The Brief, powered by ELF — Times have never been better for EU reform

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA/AXEL HEIMKEN]

There has never been a better time to push for European integration. With pro-European governments in France, Italy and Germany, reform of the bloc seems to be within reach – for the first time in years. 

The shift is especially visible in Germany, where the incoming coalition has probably put forward the most ambitious plan for European integration the bloc has ever seen. 

The commitment to the European Union runs like a leitmotif through the coalition agreement, with 98 of its 177 pages making at least some reference to the EU. 

One particular sentence in the agreement has made many hearts in the Brussels Bubble leap for joy: The next German government is pushing to develop the EU into a “European federal state.”

The precondition for a reform of the EU is, of course, that the Franco-German engine does not run out of steam. 

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron had already called on Germany to help “reinvent the EU” and laid out an ambitious reform plan for the bloc. 

Germany did not respond adequately to his proposals, as it was caught in difficult government-building talks at the time, and Angela Merkel failed to convince her party to answer Macron’s call for EU reform. 

This time around, the roles seem to be reversed: It was Germany who launched the call for reform and Macron has yet to answer.

That may not be so surprising. French voters will head to the polls in April to decide who will rule the country in the coming term and Macron is busy preparing for the upcoming election campaign. European topics do not usually rank high on the list of the issues discussed in French election campaigns. 

However, this time around, the election coincides with the French Presidency of the EU Council, hopefully giving EU reform more visibility in the election debates. 

In any case, leaders will have to act quickly as the timeframe that makes a reform of the EU possible might be short. 

Italians will also head to the polls in 2023. As things stand right now, the right-wing and EU-sceptic Brothers of Italy and Lega are the most likely candidates to gain a favourable result.

Therefore, the reform process must start while Mario Draghi – probably the most pro-European Italian prime minister in decades – is still in office, to ensure that the EU’s third-biggest member state is on board with the reform process. That would also be in line with the recent Franco-Italian treaty that seeks to boost their cooperation.

At the end of the day, if Germany, France, and Italy are pulling on the same rope, who can really stop a reform process that will reshape the European Union?

Critics will, of course, point out that it is impossible to reach an agreement between 27 member states – most of them with completely different visions of what a future Union should look like. 

However, who says that everybody must be on board for such a reform process? 

France has long been in favour of a “multi-speed-Europe.” While the last German government was hesitant to support the further integration of only a handful of member states, such a trajectory might be more feasible now. 

If the founding counties of the European Union guide the way, it might just be enough to get one step closer to the promise of the German coalition agreement: to develop the EU into a European federal state. 


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The Roundup

Over the past few months, the European Union had time to prepare for managing forthcoming potential health crises — and now, the new COVID-19 Omicron variant could put these preparations to the test. Although more research is needed into the variant, Europe knows “enough to be concerned,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 

The EU executive proposed on Wednesday temporarily looser asylum rules, allowing Poland and its two Baltic neighbours, Lithuania and Latvia, to handle migrants pushed by Belarus to their shared border, but the proposal angered EU lawmakers and rights groups.

It has been another record year for renewable energy, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs for raw materials around the world, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. Following current trends, renewable energy generating capacity will exceed that of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined by 2026.

But just four months after the European Commission tabled its revised Energy Efficiency Directive, campaigners said they were “extremely worried” about attempts by some EU countries to dilute the proposal. A progress report prepared by the Slovenian EU Presidency ahead of a meeting of EU energy ministers tomorrow gives an overview of the state of play on the directive. Still, the reactions of some member states have caused concern amongst stakeholders.

Batteries made with zero-emission lithium from geothermal plants in Germany could power one million vehicles per year by the mid-2020s, according to Vulcan Energy, a company setting out to produce climate-neutral lithium in Europe. A local supply of lithium is considered essential to sustain the EU’s fast-growing battery industry, which currently relies on imports from China, Australia and the Republic of Congo.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans added his voice to the growing list of those in the EU executive advocating for gene editing at the Modern Biotechnologies in Agriculture event, despite accusations by campaigners that the Commission had already made up its mind on the technology. He called the event a “milestone” in the dialogue on the technology, adding that the EU should “properly explore their potential in developing sustainable products.” 

Clean and healthy soils are integral to achieving the objectives of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, but oil pollution by heavy metals such as cadmium has been degrading the safety of food and water for decades, posing a threat to the environment and public health. Check out EURACTIV’s latest media partnership for more information on cadmium in soils and what needs to be done to solve the problem.

The EU Parliament and Council have reached an agreement on the Data Governance Act (DGA), providing a framework for sharing industrial data across the bloc. The DGA defines the rules for trading data, includes smaller actors in the data economy, and provides a mechanism for re-using public-sector data.

The general approach to the Digital Services Act (DSA) has been one of the major achievements of the Slovenian Presidency. On 25 November, EU ministers unanimously adopted the mandate to initiate the interinstitutional negotiations on it. EURACTIV spoke with Mark Boris Andrijanič, Slovenia’s minister for digital transformation, about how the DSA is meant to foster trust in the digital environment.

Look out for…

  • Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson take part in the EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs, 2-3 December.
  • Values and Transparency Commissioner Vĕra Jourová speaks at the 11th Annual European Data Protection and Privacy Conference.
  • 147th Committee of the Regions plenary session.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/ Alice Taylor]

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