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EPRS Event: Europe’s challenges in 2019: Ten issues to watch

How can collective intelligence help tackle social inequalities? What is Europe’s role in the current trade wars? How can the EU27 move forward? These questions and many more were discussed during the EPRS roundtable discussion ‘Europe’s challenges in 2019’ following the publication of the third edition of the annual EPRS ‘Ten issues to watch’.

After a short welcome by EPRS Director General, Anthony Teasdale, Vice-President of the European Parliament Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso (EPP, Spain) introduced the discussion with a keynote speech. The Vice-President emphasised the importance of the forthcoming European elections for the areas of policy that feature in the ‘Ten issues to watch’, and pointed out that European citizens now had to choose between parties who aim to bring the European project forward, and those parties whose aims are less constructive.

As Étienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service stated in his introductory remarks, the issues chosen for the publication belong to three overarching topics: technology; Europe in the wider world; and 2019 as the year of EU renewal. The intention of the debate was not to claim to cover all relevant policy issues, but rather to ‘set the scene’ for the political year to come.

The authors of the eleven chapters of the ‘Ten issues to watch’ then briefly presented their contributions, giving an overview of the main challenges in their respective areas and discussing existing, as well as still required, EU policy action.

Nora Milotay elaborated on the concept of collective intelligence – the combination of human and artificial intelligence (AI). The major challenge is to combine social and technological innovation, for example regarding health, education and the labour market, to prevent technological developments increasing inequalities within the EU.

Maria Niestadt highlighted the potential of e-mobility for the EU to reduce CO₂ emissions, air pollution, and noise, as well as EU dependence on oil imports. Whether the EU will be able to exploit this potential, however, will largely depend on its ability to improve the infrastructure of recharging points, battery performance and the integration of electric vehicles into the electricity system.

Marcin Szczepanski and Tambiama Madiega explained the process of digital transformation – the integration of digital technology into all aspects of our lives. They underlined that that the EU needs to ensure a legal and ethical framework for this fundamental transformation: to protect ethical norms, especially in the field of AI; to update safety and liability rules; and to regulate the access and re-use of digital data.

Discussing internal security, Sofija Voronova explained that cybersecurity not only covers cyber-attacks but also involves traditional crime ‘going digital’. Terrorist activities and organised crime pose a particular security threat, which the EU needs to tackle both offline and online.

Gisela Grieger explained the US stance in the current trade war(s) and elaborated on different scenarios for future US-China relations. She also pointed out the challenges for the EU to navigate between the two powers while protecting its own economic interests as well as the multilateral trading system, mainly through pushing for World Trade Organization reform.

Eric Pichon discussed Africa’s role as Europe’s ‘twin continent’ and potential strategic partner. He points out the challenges of diverging interests, especially on migration, as well as defining partners, due to the different channels through which EU-Africa cooperation is managed.

Didier Bourguignon illustrated the EU’s path towards a policy for the oceans, which allows both use of the oceans’ resources, e.g. for renewable ocean energy or tourism, while also protecting their ecosystems.

Asked about the future financing of the EU, whether the EU will decide on its next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) in 2019, Magdalena Sapala pointed out three obstacles: different positions on the scope of the future budget; different decision-making procedures for different legislative proposals; and the political changes in the European Parliament and Commission following the European elections.

Silvia Kotanidis outlined the way forward for the EU27 after Brexit and discussed the idea of a Europe ‘at different speeds’, the possibilities of using the entire potential of the Lisbon Treaty and even a possible treaty change. She also highlighted that the future EU-UK relationship still needs to be defined in various policy areas, especially trade and defence.

Finally, Laura Tilindyte explained the possible changes in the new European Parliament and the new European Commission following the elections in May. Brexit will decrease the size of the Parliament, and declining support for traditional parties will change the power relations between the political groups. The appointment of the Commission President also remains unclear, due to the power struggle between the European Parliament and Council regarding the Spitzenkandidatenprozess.

In his final remarks, Étienne Bassot concluded that the political, technological and institutional challenges the EU faces are increasingly intertwined and require further analysis, both individually and in their interrelated aspects.

The round table discussion was followed by a short Q&A session.

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