been defined as “twin transition”. In light of raising energy prices and geopolitical instability, sustainable and digital energy solutions remain essential not only for protecting the planet, but also to increase Europe’s energy security. In addition, climate action notably requires international collaboration, which explains why the EU is introducing mechanisms to manage carbon trading and energy engagement. After all, climate change is a threat to the global ecosystem as we know it. There is no Planet B.
Competition & State Aid
The domain of competition has become one of the cornerstones of European policy-making. Competition policies aim to protect the interests of EU citizens and the society as a whole by fostering consumer welfare through efficiently functioning markets. Furthermore, in the words of the European Commission, “the EU’s rules on competition are designed to ensure fair and equal conditions for businesses, while leaving space for innovation, unified standards and the development of small businesses”, which form the backbone of the European economy. At the same time, EU state aid policies have gained further importance not only due to increased global competition and different state aid practices among global players, but also as the European economy is recovering from the consequences of the Corona crisis. It has thus made it essential for EU institutions to implement specific policies that ensure contestability and foster growth and innovation in a fast-changing and increasingly competitive global environment. The digital transformation of the European economy and society represents one of the main challenges for current competition law practices. Within this context, the EU is pursuing new paths to promote competition and fairness, especially in the digital sphere, by starting to adopt ex-ante approaches to regulation instead of the classical ex-post evaluation.
Digital Transition, Tech & Data
Digital technologies are radically changing the European economy and society as a whole. The EU’s commitment to this policy area seeks to make the digital transition work for citizens and businesses, especially for SMEs, while contributing to achieve the goal of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. However, the digital transition of the economy and society raises several ethical questions. First, how to regulate and protect citizens’ rights whilst not hindering innovation and growth. Second, how the future of work will look like in the foreseeable future. Third, how Europe will help developing the skills and workforce required for citizens to adapt to a digitally-based society. The digital domain is notably changing consumption habits and is reshaping business models, supply chains and distribution infrastructure. Within this context, EU institutions are determined to make this Europe’s ‘Digital Decade’ by strengthening its digital sovereignty and set standards, with a clear focus on data, technology development and infrastructure. The question of cybersecurity is also an important area of concern. The European Union is active on various fronts to promote cyber resilience, safeguarding communication and data while keeping the online society and economy secure, especially as the international environment is increasingly presenting challenges and threats.
Education, Culture & Youth
Education and culture are of fundamental importance to the competence and potential of young citizens. European communities, in general, achieve an acceptable level of human development and a valuable level of social and economic welfare. These communities are also an essential element for the development of solid democracy with prosperous and inclusive societies based on citizens’ empowerment. Indeed, “citizens’ empowerment” should be understood as the process of developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence which should result in being able to act individually and collectively to change social relations and detrimental discourse at the expense of EU citizens’ rights and well-being, as well as to the peaceful coexistence of every single member of society. European institutions support this vision through a variety of projects and programmes, of which Creative Europe and Erasmus+ are the most known. The Creative Europe programme helps audio-visual, cultural and creative professionals reach new audiences and supports the development of cross-border cooperation and networks. Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. The 2021-2027 programme places a strong focus on social inclusion, the green and digital transitions, and promoting young people to participate in democratic life.
EU Economy & Eurozone
In a context of increasing globalisation and rapid technological change, the EU economy remains at the centre of European institution action. Although all member states are part of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and coordinate their policy-making in order to support the economic aims of the European Union, 19 out of 27 member states have so far replaced their national currencies with the euro, forming the so-called ‘Eurozone’. Within the Eurozone, monetary policy is responsibility of the European Central Bank (ECB), while fiscal policies remains responsibility of the member states. However, national governments coordinate their respective policies in order to attain the common objectives of stability, growth and employment through a number of structures and instruments, the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) being a central one. Nevertheless, the 2008 financial crisis and the Corona crisis have put into question the macroeconomic approach of the European Union as a whole. Indeed, the Corona crisis and the subsequent adoption of Next Generation EU, the instrument designed to boost recovery from the pandemic and the largest stimulus package ever financed in Europe, have addressed some of the shortcomings already highlighted in the 2015 Five Presidents Report. The way in which the Eurozone and the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) could evolve and be reformed during time is still a matter of debate within and around EU institutions and member states. Next Generation EU, also known as the Recovery Plan for Europe, is considered by several authoritative sources as a testing ground for the gradual evolution of Europe’s macroeconomic architecture.
European Politics & Institutions
The EU’s institutional structure, governance and policy-making includes the European Commission, Parliament and Council as well as the national Parliaments, which make crucial decisions for EU citizens’ lives on a daily basis. Understanding how the EU’s institutional system, governance and policy-making are evolving and to what extent they will be able to respond to the challenges of the 21st century is of crucial importance for the future of the old continent. Monitoring and analysing the political developments at both EU and member state level is also of great relevance. This helps us understand which questions are emerging from European public discourse and what is the state of debate on further European integration, as well as to what extent European citizens are included and supportive in the discussions on the future of Europe. In addition, the question of strategic autonomy, the future of European integration and EU policy-making are deeply intertwined. Indeed, if the EU is not equipped to cope with the internal and external dynamics which are affecting its prosperity and security or challenging its values, the European project as a whole could be endangered.
Internal Market, Entrepreneurship & SMEs
The European single market is one of the EU’s greatest achievements since its creation in 1993. It has fostered competition, created jobs and growth, and reduced many trade barriers across Europe’s member states. The single market has contributed to foster labour specialisation and economies of scale by allowing goods and factors of production to move to the area where they are most valued, hence improving the efficiency of the allocation of resources. It is also intended to drive economic integration, whereby the once separate economies of the member states become integrated within a single EU-wide economy. However, the development of the internal market is an ongoing process which still contains gaps, with special regard to cross-border trade and services. European institutions have also devoted particular attention to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), often defined as the “backbone of the European economy”, as they provide two thirds of private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total added value created by businesses. European institutions have also given additional attention to the question of start-ups which has emerged of particular importance for Europe with special regard to the question of developing new and innovative technologies.
Since its inception, the European Union has concentrated its action on economic and social integration. The EU has not been able to play an effective role as a global actor beyond its soft-power capacity, while exerting some influence in its immediate neighbourhood. Over the last two decades, however, rising confrontation between established and emerging powers, as well as the increase in authoritarian regimes, have returned as determinant factors of the global political and diplomatic landscape. With its current institutional structure, the EU external action has been struggling to adjust to the new reality and, for this reason, the European Commission has pledged to push for a more ‘geopolitical Commission’ for the EU to have a more assertive voice in its external relations. As a result, the concept of ‘strategic autonomy’ has become central to a number of statements by EU and national leaders, as well as to some relevant policy documents. Nevertheless, the debate on Europe’s strategic autonomy has so far revealed differences and uncovered common grounds. At a time when the Corona crisis and geopolitical tensions have exposed the risks of interdependence, several observers and analysts have highlighted the vulnerabilities of globalisation and the (re)emergence of armed conflicts. The concept of strategic autonomy should help the European Union in gaining resilience and managing interdependence in ways consistent with its interests and values.
Rule of Law, Migration & Diversity
With a population of 450 million people, the European Union has the mission to protect its citizens’ rights and strengthen democratic values in its member states. The principles of the rule of law is the foundation upon which the EU is built and therefore stands as the main principle of European policy action. Fundamental human rights such as inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination represent flagship values not only for the European way of life, but also vis-à-vis the rest of the world. However, these rights apply to European citizens and to non-EU citizens, including those seeking refuge in Europe. Especially in times in which the world is facing both rising authoritarianism and democratic decline, Europe aims to be a safe harbour for the most vulnerable. Nevertheless, divergences in democratic standards, as well as the question of migration have been issues that often take the spotlight in European public debate.
Science, Research & Innovation
Scientific knowledge and breakthrough innovation will drive the green and digital transformation, as well as deal with societal challenges currently present in Europe. Science accelerates the transition towards a sustainable and prosperous future for the people and planet, based on respect for European values. Research and innovation policy also play a key role in responding to the societal challenges highlighted by the Corona crisis and will help deliver Europe’s recovery plan, paving the way out of the current crisis on the path to a fairer future, based on economic growth that respects both human well-being and the planet.
Social Europe & Public Health
The Commission has set forth 20 principles and targets in the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) Action Plan to create employment, improve living and working conditions, and ensure a high level of human health and consumer protection. The EPSR is constructed around the three pillars of equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. While member states are responsible for developing national health policies and organising healthcare, the Council and Parliament pass legislation aimed at raising citizens’ living standards and improving their quality of life. Therefore, the pillars’ implementation is a collaborative effort between EU institutions, national, regional, and local governments, social partners and civil society.
Sustainable Cities & Regions
Sustainability is not only a global question since it must be implemented at local level. European cities are home to millions of European citizens and a machine for economic and social growth. As such, they constitute the backbone of European society and need to be preserved as spaces of social interaction, communication, and community building. At the same time, they must be transformed into sustainable and modern environments that protect both our planet and our values. According to the European Environment Agency, the ideal modern city should have the following characteristics: circular, resilient, low-carbon, green, inclusive and healthy. The main questions boldly emerging are, for instance, what the quality of life is across different cities measured through the European Air Quality Index, as well as how to facilitate green urban and regional mobility. Indeed, as the majority of Europeans live in large, medium and small cities, sustainability efforts must also include rural areas. Rural areas need to be increasingly connected both digitally and transport-wide for citizens living in these areas to be as autonomous as possible. Furthermore, preserving jobs in rural areas will represent a major challenge for the European Union in the coming years.
Sustainable Development & Humanitarian Aid
The EU is committed to the United Nations 2030 Agenda including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are also enshrined in its Global Gateway strategy and the European Green Deal. In addition, whenever there is a disaster or humanitarian emergency, the EU provides assistance to the affected countries and populations. Sustainable development, humanitarian aid and civil protection are complementary. In the case of humanitarian aid, the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department is leading global humanitarian donors in cooperation with EU member states. When it comes to civil protection, the EU assumes a supporting role, coordinating voluntary contributions from countries participating in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Within this framework, this domain of European policies aims at fostering sustainable development and stability in developing countries, with the ultimate goal of achieving the SDGs.
Trade & Investments
The EU remains the largest economy in the world with 500 million consumers and an average GDP per capita among the highest in the world. The European Union ranks first in both inbound and outbound international investments, while being the top trading partner for 80 countries. The EU supports free trade under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and acts in favour of the green and digital transformation, the setting of global rules for a more sustainable and fairer globalisation, along with its own rights and interests. The European Union is one of the main global providers and the top global destination of foreign investment, and has exclusive competences in trade policy. EU institutions are therefore responsible for both foreign and domestic direct investment, as part of the common commercial policy. The European Commission negotiates trade agreements with trade partners after receiving the mandate from the Council. The Council and the Parliament approve the proposal for a trade agreement with a trade partner submitted by the Commission. In order to achieve its objectives, EU trade policy pays special attention to several crucial issues such as the reform of the WTO, the promotion of responsible and sustainable value chains, global standards of trade in services and the strengthening of the EU’s regulatory impact. Although overtaken by China in 2021 as the largest EU import source for goods, the US remains the EU’s largest trade and investment partner by far.
Transport & Mobility
EU transport policy for all its modes helps keep the European economy moving by developing a modern infrastructure network that makes journeys quicker and safer, while promoting sustainable and digital solutions. Transport is also a cornerstone of European integration and is vital for fulfilling the free movement of individuals, services and goods. The transport sector plays an important role in the European economy and, as such, accounts for around 30 percent of energy consumption in Europe. Moreover, transport is the fastest growing sector in terms of energy use, and, in this connection, it is essential to realise the potential for energy efficiency gains in this sector. For these reasons, the implementation of sustainable and innovative means of transport plays an important role in the EU’s energy and climate objectives. All transport modes need to become more sustainable, with green alternatives widely available and the right incentives put in place to drive the transition. Concrete milestones will keep the European transport system’s journey towards a smart and sustainable future on track.
In 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. Today, the UK is outside the EU and mostly no longer subject to its rules, but only after a political struggle at home and with the bloc itself. However, the political and policy consequences of this choice are far from over. The post-Brexit UK-EU relationship is undergoing several strains, while substantial divergences still rage over the terms covering Northern Ireland. In addition, new border and immigration arrangements between Britain and the old continent have disrupted, for example, trade and the supply of labour. For many in Europe, the UK-EU split weakens the position of the old continent at a time when the United States has turned eastwards and other powers, notably China and Russia, are increasingly assertive.