The EU inaugurated this Sunday in Strasbourg its Conference on the Future of Europe, a hybrid discussion forum (in-person and telematic) open to citizens, long-term – decisions are not expected before a year –, non-binding and with a format that did not reach agreement until Friday. A decaffeinated convention that a priori will serve to reflect on the reconstruction of the project.
It began to gain momentum with Brexit, the pandemic delayed it and still sets the pace today. The British excision and the coronavirus – plus the latter – are the two milestones that have triggered the last and most serious existential crisis of the EU and that have turned its disappearance into more than a guess. Although there is a historic recovery plan about to be deployed. And the pace of vaccination has accelerated. The ‘joint purchase’ of serums has avoided an ‘every man for himself’ that could have given the final finishing touch. The question is whether the dissolution hypothesis subsides. Risks and challenges ahead.
Europeanism endures: Feeling of solidarity
The latest Eurobarometer reveals that six out of ten Europeans maintain that the pandemic “has made them reflect on the future of the EU»; opinion that prevails in the majority of the members. The chaotic reaction of a year ago, the delays in vaccine deliveries and that ‘each man for himself’ that marked the response of some countries to supply problems – Hungary chose to acquire vaccines from China and Russia, for example – they take their toll. From there, their priorities: combating the coronavirus, a reinforced health policy and a common strategy to avoid making the same mistakes in another similar crisis. More solidarity is requested. A wake-up call given by three out of ten respondents. Pro-European sentiment is still high in countries like Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Germany. And that is a key to keep in mind.
Reconstruction of the economy: Monetary fluidity
That same survey highlights the high support of Europeans (72%) for the economic decisions taken in response to the pandemic, especially with regard to employment coverage and public subsidies for companies. The mobilization of the 750,000 million euros from the anticovid fund and just over one trillion euros from the multiannual Budget unites all countries. July is the key month for money to start flowing. A debt issue from the European Commission to promote an appropriate growth strategy. The challenge: that the EU emerges stronger from this crisis, not weakened. And do so with a decisive step towards the green and digital transformation, with an income network in line with the new times (charges to large technology companies) and a euro with the capacity to counterbalance the US dollar. All together with the need for the EU to strengthen its capacity to protect key assets and be less dependent on external actors such as China.
A green goal: Climate neutrality in 2050
The fight against climate change is a priority that Ursula von der Leyen set at the beginning of her presidency, which she advanced with her Green Deal or European Green Pact and, after the political agreement reached a few weeks ago, will mutate into legislation that imposes the EU’s climate neutrality objective for 2050 and the challenge of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% halfway, in 2030, with respect to the levels 1990. Clear guidelines already set that require practical measures. And in this sense, access to anti-covid aid funds already forces the Twenty-seven to specify. Spain will allocate 31% of spending to this green transition. The average target in the EU is 38%. Here the imbalance will come with an East very dependent on fossil fuels.
Strengthening unity: North-south differences
A complex issue taking into account the disparity of national interests, the north-south differences – this wound resurfaced during the negotiation of the recovery fund –, the double speed in the integration project, and that the era of Angela Merkel – who in this critical phase has exercised leadership that has allowed for conciliation – is about to expire. Add to this the game of the blockade of Hungary and Poland – singled out by the rest of the partners for their lack of scruples with respect to the rule of law. Their game of blocking in a context in which the unanimity of the Twenty-seven is essential for transcendental agreements and foreign policy decisions, is gripping.
Foreign Policy: US Independence
Can the EU be a leading international player? He has the capacity to achieve it, but until now he has not shown it. Quite the contrary. The episodes starring Josep Borrell during his visit to Moscow and the now sadly famous ‘sofagate’ in Turkey, which highlighted the lack of coordination between the Commission and the Council – a battle of egos on the sidelines, between Von der Leyen and Charles Michel – have done damage to diplomatic projection. At stake is the independence of the ‘big brother’ United States. Because although the ‘John Biden era’ brings fresh air, ‘Trumpism’ revealed the absolute weakness of the EU.
Neighborhood with the United Kingdom: Judicial litigation
Assumed to be “a great failure” on which the EU “has to reconsider”, in the words of the main Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, the historic split of the United Kingdom has not had the feared contagion effect. Not now. Populist parties, aligned with ultra-conservative ideology, in both Italy and Austria, France, Germany and Sweden suspended the idea of replicating it in their countries months ago. The EU-United Kingdom link has had immediate practical effects: a drop of up to 50% in European imports and a 20% drop in the opposite direction; a dispute that will presumably end up in the Court of Justice of the European Union due to the fact that London has not yet activated merchandise controls in Northern Ireland; and disputes over vaccine supplies. The neighborhood will not be easy.