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The von der Leyen European Commission at midterm: Same priorities, different reality

European Commission / DISCUSSION PAPER
Corina Stratulat , Annika Hedberg , Stefan Sipka , Janis A. Emmanouilidis , Johannes Greubel , Francesco De Angelis , Laura Rayner , Perle Petit , Silvia Carta , Simon Dekeyrel , Melanie Fessler , Tommaso Grossi , Emily Fitzpatrick , Elizabeth Kuiper , Marta Mucznik

Date: 13/06/2022
At the halfway point of the von der Leyen Commission’s term, and amid a tumultuous context, the EPC has conducted a thorough and broad analysis of its successes and failures so far. How have the pandemic and the war affected President von der Leyen’s initial promises? What are the key imperatives ahead? How can von der Leyen make the most of the remainder of her mandate to help the EU advance in this new era (Zeitenwende)? EPC analysts from across all programmes compare and contrast the initial 6 policy priorities against their actual delivery and provide recommendations for the second half of the Commission’s term.

Priority 1: A European Green Deal

The European Commission has made a commendable effort to lay the foundation for real change, but should now focus on turning goals into action. The rationale for the Green Deal has never been stronger.

Priority 2: A Europe fit for the digital age

The Commission should shift from a catch-up mentality to offering anticipatory governance while continuously expanding the EU’s digital infrastructure.

Priority 3: An economy that works for people

The Commission must move beyond an emergency management mindset and provide bold, long-term solutions. Simplifying fiscal rules and establishing guarantees for a growth-friendly public debt reduction should top its immediate to-do list. In addition, it should make a greater effort to achieve its social targets in the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Priority 4: A stronger Europe in the world

A significant institutional redesign will likely be needed if the EU, including the ‘geopolitical Commission’, is to emerge as a credible player on the world stage. Redefining the EU’s engagement with its neighbours also impels a general re-evaluation of enlargement policy based on a workable model and real political support from member states.

As for the Union’s newest external neighbour, the Commission must continue to de-escalate and depoliticise subsequent flare-ups with the UK.

Priority 5: Promoting our European way of life

The Commission must not lose sight of the EU asylum and migration acquis. The Commission’s proposals for a New Pact on Migration, presented two years ago, remain gridlocked by the political disputes on solidarity and responsibility-sharing in the allocation of asylum seekers across member states.

In addition, the Commission has laid the foundation for a European Health Union, with proposals to extend the mandates of the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and establish the Health and Emergency Response Authority. Proposals should continue to be put forward to become a reality and not be subject to major delays.

Priority 6: A new push for European democracy

European democracy is suffering. The Commission must react to new threats and adapt to the changing power balance in the EU – and the world – caused by disruptive illiberal voices.

More broadly, von der Leyen’s promise to renew the Commission’s relationship with the other EU institutions has not transpired. Going forward, the Commission should develop continuous interinstitutional coordination on not just international negotiations but also all issues of key strategic importance for the EU.

The von der Leyen Commission must continue to pursue its initial key priorities. However, it will now have to do so through the prism of the Zeitenwende currently underway. Following the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the entire Union now lives and operates in a new era. The EU and its member states must make a choice: opt for a joint future or watch the old continent drift into fragmentation and irrelevance, unable to defend its own interests.

Moving ambitiously ahead will only be possible if the Commission is ready to open new frontiers and daring enough to present proposals that might have been taboo previously. It is the only way to ensure that Zeitenwende translates into adequate policy choices and substantial reform of the Union’s governance structures. This is not the time to be cautious, and history will surely judge the von der Leyen Commission.

Read the full paper here.
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