Members' Research Service By / September 7, 2023

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

This EPRS paper analyses progress made in carrying through the policy agenda set by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and her College of Commissioners when they took office in December 2019.

Philippe BUISSIN © European Union 2023 - Source: EP

Written by Etienne Bassot.

The September 2023 state of the Union address will be the last one of this Parliamentary term. The European institutions are entering the final phase of the current five-year political and institutional cycle. With the European elections scheduled for 6-9 June 2024, this European Parliament will hold its final plenary session in April. These coming months will therefore be crucial for the Commission to deliver on its commitments and for the Parliament, together with the Council of the European Union, to adopt legislation.

A fair assessment of the Commission’s delivery on its commitments has to start with the recognition that this mandate has been marked by two challenges – literally – unknown to this generation in Europe. The first such challenge was the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 emerged as the Commission was just beginning its mandate; the pandemic was declared within its first 100 days. The second was Russia’s war on Ukraine. The effects of this ‘tectonic shift in European history’, to use the words of the Versailles Declaration, are manifold and far from over.

One of the main findings of this twice yearly analysis is that, over recent years, despite the challenges, the European institutions have delivered steadily: the European Commission has reacted with proposals and initiatives to address events as they unfold while at the same time continuing to deliver on its wider programme and commitments. The European Parliament too has continued to debate, negotiate and adopt legislation and budget, as has the other co-legislator, the Council.

That the rate of progress has remained, for a further half year, 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, and when democracy itself is challenged in too many places, this is an achievement worth noting, especially as the months tick down to the next European elections.

It is noteworthy that, on some parts of the political agenda, the challenges themselves have provided additional reasons to support initiatives and accelerate reform. This has been the case for instance for the European Green Deal. This summer, Europeans have once again experienced first hand, and even more so than in previous years, what global warming means in practice, from fires in Greece, Cyprus and Portugal to the flooding in Austria, Croatia and Czechia. July was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet, according to the European Union’s climate observatory, Copernicus. The wildfires raging in Greece are the biggest ever recorded in the European Union, according to the European Commission. This succession of extreme climate events over the summer has continued to show the crucial importance of delivering on the agreed targets, at both European and international levels. In the European Union, it is the role of the co-legislators to represent and bring on board all parts of society in reaching these objectives.

On the world stage too, international events have propelled this Commission’s priority of ‘a stronger Europe in the world’ to a new dimension, as illustrated by the photograph on the cover, which pictures the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, addressing the European Parliament plenary session on geopolitical issues – in this instance on the need for a coherent strategy for EU-China relations.

This analysis monitors all six of the Commission’s priorities. It combines a two-page presentation of each priority and a synthesis infographic (page 3) illustrating the degree of progress – both overall and under each of the six priorities.

Our analysis finds that, across the six priorities, more than one third of the initiatives announced have been finally adopted, and almost a further third are proceeding normally through the legislative process. The adoption process varies from one proposal to another. The past few months have seen adoption in record time of the proposal for a regulation setting up an act in support of ammunition production (ASAP). Tabled by the Commission on 3 May 2023, it was signed on 20 July and published on 25 July. Other procedures can take years, and some 5 % of the total presented by the Commission are proceeding slowly or blocked. Nine months ahead of the European elections, and with just seven to go until the last plenary session of this Parliament, it is fair to assume that, with three in ten initiatives announced still to be submitted, and only a third of the announcements brought to final adoption in the past four years, not all the initiatives announced by the Commission will be tabled in time to be discussed and agreed by the co-legislators, and to come into law, before the end of this term.

According to this EPRS analysis, of the over 600 initiatives announced (610), more than two thirds (69 %, 420) 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 420 initiatives that have been submitted, just over half (53 %) have already been adopted (221) – 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 (141, or 71 %) or are close to adoption (26, or 13 %). Conversely, a certain number are proceeding very slowly or are currently blocked (32, or 16 %).

With a focus on each of the six policy priorities, the European Green Deal ranks highest in terms of the number of initiatives planned (154). The executive has tabled almost two thirds of them (or 62 %), half of the latter (51 %) being adopted by the co-legislators. The third priority, ‘An economy that works for people’, comes next (128), with more initiatives tabled (72 %) but less than half of the latter have been adopted (46 %). The digital priority totals 105 initiatives planned, 55 % of which have already been submitted (58), and 31 adopted (53 % of the total). 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, more than eight out of ten (82 %) 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’, 19 % for ‘Promoting our European way of life’ and 28 % 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).

The next edition of this publication, scheduled for after the April plenary session, will be the last one of this cycle and will provide an overall assessment of the Commission’s delivery 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.

The von der Leyen Commission's six priorities: Legislative and non-legislative delivery as of 31 August 2023
The von der Leyen Commission’s six priorities: Legislative and non-legislative delivery as of 31 August 2023

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

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