The European Commission has released its political programme for the coming year, with a core focus on issues such as growth and jobs, climate change, energy and migration – confirming its desire to move on from matters of institutional reform.
The programme sets out the EU executive’s key strategic priorities for 2008 and, according to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, will focus on “equipping Europe for a globalised world”, notably by investing in people, growth and jobs, energy security, fighting climate change and stepping up cooperation on fighting crime and terrorism.
“The Commission will be delivering results for citizens to confirm that Europe matters more than ever in the age of globalisation,” he said.
The programme confirms the EU’s desire, expressed by several leaders during last week’s informal meeting of heads of state and government in Lisbon (EURACTIV 19/10/07), to concentrate on other issues than institutional reform, a subject which has plagued the EU for the past few years.
Among others, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown had called on Europe to “move away from the institutional, inward-looking debate of the past, to deal with the full agenda of globalisation”.
EU leaders are expected to adopt a declaration, at their next summit on 13 December, underlining this shift in priorities. They thus have less than two months to agree on a strategy for responding to the challenges posed by globalisation, including increased competitive pressure from China and global warming.
The basis for the declaration will be a Commission paper, presented in Lisbon on 16 October, which calls on EU leaders to reject protectionism and focus instead on “shaping globalisation” by breaking down trade barriers in third countries and demanding reciprocity.
“Protectionism cannot make Europe wealthier. Protectionism would impoverish, not protect our citizens. But we are not naïve. We are no soft touch. We can and will require a level playing field. We want others to open more,” stressed Barroso, when he presented the paper, which, among others, says that foreign companies wishing to do business in Europe should “not be allowed to by-pass the rules applied to European companies in the single market”.
The discussion is likely to raise tensions between France and the UK, due to their differing views over the extent to which the bloc should open up to the rest of the world.
While French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the EU’s strongest advocate for a more protectionist Europe, wants the accent to be on the reciprocity principle – saying that the bloc’s strict environmental and social requirements should also be placed on non-European businesses – the UK’s Gordon Brown has called on the Union to focus on promoting “free trade and openness, with the EU leading by example in breaking down barriers to create a free and fair multilateral trading system”.