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"A Union that strives for more" – Ursula's agenda for Europe

Article by Bernd Gruner, EUEW's Senior Adviser for EU Affairs

The new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presents to the European Parliament an ambitious agenda for her term.

Ursula von der Leyen
Brussels, Belgium. 10 July 2019. Ursula von der Leyen gives a press briefing.

In parallel to its audition before the European Parliament and its subsequent election on 14 July Ursula von der Leyen put forward the document “A Union that strives for more – My agenda for Europe”. It presents a long list of measures she would like to propose during her term as European Commission President. The proposals are based on the European Council’s Strategic Agenda for 2019 – 2024 and the discussions with the representatives of the political groups in the European Parliament. They are clearly designed to meet the demands and attract the votes of the main political groups in the European Parliament. Therefore, it remains to be seen if all the ideas put forward will be maintained in the present form, once the concrete Commission work programme will be established end of this year Nonetheless, it provides political guidelines and a broad indication of what might be included in the European agenda over the next five years.

In her Agenda, Ms von der Leyen emphasises the need to address the public discomfort arising from the political, economic, social and environmental challenges in the world by modernising and strengthening the European Union by investing in new technologies and skills, education and research, supporting the necessary transition to a climate-neutral social market economy and applying the rule of law based on EU values. The agenda covers 21 pages under 6 headings.

Under the heading a "European Green Deal" measures are proposed aiming at having a carbon neutral European Union in 2050 and at realising a transition towards a circular economy with innovative clean technology, while ensuring that the transition is fair for all regions. It contains a number of ambitious elements:

  • Within the first 100 days make a proposal on a Climate Law to achieve climate neutrality by 2050

  • By 2021a plan to increase ambitions for the CO2 reduction target raised from 40% to 50% by 2030, with an ambition to reach 55%

  • An extension of the European Emission Trade Scheme to cover traffic and construction

  • A Carbon border tax on imports to avoid carbon leakage compliant to WTO rules

  • A new industrial strategy for a circular economy and clean technologies:

  • A European Climate Pact bringing together local authorities, civil society, industry and schools, which will be jointly designing and committing to a set of pledges to bring about a change of behaviour.

Under the heading "An economy that works for people" the measures proposed aim at supporting SMEs, at deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, at strengthening and enforcing the European social pillar including a strategy for equal rights and at reforming the international corporate tax system. The most important measures are:

  • Set-up a SME strategy reducing red tape and improving their access to markets and creating a private public fund specialising in Initial Public Funds Offerings for SMEs,

  • Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness for the euro area to step up funding for economic adjustment in poorer Eurozone countries and help convergence in countries joining the euro

  • A European Bank deposit guarantee scheme and fund for insolvent banks

  • European Deposit Insurance Scheme to ensure the safety of bank deposits.

  • Within the first 100 days proposal of a legal instrument to ensure for a fair minimum wage, while minimum wages continue to be set at national level.

  • Action Plan to fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights

  • Improving the labour conditions of platform workers by focusing on skills and education.

  • Proposal of a European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme

  • European Child Guarantee ensuring access to the most basic rights

  • Full implementation of the Work-Life balance Directive.

  • Youth Guarantee as a permanent instrument to fight youth unemployment

  • Within the first 100 days measures introducing binding pay-transparency measures

  • European Gender Strategy ensuring the principle of equal pay for equal work

  • Unblock the Directive on gender balance on company boards – starting with full gender equality or the College of Commissioners

  • Tax fairness between bricks-and-mortar and digital businesses: if no global solution for a fair digital tax by 2020 EU should act alone.

  • A common consolidated corporate tax base to lift obstacles to a deeper integration of the single market.

Under the heading "A Europe fit for the digital age" aim at investing in new technologies, at setting-up standards with global ambition ensuring the flow and wide use of data while preserving a high degree of privacy, security, safety and ethical standards and at speeding up digital skills for young and adults.

  • Within first 100 days put forward legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence

  • Prioritise investment in AI through increased public-private partnerships.

  • A New Digital Services Act to update liability and safety of digital platforms, services and products;

  • Joint Cyber Unit to speed up data sharing and cyber security – move from “need to know” to “need to share”.

  • Full digitalization of the Commission services to be more agile, flexible and more transparent,

  • Realise the European Education Area by 2025 by enabling learners to move more easily between education systems in different countries.

  • Digital Education Action Plan to speed up skills for young people and adults

  • Triple Erasmus + budget for the five years budget.

Under the heading "Protecting our European way of life" the measures aim at upholding the rule of law in the European Union, at strengthening internal security and external security, at ensuring free movement in the Schengen area and at developing a new migration and asylum strategy:

  • Implementation of a comprehensive European rule of law mechanism with tighter enforcement using ECJ judgements and making the Rule of law an integral part of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (financial sanctions as “last resort”)

  • New Common Migration and Asylum policy sharing the burden and ensuring a fully functioning Schengen Area

  • Reinforced European Border and Coast Guards Agency to stem illegal migration

  • Common European Asylum policy

  • Stronger cooperation with third countries by improving the condition in the countries of origin

  • More powers to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and enable be able to investigate and prosecute cross-border terrorism

  • Proposal of a package for an integrated European approach to reinforce customs risk management and support effective controls by Member States

Under the heading "A stronger Europe in the world" measures reaffirm Europe’s commitment to a rule-based global order, free and fair trade and to engage more actively in responsible global leadership while strengthening defence to new threats at European level

  • Conclude free trade negotiations with New-Zealand and Australia and the partnership with the United states while ensuring the highest standards of climate, environmental and labour protection

  • Reform and update the World Trade Organisation

  • Appointment of a Chief Trade Enforcement Officer to improve compliance and enforcement of trade agreements

  • Establish a Comprehensive strategy on Africa and reaffirm the European perspective for the Western Balkans

  • Strategic Partnership with the UK, no concessions on the withdrawal agreement, but more time if needed (and justified) after 31 October to reach agreement

  • Setting-up a European Defence Union strengthening EU resilience to the rise in serious and acute hybrid security threats.

Under the heading "A new push for European democracy" the measures aim at more open and participative governance in the EU by providing civil society a stronger voice, strengthening the powers of the European Parliament, improving the transparency and scrutiny of the legislative process and strengthening the defence of the democratic processes. The main measures are:

  • The European Commission will be starting in 2020 a Conference on the Future of Europe with a clear scope and objectives agreed between the EP, Council and the Commission, which will be running for 2 years

  • Proposal of the right of legislative initiative for the European Parliament, acting by a majority of members (today only Commission has the right of legislative initiative)

  • Full co-decision power for the European Parliament and away from unanimity for climate, energy, social and taxation policies

  • Improving the lead candidate system and review the way of appointing leaders of the European Institutions

  • Independent ethics body common to all EU Institutions

  • More transparency throughout the legislative process

  • European Democracy Action Plan addressing the threats of external intervention in European elections

Next steps

As a next step Ursula von der Leyen has to constitute the College of Commissioner with a clear allocation of functions, duties and responsibilities, which will be laid down in the mission letters of each Commissioner. The candidates are already nominated by all member states. The allocation of positions and responsibilities will be unveiled on 10 September. The hearings of the Commissioners in front of the European Parliament are scheduled to start on 23 September. At these hearings the European deputies will carefully examine how the proposals made by Ursula von der Leyen have been integrated into the portfolios of each Commissioner. The all new Commissioners must be confirmed by the European Parliament before the new Commission takes up its on 1 November 2019.



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