The state of the State of the Union 2021
´September 15th at 09:00´ rings many bells for those who closely follow the EU agenda. It is the time when the President of the European Commission delivers a State of the Union address to the European Parliament, paving the direction of travel for the Commission in the coming year. It has not always been so, as the State of the Union address is (only) ten years old, but nonetheless it seems to be equally followed by those who wish to get inspired by visionary statements on the future of Europe as well as by those who wish to get a grip on some of the key initiatives foreseen for the year. Or those who seek both.
2020: A year in review
As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic had a key part in the retrospective provided by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, from several angles such as the effects of the pandemic, the recovery programme, as well as EU´s leadership when it comes to vaccine management – efforts that in the course of next year will be spread outside of Europe, as well.
Furthermore, key initiatives supporting the ´green´ and ´digital´ transition were mentioned – the European Green Deal, and the ambitious climate neutrality target by 2050, as well as Europe´s Digital Decade initiative aiming to boost digital infrastructure and skills.
Finally came the (socially) ´fair´ – pioneered by the Portuguese Presidency – where the outcomes of the Porto Social Summit and the commitment to continue with the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Next year´s plans for the European Commission seem to not lack ambition particularly in the areas of health, defense, tech and security (including cyber), which took the central stage when speaking about the year ahead. Initiatives for young people and workers were also mentioned, unfortunately with little to no further detailing. One of them is ALMA, a new programme that will help young Europeans find temporary job in another EU Member State.
Another attention-grabber was the announced proposal on a ban on products that have been made by forced labor. It is positive to see a reference to human rights – but we lack details. Initiatives that were largely welcomed in the Plenary were the increased funding (four billion EUR) on climate finance, the new approach to the Rule of Law report which will now come with recommendations for Member States, the ambition to seal the deal on minimum corporate taxation, and finally, taking legislative action on combating violence against women.
… ´But social fairness is not just a question of time´
While the next year´s plan did not lack ambition, it perhaps lacked inclusion as issues like finance, economy and fiscal rules got a little attention. The re-launched of the Economic Governance Review was mentioned, and this could be a key opportunity for deeper integration of sustainability and social considerations in the economic and fiscal rules.
While we heard a lot on ´green´ and ´digital´, we missed an opportunity to hear more about the social pillar and more concrete initiatives, including funding, that would support it. This was perhaps best articulated in one of the interventions following the address: ´But what worries me most is that there is an imbalance between the three pillars of this new economic and social model that we want to build, a resilient model that guarantees the well-being of people … Because let us not forget that this is the ultimate goal of any policy, of any strategy: the well-being of people´.
The premise behind this year´s State of the Union address was that the Commission, now half-way in its mandate, is moving from the stage of design and legislation to the stage of delivery and implementation. As the impressions of this year´s State of the Union settle, we look forward to seeing what the upcoming Work Programme will offer.
More information about the State of the Union, including this year´s speech and overview of initiatives is available here
Head of EU Affairs at NFU