Written by Etienne Bassot.
A year ago, we were assessing the European Commission’s delivery on the eve of the 2021 State of the Union address against the backdrop of a progressive return to freedom of movement following Covid‑19 lockdowns and an economic crisis, chaos in Kabul, and megafires and deadly floods in Europe. This year, we prepare our assessment against the backdrop of growing inflation and an energy crisis, a war on our continent and even more extreme weather phenomena, once again not only severely disrupting everyday life but even causing deaths. The phase of profound changes described last year has not faded: on the contrary, it continues to unfold in Europe and the rest of the world – as analysed in our study on ‘Future Shocks 2022’ (see References section) – and the situation is becoming increasingly acute for European policymakers, businesses and citizens alike.
The heart of the European project – peace, democracy, and prosperity – is being challenged, and even attacked: peace, with a war leading to major international consequences – from millions of people fleeing their bombed homes and seeking refuge abroad to new alliance outlines – at the European Union’s border; democracy, with the unjustified invasion of Ukraine and, at home, interference in our elections and our public debate; and prosperity, through the domino effects of spiralling prices, with European citizens increasingly anxious about heating their homes this winter, having endured a climate catastrophe of record high temperatures, megafires, disappearing glaciers and drought during summer 2022.
These profound changes do not render the European project obsolete – quite the opposite, they make it even more relevant. Peace is the root of the European project – peace among European nations from the ashes of the Second World War, as well as world peace, as encapsulated in the very first words of the Schuman Declaration: ‘World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it’. Democracy has been at the forefront of the European agenda these past months with the Conference on the Future of Europe coming to its conclusions in May 2022, with its final report submitted to the presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission. The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, celebrated ‘this unique exercise in active citizenship, in Europe building and in future proofing our foundations’, and recalled that Europe means: ‘freedom, democracy, the rule of law, justice, solidarity, equality of opportunity’. During the same closing ceremony, President von der Leyen declared that the Commission would ‘announce the first new proposals responding to (the) report in (her) state of the Union address’, expected just after this publication comes out. Finally, prosperity, which is preconditioned by peace and democracy, is of the essence, with inflation reaching levels unseen since the creation of the euro and a growing awareness of resource scarcity, from energy to water. In this context, ever more Europeans cherish the relevance of the European project, as the latest Parlemeter shows: six in ten people make the defence of European values, such as freedom and democracy, a priority, and the fight against poverty the priority they expect the European Parliament to address. Overall, two thirds of Europeans see EU membership as a good thing.
Advancing the general interest of the Union falls to the Commission, which takes the appropriate initiatives to this end. When she took office in 2019, President von der Leyen set six policy priorities. The Commission’s first priority since then has been climate change, an area where President von der Leyen wants Europe to lead globally. On taking office, she also stated that Europe ‘needs a geopolitical Commission’, which becomes even more necessary with the ‘tectonic’ magnitude of this year’s changes. At home, the ambitions are to help the EU recover from the coronavirus crisis, to turn the EU into a digital continent, followed by aims of promoting the European way of life and a new push for European democracy, notably with the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Our analysis monitors all six of these priorities. It combines a two-page presentation of each priority and a single-page infographic (page 3) illustrating the degree of progress – both overall and under each of the six priorities.
Our assessment is that, of the over 500 initiatives foreshadowed (521), almost two thirds (62 %, 330) have already been submitted and, in the case of legislative proposals, the co-legislators have started work. It is worth noting that almost one in five of the Commission’s initiatives are non-legislative in character, such as strategies, action plans and other communications. Among the 330 initiatives, almost half (48 %) have already been adopted (160) – by the legislator in the case of legislative proposals, or simply by the Commission in the case of non-legislative initiatives – while the great majority of the remainder are either proceeding normally through the legislative process (120, or 71 %) or close to adoption (16, or 9 %). Conversely, a certain number are proceeding very slowly or are currently blocked (34, or 20 %).
These numbers reflect the state of play as the Commission will soon enter the fourth year of its five-year mandate, the last full year before the 2024 European elections, a year when the executive typically continues to come forward with new proposals, whilst the twin branches of the legislature (the European Parliament and the Council of the EU) are simultaneously fully engaged in considering and (very often) amending them. The ranking and proportionate progress have remained stable compared with the previous assessment, which is remarkable given the two major crises (the pandemic and the war in Ukraine and their multifaceted consequences) that the European Union has faced since 2020.
With a focus on each of the six policy priorities, our assessment shows how the European Commission is performing at the different stages of announcing and tabling proposals, followed by the three institutions’ progress in negotiating and finally adopting legislation. The European Green Deal ranks highest in the number of initiatives planned (125), but the executive has tabled only just over half of them (or 55 %), leading to less than a quarter being adopted by the co-legislators so far (23 %). The third priority, ‘An economy that works for people’, comes next (99), but this time with more initiatives tabled (77 %) and a third of them adopted (34 %). The digital priority totals 78 initiatives planned, 60 % of which are already submitted (47), and 18 already adopted (23 %). For ‘A stronger Europe in the world’, an area with relatively few legislative initiatives by definition, and in contrast with the majority of the Commission’s priorities, over four in five (85 %) initiatives have already been tabled (see Section 4) and three out of five adopted. A fair amount of work remains to be done for the other priorities: 40 % of the proposals remain to be submitted for ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’, 28 % for ‘Promoting our European way of life’ and 45 % for ‘A new push for democracy’ (see Sections 2, 5 and 6). This latter priority comes lowest in terms of number of initiatives announced (51).
Following the State of the Union address, the Commission will adopt its work programme, in accordance with the 2010 Interinstitutional Agreement between the European Parliament and the European Commission. It has announced its 2023 work programme will be published on 18 October 2022.
Commission delivery in 2023 will be all the more important as we approach the 2024 European elections, when citizens will watch carefully how the EU has responded to today’s challenges. Europeans will vote with these profound changes in mind, but also – in a positive note worth noting in the latest Parlemeter – with hope, a dominant feeling in more countries. For more information on how the von der Leyen Commission’s agenda is proceeding, a proposal-by-proposal assessment is available on the European Parliament’s ‘Legislative Train Schedule’ website, developed by EPRS, at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/
Read the complete in-depth analysis on ‘The von der Leyen Commission’s six priorities: State of play in Autumn 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.