When the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, takes the floor in Strasbourg before the European Parliament to deliver her 2021 State of the Union address, she will report to Members of the European Parliament and, beyond them, to European citizens, after what has been the second summer of the Covid-19 pandemic. The coronavirus is still far from being tamed, and life – from everyday routine at individual level to global trends affecting the whole world – has entered a phase of profound change. Yet, as summer 2021 comes to a close, one of the leading impressions for many Europeans is of slowly recovering one of the freedoms at the heart of European Union, the freedom of movement they had been deprived of for public health reasons.
Mass travel in Europe became possible again during summer 2021, with 70 % of the adult population in Europe fully vaccinated and able to prove it thanks to the ‘Covid passport’ adopted by the European Union (EU) just before the summer. This legislative success reached in record time is illustrated by the cover photograph, where the presidents of the three institutions involved in its adoption (from left to right: António Costa, for the EU Council, Ursula von der Leyen, for the European Commission, and David Maria Sassoli, for the European Parliament) hold copies of the Regulation on the EU Digital Covid Certificate signed on 14 June. The certificate with a QR code is free of charge, available on paper or on a smartphone, and valid throughout the EU. For European citizens who could at last visit their loved ones, spend their summer break in another EU Member State, after many months of often highly restrictive measures, or simply get access to bars and restaurants in their home region, this initiative has shown the positive benefit of the EU, and is all the more noteworthy as it comes in a field – public health – that is not one of the core EU competences.
However, summer 2021 has left other lasting impressions that are more negative. Many are still shaken by the photographs – never mind those that experienced them directly – of mega-fires, unprecedented heatwaves, and deadly floods in various parts of the EU. Just one extreme rain episode caused a heavy toll of more than 200 deaths in Belgium and Germany, underlining once again the need to address climate change urgently. Combined with longer-term data confirming global warming and loss of biodiversity, this experience supports the priority given by the Commission to the European Green Deal. Even more, it confirms that Parliament has been right to be ambitious on climate, for example when it pushed for a higher target for the reduction of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (60 % for the Parliament instead of 55 % in the Commission’s proposal, with the latter target later endorsed by the Council). On climate and environmental issues, including the principle of climate mainstreaming in the EU budget, the Parliament has repeatedly called for higher ambition – and often secured it, as with the 30 % of the overall resources from the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the Next Generation EU recovery instrument which will go to measures contributing to the fight against climate change.
As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission tabled a ‘Fit for 55’ package in mid-July, including legislative proposals on climate, energy, land use, transport and taxation. The number of proposals foreshadowed (90) indeed makes the European Green Deal the Commission’s first priority in terms of announcements, although not in terms of proposals tabled (two-thirds (58) are yet to be submitted), let alone legislation adopted (only one sixth (15) so far).
Another dreadful event of summer 2021 has been the situation unfolding in Afghanistan. It calls for immediate humanitarian aid measures and visa solutions, but also brings asylum and migration issues to the forefront. This comes one year after the Commission’s proposal of the long-awaited new pact on migration and asylum, initially announced for the beginning of 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic (see fifth section below). This pact was supposed to bring new momentum to negotiations stalled for years. The number of legislative proposals under this priority should not disguise the difficulties in finding compromise and adopting legislation in this area, however urgent and dramatic the situation in Afghanistan, the Mediterranean and even on the shores facing the United Kingdom, may be.
Alongside these headline issues, the von der Leyen Commission is expecting progress on long-term files too: helping the EU recover from the coronavirus-crisis (see third section below), turning the EU into a digital continent (see second section below), becoming the ‘geopolitical Commission’ President von der Leyen claimed she would run when she took office (see fourth section below), and paving the way for the future of Europe, notably with the eponymous conference (see sixth section below).
This paper monitors all six priorities. It combines a two-page presentation for each priority and an infographic illustrating, in condensed form, on just one page (page 3), the degree of progress so far made – both overall and under each of the six priorities.
Read the complete in-depth analysis on ‘The von der Leyen Commission’s six priorities: State of play in Autumn 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
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