The European Union on better tracks, but…

The last European Council was important to put the European Union on better tracks, culminating […]

FEPS President

The last European Council was important to put the European Union on better tracks, culminating the long and dramatic effort which was undertaken by larger European and progressive forces to respond to the current unprecedented and multidimensional crisis. Nevertheless, daunting challenges are still ahead of us. The swift implementation of the agreed policy measures will be crucial and still raises many uncertainties.

As it has often happened over the recent European history, the European construction is gaining a new shape to cope with a new and unexpected crisis. A Health Union is now perceived as a vital necessity. The same happens with a coordinated economic recovery counting on a stronger European budget. This is to be financed, for the first time, by a joint issuance of bonds which are backed by new own resources involving new European taxation. The need for a more coordinated European external action is also perceived as a top priority because global governance and cooperation have been in disarray, but a window of opportunity to relaunch and renew multilateralism is being opened by Biden’s election in the US. Overall, a qualitative leap of the European project seems to be underway.

The common access and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine will be the founding act of the European Health Union. But many other developments will be required from now on. Besides the current efforts to coordinate European mobility and national curfews, it is necessary to coordinate the national European research and health systems to have a common capacity to respond and prevent pandemics and common diseases. It will equally be necessary to equip our health systems with the necessary facilities and human resources. Furthermore, the importance of care services is showing the necessity to organise them as a new professional sector, which will create many new jobs. The irreversible push for gender equality will turn this even more necessary, because this vital activity is still basically depending on women’s hidden work.

Nevertheless, even with the vaccine at the end of the tunnel, the impact of the current economic recession has painful consequences for viable companies, viable jobs wages and living conditions. According to sectors and EU-regions, these consequences unfold with huge differences. Rather than an equalizer, Covid is a huge un-equalizer! The only way to prevent an internal collapse is to act swiftly with much stronger monetary in budgetary instruments. This motivates the current action by the European Central Bank. The ECB has learnt from its huge mistakes during the recent financial crisis, before Mario Draghi took over as President. It is also crucial to open the straitjacket of the national budgets and to complement them with a strong European budget, providing not only the loans but also grants for future EU programmes as well as for regional and social cohesion.

This was the indispensable historical leap, which was made by this European Council, overcoming the blockade created by the Hungarian and Polish governments. Access to the next European budget will depend on compliance with the rule of law, to be monitored by a new European mechanism. Let us see now how this will be enforced within the political game between Council, European Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice! In any case, it must be complemented with a larger framework of measures to take care of the quality of democracy in European Union.

In the meantime, to ensure the full potential of this new European budgetary capacity, we still need the final negotiation of the various community programmes between Council and European Parliament and the ratification of the new own resources by the national parliaments. At the same time, Member States must launch their national recovery plans with a real impact, not only to counter the recession, but also to drive a fundamental structural transformation. We are late in our response to climate change and this European Council could also start moving to more ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions, putting the European Union internationally in the lead. This agreement was made possible by strengthening the financial instruments to support the regions which will be particularly hit by the energy transition and that risk losing many jobs. Nevertheless, we must be aware that even if some flexibility was accorded on the energy mix to be chosen by each country – something controversial – a task of gigantic proportions remains to be accomplished to transform all sectors, from agriculture to manufacturing, housing and transports.

The capacity for European Union to act in a more coordinated way regarding external partners was also under stake in this European Council. The difficulties were visible regarding Turkey, as while its recent manoeuvres in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and Syria should be deterred, Europe should also create the conditions for the Turkish democratic forces to be strengthened. Europe also depends too much on the Turkish management of migration flows and this is another reason – on top of the humanitarian one – why Europe must have a common migration policy. Something still to be seen…

By contrast, there was much more cohesion in this European Council about the need to welcome, with open arms, Joe Biden’s election as US president: as a relief from the nightmare of Donald Trump and also as a promise of a new chance to relaunch the transatlantic relationships. But we are now in a new world with other strong poles, notably China, and the cooperation with United States will probably involve lights and shadows: a new engagement for multilateralism, climate action and human rights, but difficulties when it comes to trade, the regulation of the digital sector and the need to update tax policies.

A decisive test for European unity is also taking place during the last episodes of the Brexit saga. It seems that there is a big and fundamental misunderstanding since the beginning. Leaving the European Union with the argument of regaining full autonomy and national sovereignty on its standards is a democratic decision we might regret, but we need to accept. But it is also crucial to make clear that if a former Member State wants to keep autonomy on setting (meaning reducing) its own economic, social and environmental standards, it cannot be given a privileged access to European single market. Just because the standards of the European single market are also a matter of sovereignty: the common European sovereignty, defined democratically by EU Member States and citizens.

Find all related publications

The macro-economic impact of the cost crisis

Lessons for Europe

EU Treaties – Why they need targeted changes

An approach based on European public goods, citizenship and democracy

Beyond humanitarian aid: the EU’s approach to alleviating food crisis in the Sahel at a time of global insecurity

'12 years of crises in the Sahel' series

Next Left country case studies

Exploring the state of Social Democracy in France, Austria, Romania and Australia
Find all related events
01 - 02/12/2023
Stockholm, Sweden (Expert meeting)

Progressive Governance seminar

Ahead of a crucial election year in 2024 progressives across Europe and North America face […]
FEPS HQ (Expert meeting)

Living up to, not leaving aside

The Progressive Strategy towards the elections 2024
15 - 17/11/2023
Bucharest, Romania (Training)

Ones to Watch

FEPS, with the support of Fundația Stânga Democratică, brought the members of the ‘Ones to […]
Find all related news

FEPS President at the SDG Summit and United Nations General Assembly in New York

FEPS President Maria João Rodrigues is in New York this week on the occasion of […]

President Lula da Silva meets with FEPS and Plataforma CIPÓ

The Brazilian President was present in Brussels in the context of the EU-CELAC Summit

Call for tender – research and project coordination

Basic Information Project Can the European progressive centre left gain voters from populist right parties […]

Open Progressive University

FEPS launches first e-learning platform for Social Democrats
Find all related in the media
In the media

Une réforme de l’UE qui intéressera forcément les Suisses

by Le Temps 24/11/2023
'EU reform bound to be of interest to the Swiss', an opinion piece in Le Temps on EU Treaties changes by Maria João Rodrigues, FEPS President, Guillaume Klossa, Director of think tank EuropaNova and Daniela Schwarzer, Executive board member Bertelsmann Stiftung

« Le moment est venu de lancer un débat sur la réforme de l’Union européenne »

by Le Monde 22/11/2023
'The time has come to launch a debate on the reform of the European Union', an opinion piece in Le Monde on Eu Treaties changes by Maria João Rodrigues, FEPS President, Guillaume Klossa, Director of think tank EuropaNova and Daniela Schwarzer, Executive board member Bertelsmann Stiftung

“Trade doesn’t work in isolation from good domestic policies” Interview to Arancha González

by Borderlex 19/09/2023
Interview to Arancha González, former Spanish foreign minister, who released together with FEPS the new book entitled 'The Trade Handbook: Making Trade Work for Prosperity, People and Planet'

Após 66 anos de adiamentos, a barragem do Pisão entrou em contra-relógio

by Pùblico 19/08/2023
'After 66 years of postponements, the Pisão dam has entered a race against time' Pùblico's article mentions FEPS Policy Study 'Governing the RRF'