Written by Isabelle Gaudeul-Ehrhart and Magdalena Sapała,
This year again, for the fifth consecutive time, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) held its first event of the year on ten key issues to watch in the year ahead. The goal of the event, which took place on 12 January 2021, was to set the scene and present major issues that are in every mind, such as the race to vaccinate against coronavirus, the EU recovery plan, or the new United States administration. It also aimed at highlighting longer-term developments, such as the fight against inequality, the twin (green and digital) transition and digital boost for the circular economy, migration and asylum including a new procedure to manage Europe’s borders, or EU neighbourhood policy, including relations with Turkey and stormy waters in the eastern Mediterranean. Finally, the event shone a spotlight on research issues that may lack the momentum to make the front pages, yet are nonetheless important, such as access to food for all, culture in crisis, or critical raw materials.
Opening the event, EPRS Director-General Anthony Teasdale, highlighted the continuity between past events, and particularly the last one, which focused on the significance of 2020 – ‘a year we are all going to remember’ – and future EPRS events.
The European Parliament Vice-President responsible for EPRS, Othmar Karas (EPP, Austria) then invited us to see the current situation not as a crisis but as an opportunity. His positive take is based on the lessons we have learnt (cooperation, investment, comprehensive solutions), the progress we have achieved (the deal on the recovery plan, the ambitious green objectives, the agreement on the rule of law) and the opportunities ahead of us. He found this attitude best captured by the words of the German poet Friederich Hölderlin: ‘But where the danger is, grows the saving power also’.
Event moderator, EPRS Members’ Research Service Director Etienne Bassot, highlighted the importance of this event. First as a researcher-driven exercise; second for its collective dimension and the many interactions between the authors, their managers and editors; and third as a way to connect with the public and to launch a year of events – the audience hailed from Brussels to Athens.
After ten quickfire presentations given by EPRS researchers and analysts, Etienne Bassot opened the floor to questions. These covered all ten issues, illustrating the audience’s interest in EPRS policy analysts’ expertise. Towards the end of the discussion, the chair announced the results of a quick audience poll. Participants were asked to choose which of the ten issues they considered the most important. While the vaccine race and EU recovery plan – unsurprisingly – tied for first place, access to food for all ranked next, confirming the relevance of the selection of issues.