Cairo.- An EU expert shared with us his view of the current status and the direction where the EU is heading after the recent appointment of new main Representatives of some of the most relevant EU Institutions.
He provided an overview of the recent history of the EU, highlighting the optimism and trust on the EU Institutions ten years ago and its evolution until the present day. The EU is now at a juncture, about to start a new cycle on the 1st of November 2014, with the official entry into office of the new President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the High Representative Federica Mogherini, together with all the newly appointed Commissioners.
The initial agenda of the new President of the European Commission is summarized in the Political Guidelines document issued last July, focusing on ten policy areas, including : 1) a new boost for jobs, growth and investment, 2) a connected digital single market, 3) a resilient energy union with a forward looking climate change policy, 4) a deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base, 5) a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union, 6) a reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the US, 7) an area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust, 8) a new policy of migration, 9) a stronger global actor, and 10) a union of democratic change.
To give a background of the current situation, there are several challenges to consider: politically, the recent parliamentary elections of May 2014 showed an increase of the Eurosceptical parties and other extreme groups; economically, there is a deflationary spiral and fragility of the financial sector; there is no fiscal common policy and there is a need to assess the supervisory mechanisms and the mutualisation of debt.
In the Southern Neighbourhood, the response to the Arab Spring with the More for More initiative, the Mobility Partnerships, the Task Force and other initiatives formerly led by Bernardino Leon will have to be readjusted to the current situation, assessing the conflict situation that is taking place in Syria, Iraq, Lybia and the Middle East Process in Gaza.
Other challenges that will need to be addressed are climate change, interaction with the BRICS, the energy policy and its stand on renewables considering the relation with Russia, the use of alternative sources, such as fracking, etc.
The main objective of the EU remains to develop a coherent economic and monetary union and a common foreign policy. The European Central Bank will have a role in maintaining economic stability, with instruments such as quantitative easing and others.
The accountability of the EU Institutions has been put on the agenda in the recent parliamentary elections, and the election of the new President of the Commission by the European Parliament aims at increasing the representation of the European parliament in the decision making process.
The following questions/points were raised in the debate:
1) the position of the EU in the Escocia Referendum: there is a need for a consensus of all the EU Member states to evaluate any potential split, once the conditions, legal acquis, etc are met and assumed by the potential splitting region. This also applies to International Treaties already signed by the original country and International Assets.
2) the different stands of the EU countries on economic policy, potentially leading to a two speed EU and some challenges to align positions in the common Foreign Policy, (eg. Iraq war),
3) the literacy of EU citizens and their understanding of the EU decision making process, assessing its transparency and the impact of lobbying in Brussels. This understanding is very challenging when it comes to the conditions for bail outs, and the social impact and financial sustainability assessment or potential consequences of the austerity measures imposed by the EU. Media plays an important role here.
4) the stand of the new president of the EU on tax evasion, which is reflected in the Policy Guidelines.
5) the new parliament includes representatives from different eurosceptical, patriotic and extremist groups that would like to see a different dynamic in the management of the crisis situation in Europe. Despite this, institutional functionality and effectiveness seems to be assured since the two main groups in the parliament (popular and socialist), still have a relevant share. In this regard, the expert thinks that there is a big responsibility of the politicians and the media to transmit a fair message of the benefits for any country to be part of the Union, both socially and economically. As an example, there is a common understanding that countries like Ukraine would do anything to become part of it.
6) the EU political position in Egypt: So far, since the beginning of the transition process, the EU has been highly involved through different instruments and statements in trying to contribute to a smooth process. Catherine Ashton as issued several statements related to governance, reconciliation, democratic transition. The ultimate focus is to support a democratic transition and a sustainable and economic development for the people of Egypt.
Other topics discussed were the stand of the EU on immigration policy, the budgeting on support for Civil Society and the possibility to link human rights and aid, and the impact of common market policies on agriculture, specifically related to the Russian sactions and always considering that the ultimate objective of both the common market and common policy is to assure a sustainable wellbeing for all its citizens and a long lasting peace in the region.