Members' Research Service By / March 24, 2023

The six policy priorities of the von der Leyen Commission: State of play in spring 2023

This analysis monitors all six of the Commission’s 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.

© European Union 2023 – Source: European Parliament

Written by Etienne Bassot.

To say that the geo-political climate has been stormy since the beginning of this European Commission’s mandate would be an under-statement. COVID-19 emerged just as Ursula von der Leyen was starting her tenure as president, and the epidemic was declared a pandemic within her first 100 days. The year 2020 was marked by the outbreak of the pandemic, and 2021 by its continuing impact. The year 2022 will be remembered as the year Russia launched its war on Ukraine. These two major challenges – the pandemic and war on the European continent – combined with further major challenges such as climate change and many others, transformed the conditions in which the Commission had expected to navigate when it began its mandate and set its course in autumn 2019. The pandemic and the war are common threads throughout the different sections of this publication: they have affected all policies, sometimes forcing progress, at other times slowing it down, and at yet others imposing a change of course and the implementation of previously unanticipated measures. The overwhelming importance of the latest challenge, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, is reflected in the choice of photograph on the front cover: the Commission President speaking in the European Parliament’s plenary session in a key debate on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Against this backdrop, when assessing how the European Commission has delivered over the past 6 months against its commitments and announcements, it is striking how much the institutional throughput has remained steady. Previous editions of this EPRS analysis have already highlighted that neither the coronavirus pandemic nor the war on Ukraine had hindered progress on the main priorities. As the pandemic enters its fourth year and the war its second, the Commission’s pace and volume of delivery remains very close to the level of 6 months ago, when assessed on the eve of the 2022 State of the Union address.

The European Commission is sailing a steady course in terms of the number of new initiatives it is producing for each priority, balanced with the number of announced initiatives still to come. The co-legislators’ work on the legislative initiatives also continues to progress at a steady rate.

That the rate of progress has remained largely unchanged is to the credit of the European institutions: the Commission in tabling the initiatives, and the European Parliament and Council for their work on the legislative proposals, through to adoption. At a time when building compromise and reaching majorities is a challenge, as seen in the Member States of the European Union (EU) as well as in other democracies across the globe, this is an achievement worth noting, especially with just over a year to go before the next European elections.

This is an important achievement for the European institutions and all parties involved in EU policy-making, and it is also important for observers reading this EPRS assessment of the Commission’s delivery against the latter’s own announcements. Ultimately, it is important for citizens, who want to know what the EU is doing and how much of the programme they favoured when they elected their representatives in 2019 has been translated into legislation and action. It is also important for institutions in other countries in the world that look to the EU as an example. Among them is the Ukrainian Parliament, for whom this edition of our analysis, along with a selection of other EPRS publications, is exceptionally being translated into Ukrainian.

So the European Commission has delivered on its initial programme and successive updates. The question now is whether that is enough.

Surely but slowly? With just over a year to go before the European Parliament is dissolved for the elections, is it enough that two thirds of the initiatives announced have been submitted to the co‑legislators – in other words that one third are still to be tabled? Is it enough that only half of the initiatives submitted have been adopted – in other words, that most of the other half still require substantial work from the co-legislators to find agreement enabling their adoption?

This analysis monitors all six of the Commission’s 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.

According to this EPRS analysis, of the nearly 600 initiatives announced (597), almost two thirds (63 %, 379) have now been submitted and, in the case of the 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, for instance strategies, action plans and other communications. Of the 379 initiatives that have been submitted, half (50 %) have already been adopted (188) – by the legislators in the case of the legislative proposals, or simply by the Commission in the case of the non-legislative initiatives – while the vast majority of the other half are either proceeding normally through the legislative process (129, or 67 %) or are close to adoption (28, or 15 %). Conversely, a certain number are proceeding very slowly or are currently blocked (34, or 18 %).

With a focus on each of the six policy priorities, this assessment shows how the European Commission is performing in tabling the proposals and initiatives it has announced, and how the three institutions are progressing in negotiating and adopting legislation. The European Green Deal ranks highest in terms of the number of initiatives planned (148), but the executive has tabled only just over half of them (or 56 %), with fewer than a quarter being adopted by the co-legislators so far (24 %). The third priority, ‘An economy that works for people’, comes next (126), but more initiatives have been tabled (65 %) and a third of them adopted (30 %). The digital priority totals 103 initiatives planned, 55 % of which have already been submitted (57), and 28 adopted (27 %). For ‘A stronger Europe in the world’, an area with relatively few legislative initiatives by definition, and in contrast to the majority of the Commission’s priorities, almost nine out of ten (88 %) initiatives have already been tabled (see Section 4) and three in five adopted. A fair amount of work remains to be done for the other priorities: 40 % of the proposals have still 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 (60).

This publication and the next will continue to monitor this Commission’s delivery in the final year of this legislative term, before the 2024 European elections. 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.

Read the complete in-depth analysis on ‘The six policy priorities of the von der Leyen Commission: State of play in spring 2023‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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