Time for action: Immediate priorities of the next European Commission

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

There are “immense internal and external challenges facing the EU” and as yet no new approved president of the European Commission, but setting out the priorities of the new EU executive is crucial, argues a team from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in a July policy briefing.

CEPS, a leading Brussels-based think-tank, has identified priorities in four particular areas where “concrete action is needed immediately” by the Commission. It assumes that the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified this year, while tackling the current economic and financial crisis “must be top of the EU agenda,” the CEPS paper argues. The main task here is preserving stability, according to the experts, in both the single market and the financial sector, coupled with the application of the Stability and Growth Pact. They add that, on longer term issues, the Commission should set out its “overall vision” for financial markets. 

The main economic issues identified by CEPS include coordinating the new European Supervisory Authorities and European Systemic Risk Council, developing EU-wide deposit insurance, bank resolution and liquidation schemes, and gradually returning to normal regarding state aid to banks. 

On climate change and energy policy, the researchers emphasise that transport will be a “key sector”, because without reducing road transport emissions and halting the rise in aviation and maritime transport emissions, “the EU’s emissions targets [for 2020] will not be met”. The EU should adopt a “transport and climate change package” to “decarbonise the transport sector,” argues CEPS. 

The think-tank calls on the Commission to formulate a “transport and climate change package” to provide an integrated approach to reducing emissions. For instance, CEPS asserts that “decarbonisation of the power sector is […] a pre-requisite for decarbonisation of road transport,” as future electric vehicles will need to be supplied with electricity generated from low-carbon sources. 

CEPS underlines that there is a strong role for infrastructure upgrades – particularly in public transport – R&D and technology in transforming the transport sector, adding that “demand-side management” and taxation policies “will be crucial in influencing consumers’ behaviour”. 

One area of particular concern to the authors is a “serious deficit” concerning the fundamental human rights of immigrants entering the EU. The experts believe progress can be made in light of Commission proposals in June 2009 to create an ‘Immigration Code’ to guarantee a “clear, transparent and equitable approach” to legal migration. 

In foreign relations, the EU’s role in creating a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is as “relevant as ever,” argues the paper, adding that there will need to be a major overhaul of EU institutional structures in this regard: primarily by creating the EU external action service, which will become the “common property” of the EU institutions. 

Accompanying this, and provided that the Lisbon Treaty is passed, the Commission should create several deputies under the new vice-presidents of the Commission, to be responsible for regional, development and trade polices, argues CEPS. 

The EU’s representation in major multilateral organisations, such as the UN and World Bank, is “appalling”, whilst member states are “massively overrepresented,” according to the paper. It advocates giving greater diplomatic weight given to the EU in most major multilateral organisations, “diluting” the presence of member states, with representation of the euro zone at the IMF replacing EU countries. 

The final priority highlighted by the CEPS paper is coordination between the agenda of the Commission president and the “newly-created president of the European Council,” which will strengthen the EU’s presence on the international political stage. 

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