Well into its five year term, the Commission of the European Communities is trying to sharpen its focus on the strategic challenges for the European Union. At the same time the main challenges in a globalising world are dauntingly complex and wide-ranging, even for the pooled resources of 490 million citizens.
The Commission reminds us of the strategic objectives in its initial 2005 programme: prosperity, solidarity, security and freedom, and a stronger Europe in the world.
Building on the 2008 Annual Policy Strategy (APS), the Commission’s Legislative and Work Programme 2008 spells out the concrete measures the Commission is going to take next year. Here are some of the priorities which lay the foundations:
The Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs remains the major vehicle for promoting a more prosperous, environmentally responsible and socially inclusive European Union. Since most of the actual reforms have to be designed and put into practice by the member states, the Commission is more of a coach than a player.
Still, the customary Spring European Council keeps the Lisbon Strategy on the agenda and offers a chance to underline globalisation as an opportunity to the citizens of the European Union.
Small and medium size enterprises are going to be interested in what improvements the promised “Small Business Act” if going to bring them.
The Eurozone is expanding with Cyprus and Malta joining in 2008. The Commission promises a strategic review of the European Monetary Union (EMU).
Sustainable Europe places tackling climate change at the centre of the Commission’s priorities, with implications for a host of policy areas. Growing concerns about energy sources and security are going to accompany the preparation of a strategic energy review, to be presented at the 2009 Spring European Council.
Since agricultural spending is frozen until the end of 2013, it is interesting to see if the so called health check of the common agricultural policy (CAP) can lay the foundations for a better match between the real challenges facing the Union and its future resource allocation.
The Commission will propose further steps towards a common policy on migration. On the one hand the EU will need labour immigration, but at the same time the Union needs to take effective action against illegal migration and human trafficking. Protection of the external borders of the expanded Schengen area is going to pose serious challenges.
The Commission states that one of its main objectives is to put the citizen at the centre of the European project. From taking stock of social realities, the Commission wants to advance towards a modern social agenda for Europe. Since most of the powers to do something rest with the member states, it will be interesting to see how the inspirational role of the Commission is going to evolve.
Europe as a world partner shows how the Commission is trying to come to grips with globalisation. The enlargement policy of the EU has been a great success, but the latest progress reports show that the road ahead is long and bumpy, if the membership criteria are going to be upheld. The neighbourhood policy tries to create a large zone of stability, democracy, progress and prosperity East and South of the Union. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the EU-Africa strategy are key areas for further action.
On the whole, my impression is that the Commission is on the move to face the challenges of globalisation, setting priorities for a more open Europe. At the same time and in many respects the Commission is cast in a supportive role, dependent on the ability of the member states (European Council, Council) in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy to craft coherent positions to put into practice.
Commission of the European Communities: Commission Legislative and Work Programme 2008; Brussels, 23 October 2007, COM(2007) 640 final