UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — European policy was carried out with countless promises during the campaign in 2019. The new European Parliament was elected in May and the new European Commission continued in office in December.
But despite changes in the political picture of EU institutions, divisions in key policy areas remain deep among member states, and 2020 will test whether the EU can overcome these differences, unlock the decision-making process. stalled and start implementing long-awaited reforms. But the multiyear financial framework 2021-2027 and the ambitious European green deal could deepen those divisions.
Reforming EU migration and asylum policy is one of the most difficult tasks the new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, inherited from her predecessor. Jean-Claude Juncker’s office has tried several times to overhaul the asylum system, which collapsed during the migration crisis in 2015, and has proposed migration management compromises. But he could not find a solution that all EU member states would accept, so now Von der Leyen has to come up with a new concept.
1 – Borders and security: Protecting the EU’s external borders against illegal migration and crime is one of the few topics that all EU leaders can get involved with. The relatively easy part of migration reform could be the allocation of further funds and the extension of the mandate of EU agencies dealing with border management and internal security. But no matter how popular these agreements are in the eyes of European voters, they will not solve the fundamental problem of migration.
2 – Resettlement of Asylum Seekers: The current Dublin Regulation which specifies which country is responsible for the asylum application places an unfair burden on EU border countries. The foundation of the reform would be to redistribute asylum seekers among member states based on their population and economic performance. But despite the diplomatic efforts of France and Germany, the idea has been unacceptable to many European governments, which perceive the resettlement system as an invitation to illegal migration. This issue seems to have remained a challenge for the new year.
3 – Rules on Asylum Procedure: The main standards of asylum procedures have been harmonized in European countries, but it is still the national authority that makes the final decision. To avoid the big differences between the length of time and the content of the procedure, a good and functioning EU asylum system would require a more unified and centralized approach. But the idea goes against the concepts of national sovereignty in many centers.
4- Cooperation with Turkey on Migration: By the end of 2019, the EU has fully mobilized 6 billion euros ($ 6.65 billion) of financial assistance to Syrian refugees in Turkey. The budget was in line with the 2016 EU-Turkey Declaration, aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migrants heading to Europe through Turkey. Payments will continue for another five years, but recent tensions in EU-Turkey diplomatic relations have made renewing the agreement politically difficult.
5 – Strengthening the EU’s global role: The draft for the next seven-year budget proposes much more funding for partner countries outside the EU for their political and economic transformations towards sustainable development, consolidation of democracy and poverty eradication . But it is highly debatable whether financial support for developing or war-torn countries would effectively stop people from taking the dangerous path to Europe in the hope of a better life.
– Rule of law and corruption
Rule of law was one of the most debated topics in EU policy last year. In order to strengthen the respect for democratic rules and principles, the Article 7 procedure entered a new phase for Hungary and Poland. Romania and Malta’s reputation has also been tarnished by political scandals, while an investigative article in The New York Times revealed systematic corruption over Common Agricultural Policy payments in Eastern European member states. Many claim that this phenomenon undermines the unity and credibility of the entire bloc.
6 – Polexit: Political interference in the judicial system could eventually lead Poland out of the EU because its legal system will no longer be in line with European standards, the Polish Supreme Court and the country’s Ombudsman recently warned. In 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled in two cases against Polish judicial reform, while the Polish government held three hearings on the independence of the judiciary among their colleagues in the EU Council through the procedure of Article 7. Underlining the warnings, the The lower house of the Polish parliament passed another controversial bill on their last working day in December. The new law penalizes judges who question the legitimacy of the government’s legal reforms.
7 – Hungary: 12 aspects of democracy are under investigation under the procedure of Article 7, while the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is likely to face criticism over systemic corruption and misuse of EU funds. The government categorically rejects the allegations and interprets the procedure as politically motivated retaliation for Hungary’s opposition to migration from non-member countries. The rule of law procedure will continue in 2020, but it is unlikely that the parties will radically change their stance or find a compromise.
8 – Malta: Europe’s southern island may be the next EU watchdog over a scandalous investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has promised to resign in January, but the European Parliament has already adopted a resolution condemning the serious and continuing threat to democracy and the efforts of Malta’s ruling elites to hide corruption and money laundering.
9 – Misuse of EU funds: The Office of the European Public Prosecutor is expected to start work in 2020. The EU’s independent body is tasked with prosecuting and prosecuting crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud. However, Ireland, Sweden, Hungary and Poland have not joined this cooperation. In the case of the latter two, serious allegations of misuse of agricultural subsidies have recently been revealed.
10 – Rule of law conditionality: EU funds may be suspended or completely withdrawn from member states that violate the rule of law, on the basis of the Commission’s proposal for the budget 2021-2027. The idea was proposed as an additional tool to pressure member states to respect EU values because the Article 7 procedure turned out to be ineffective. While the concept is very popular among governments and citizens of Western Europe, who consider themselves major contributors to the EU budget, Eastern Europeans consider it unacceptable. But the final deal in the next multi-year financial framework requires unanimity.
It is now almost certain that Britain will leave the EU on 31 January following the victory of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party in the December general elections. But the three-year Brexit ballad will not end because the basis for further co-operation is to be determined by the end of 2020, the date when the transition period under the current agreement ends. The negotiation patterns of both parties may remain the same. The British will demand special treatment, and the EU will be reluctant to give favor to fears of setting an example for further departures, as well as causing disagreements with other trading partners.
11 – Trade Agreement: Von der Leyen promised an “unprecedented partnership” for the UK after the last EU summit of 2019 which will be based on zero tariffs, zero quotas and zero “damping”. But the president of the Commission was not clear about which sector of the economy he was referring to. Finding a compromise on industrial goods can be easy compared to trading services, which reaches 80 per cent of the British economy. Johnson certainly will not accept Norway’s model of allowing full market entry without any right to decide on the rules. Nor can he accept the standard free trade agreement like Canada as this option barely covers services.
12 – Irish Background: The final Brexit deal could avoid the difficult border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But the new mechanism may not end up being too difficult in reality because even if Northern Ireland stays in Britain’s customs zone, different EU rules and tariffs will apply to the goods depending on their destination. Moreover, it is only a temporary regime that can only be realized with the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
13 – EU Citizens in Britain: EU citizens legally residing and working in the UK may continue to live in the country until the end of 2020. They are only required to confirm their residence status. But after the transition period, new and so unknown rules of entry will come into force that they may be disadvantageous to European students who want to attend world-renowned British universities. The new government under Boris Johnson plans to introduce a system based on immigration points, which has yet to be detailed.
14 – Independence of Scotland: Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to hold a new referendum on Scotland’s independence after her pro-EU party, the SNP, won 48 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats in the December general election. Scotland’s independence does not only challenge British domestic politics. The EU also needs to update its position on a small separatist state ready to join the bloc, and the decision risks causing a domino effect in other European regions seeking independence.
15 – Net contributor loss: Britain’s departure will result in a net loss of around € 10 billion a year to the EU budget. If one looks closely at the balance of contributions and payments received, Britain has paid more in the common budget than it received from EU funds. This will logically hurt the net beneficiaries of the cohesion and agriculture funds, which are mainly Eastern and Southern European countries. The gap makes tense negotiations on the seven-year budget even more difficult.
– European Green Agreement
The new Commission’s first major announcement was to present a roadmap for sustainable and just economic transition in order to make the continent’s climate neutral by 2050. Feeling popular pressure and seeking a cause to bolster its legitimacy President von der Leyen came up with the European Green Agreement, which aims to boost the economy and create jobs while saving the planet. 2020 should be the year when political slogans will reveal their content.
16 – Industry Reform: A comprehensive legal package will be proposed in early 2020 that will set the stage for climate change action in any economic sector, including transport, energy, agriculture, construction and industries such as steel, cement, textile and chemicals. The plan will also focus on minimizing waste production and fostering a circular economy. “European Climate Law” will surely drive up costs in any industry, so it may take years for a bill to finally have such profound consequences. EU officials will also have to face campaigns by industry representatives and lobbyists.
17 – International competition: European industry is already struggling with innovative competition. European firms can fall completely behind international competition if they have to incorporate climate action into their business. The cost can be offset by some kind of climate tariff on imports. However, the plans even seem to be extremely cautious because the climate tariff could seriously affect international trade relations and cause tensions with trading partners such as China and the US.
18 – East-West divisions: Eastern European member states have already expressed concerns about shifting EU 2021-2027 budget priorities, which significantly reduces cohesion and agriculture funding. The European Green Agreement will eventually widen the gap between the developed western countries, which have already used climate-friendly technologies and the Eastern countries whose convergence is lagging behind. The European Green Agreement could also raise the already considerable tension around the EU’s other annual financial framework.
19 – Financing the Transition: Despite the fact that the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, has agreed to the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, he cannot commit to implementing the European Green Agreement at the recent summit of EU leaders. for 2019. European heads of state and governments will return to the question in June 2020, hoping that Poland, whose economy depends more on carbon-intensive activities, will change its mind. Commission suggests 100 billion euros Transition Fund to support transition of less developed regions, but it is not yet clear whether it will be fully covered by its own EU budget, or will only provide financial leverage to private investment .
20 – Fulfillment of promises: The Von der Leyen Commission came to power amid deep divisions between member states and European institutions. The dominant program on green economic transition may seem like a good instrument to unify the continent after a noble and necessary cause. But the Commission must provide the details of an extremely complicated and comprehensive reform with a very brief announcement of its deadline in the “first 100 days” and deal with all the other challenges at the same time.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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