A distinctive feature of President Juncker’s “political” European Commission was a single set of collective top-down priorities, rather than a stitching together of the agendas of individual commissioners. In 2014, this meant a focus on economic reforms to restore growth lost during the 2008 financial crisis: a digital single market, a capital markets union and an investment plan for Europe. Events inevitably challenged this strategy — an unprecedented refugee crisis, Brexit, the emergence of new security threats — but it proved more resilient than many expected at the outset of the “last chance” Commission.
The 2019-2024 Commission will inherit some unfinished business. But the issue of a “Europe that protects” has undeniably driven politics in many member states since 2016 and will require a response from the incoming leadership. The proactive agenda will be occupied by questions of border security, defence and strengthening the ‘rules-based system’ — code for a tough line on trade with the United States, controls on inward investment from China and making EU spending conditional on respect for “European values”.
There will also be increased pressure to balance economic reform with fairness and redistribution. Competitiveness is a mainstream concept in Brussels, codified in strategies such as Global Europe and the Lisbon Agenda, implemented via regulatory reform, the European semester and spending on research and infrastructure. “Fairness” is harder to define and target at EU level, with steps to address tax avoidance the main tangible recent examples. Distribution is no less difficult. But an EP election campaign shaped by the Five Star Movement in Italy, Die Linke in Germany or Podemos in Spain will nevertheless put these issues on the table for an incoming Commission.
As Brussels prepares for this new policy cycle, Global Counsel’s Europe team examines here how the EU might balance the need for growth with pressure for fairness and solidarity, and where these choices will affect the business environment via legislation and spending choices. They will determine how the next generation of EU leaders approach policy challenges such as the decarbonisation of industry and harnessing the power of artificial intelligence. We also examine the persistent dividing lines within the Council and look ahead at the potential composition of the next European Parliament.