Written by Naja Bentzen, with contributions from Joanna Apap, Piotr Bakowski, Etienne Bassot, Jesus Carmona, Denise Chircop, Enrico D’Ambrogio, Isabelle Gaudeul-Ehrhart, Nora Milotay, Eva‑Maria Poptcheva, Magdalena Sapala and Christian Scheinert,
‘Ten issues to watch in 2018’ was presented in the Library of the European Parliament on 11 January, in the context of a roundtable discussion that attracted an audience of more than 130 people. The significant attendance demonstrated the high interest in the publication – the second edition of an annual EPRS publication designed to identify key issues and policy areas that are likely to feature prominently on the political agenda of the European Union over the coming year.
Following Director-General Anthony Teasdale’s introduction, European Parliament Vice-President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso (EPP, Spain) opened the roundtable discussion. He pointed out that defending European values is today more necessary than ever, and that ‘2018 has to be the year in which the European Union stands firm in continuing to protect what is under threat: the rule of law in some countries and regions, the fight against corruption and the freedom of the press in others’. He underlined that ‘the European Union still needs to act as the guarantor of the European way of life, in opposition to all those who seek to destroy or weaken it: global terrorism, the aggressiveness of Putin’s Russia, or even the United States of President Trump’s return to conflictual positions.’
Members’ Research Service Director, Etienne Bassot then took the helm for the discussion, pointing out that — although the shocks of 2016 that shaped 2017 (the Brexit vote and the US presidential election) continue to play a key role, and the sea might continue to be rough — there is new hope and a new optimism for the European project. There is a feeling that Europe has a good wind in its sails, but even if we still face some headwinds, we can use the skills and tools that we have at our disposal to navigate the currents and obstacles we face. The roundtable discussion, during which ten EPRS ‘crew members’ presented these currents, obstacles, skills and tools, was followed by a short Q&A session.
To begin with the underlying currents — issues that have been underway for a while and are likely to continue to impact Europe’s course — Etienne Bassot highlighted migration, Brexit, disinformation/cybersecurity, youth empowerment, and inequality.
Migration (Joanna Apap, policy analyst, External Policies Unit): Due to record levels of displacement, human suffering, climate change, socio-economic impact on host communities as well as complex political ramifications in many countries, migration will continue to be high on the EU agenda in 2018 and beyond. The question as to how to ensure that the different interests and needs are addressed within a strong human rights framework is at the very heart of the debate on migration management, Joanna argued, concluding that ‘Migrants are not statistics. They are human beings. And human rights are universal’.
Brexit (Jesus Carmona, Head of the Citizens Policies Unit): We can expect the following for 2018 as regards Brexit negotiations: First, discussions about the transitional arrangements for the period between the end of the United Kingdom’s EU membership on 29 March 2019 and the start of a future relationship between the EU and UK. Second, the future framework for EU-UK relations. The Council is expected to adopt guidelines for the future relationship in March. Even if it is still early, some models for the future relationship have already being identified as possible scenarios: EFTA country model, EU-Canada type (CETA) or a Canada plus option, or the EU association agreement with Ukraine. Alternatively, even a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Negotiations on Brexit need to be finalised by the end of 2018, to allow time for the European Parliament to consent to the agreement, and for the UK parliament to approve, so that UK membership can end on 29 March 2019, as expected.
Disinformation and cybersecurity (Naja Bentzen, policy analyst, External Policies Unit): The EU’s responses to the threats from disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks will continue to evolve in 2018, in part pushed up the agenda by the European Parliament. For instance, the East StratCom TaskForce will have a real budget in 2018, for the first time since its creation in 2015. The Commission will publish a communication on fake news and online disinformation in spring 2018. Against the backdrop of evolving cyber-threats, EU cyber resilience will feature prominently in the coming year, and the EU is responding with host of measures, some yet to be launched, and others due to come to fruition in 2018.
Youth empowerment (Denise Chircop, policy analyst, Social Policies Unit): The EU’s policies, tools and funding dedicated to youth empowerment do not seem enormous compared to the challenges they address. Yet, if they reach citizens at grassroots level, where they are needed, their power of leverage can be significant. Decisions on the renewal of these tools will be made in 2018. The outcomes will determine how well the EU can support youth empowerment in the years to come.
Inequality (Nora Milotay, policy analyst, Social Policies Unit): The big divisions within and between European societies, along gender, generation, place of birth, and education lines, have led to a sharp decline in trust in governments. The role of policy is to shape co-production and fair distribution in line with new economic theory that considers the market as an outcome of an ongoing interaction between economic actors and institutions. EU policies will continue to address inequalities in this manner in 2018. The European Pillar of Social Rights will be further implemented through the European Semester and other legislative and non-legislative measures, like the social fairness package, that are meant to support Member States in their efforts to update their national welfare systems. This will happen within the framework of the further reflection of the future of EU competences and their added value in the different policy fields.
Etienne Bassot pointed out that, in navigation, currents are not the only influence to take into account – there are also obstacles, typified by issues such as terrorism and North Korea.
Terrorism (Piotr Bakowski, policy analyst, Citizens Policies Unit): With the challenge of terrorism unlikely to diminish in the near future, the EU will continue consolidating its counter-terrorism capabilities by improving the implementation of existing instruments and applying new approaches to this evolving phenomenon.
North Korea (Enrico D’Ambrogio, policy analyst, External Policies Unit): In the North Korean crisis, there is no war on the horizon. Nevertheless, further provocations by Pyongyang are still possible in 2018. Kim Jong-un is unlikely to give up on the nuclear and missile programme, as he sees them as the guarantee of his regime. This has distracted the international community from the appalling situation of human rights in North Korea, and perhaps time has come the EU to take up this challenge.
Tools and skills
As Etienne Bassot pointed out, navigation requires tools; including a solid financial framework, a stable euro area as well as European elections that opens a dialogue with the European voters.
Future financing of the Union (Magdalena Sapala, policy analyst, Budget Policies Unit): The Commission plans to propose a post-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) in May 2018. The first post-Brexit MFF presents an opportunity for reform on both the revenue and the expenditure side of the EU budget, possibly including new own resources. The debate on the future financing of the European Union has already begun and the expectations regarding the new system of financing the EU are high.
Future of the euro area (Christian Scheinert, policy analyst, Social Policies Unit): Current proposals for modifying the Economic and Monetary Union‘s architecture may result in incremental change, but not in a ‘great leap’ forward. The stability of the euro area will therefore continue to depend on the framework which was put in place six years ago, in response to the sovereign debt crisis. This framework, known as ‘EMU 2.0’, already contains powerful tools which are not only suited to avoid the resurgence of a crisis, but are also geared towards supporting growth and employment.
European elections (Eva-Maria Poptcheva, policy analyst, Members’ Research Service): In the run-up to the 2019 European elections, we are still facing the challenge of making the elections to the European Parliament truly ‘European’. The electoral reform proposed by Parliament back in 2015 seeks to make elections more European both in form and substance. However, the consolidation of the Spitzenkandidaten-process was met with particular opposition in the Council. The nomination of lead candidates for the European election by the European political families seeks not only to Europeanise the electoral campaigns, but creates a direct political link between Parliament and the European executive, which has already translated into a further parliamentarisation of EU decision-making. This, as well as a possible future joint EU constituency with transnational lists and the composition of the Parliament after the UK leaves the EU, remain exciting issues to watch during 2018.
By collectively reflecting upon the ‘known unknowns’ in this roundtable discussion — sharing our findings and exchanging views — EPRS initiated a forward-looking debate to gain a better overview of the ‘big picture’, identify strategic issues for 2018, and find drivers for the European Parliament’s work. The topics for the 2018 edition of ‘Ten issues to watch’ were selected in a collective manner, and EPRS covers a wide spectrum of other issues in its publications, which can be found on our website.