After finally being nominated and approved by the European Parliament, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen will soon have the names of the (27) candidates put forward by the member countries as commissioners. She will then have to distribute portfolios and put her team through European Parliament hearings before the new Commission takes up its duties on 1 November.
Never will a Commission have been faced with such an arduous task. It is going to have to get on with completing the institution-building work left unfinished by the Juncker Commission. It will have to keep its members united by responding to the increasingly strongly expressed need to increase the legitimacy and democratic responsibility of its institutions and reaffirm the benefits of Europe-wide integration. And, above all, it will have to redefine Europe’s place in the geopolitical confrontation between the United States and China, in a world that is no longer as it was five years ago.
A more political role in response to existential questions
Indeed, it will be necessary to redefine the very concept of European sovereignty; to make the shift from the primacy of the economy to giving consideration to geopolitical strategy in the face of superpowers that are blurring the lines between economic competition and security issues. Europe will have to navigate the transition from internal integration based on rules, policies and a single currency to a managed relationship with the rest of the world. Security considerations will need to be elevated from the national level to the Europe-wide level. What is at stake is Europe’s ability to continue to define the rules of the global game and avoid being technologically dominated. There is also a need to counter alternative models of governance (thinking in particular of autocratic systems) that might be imposed by dint of technological and economic leadership.
Strategic thinking and economic action
There will be a need to think and act strategically, to secure the supply of goods and services crucial to future development. This will mean boosting technological, financial and security capability, pushing back technological boundaries and regaining control over physical and financial infrastructure, which competitors can use as a powerful means of leverage. It will thus be necessary to draft an industrial policy that breaks away from simply guaranteeing competitive conditions for operators and moves towards a more proactive vision that identifies sectors with high future potential and mobilises financial and regulatory resources to support them. These policies will need to be projected beyond the confines of the single market to engage with global competition; meanwhile, the internal market will need to be protected from technological monopolies and those built up beyond the purview of market rules. To achieve this, European budget expenditure will almost certainly have to be reallocated. The roles and hierarchies of EU policy are going to have to be rewritten to ensure greater complementarity between industrial policy, competition policy and trade policy so as to be able to respond to security requirements and a geopolitical strategy defined by foreign policy.
A green deal to reconquer the technological frontier and regain political legitimacy
The green deal spoken of by Ursula Von der Leyen could meet these objectives. It would represent an opportunity to modernise the European economy, revitalise industry and secure the jobs of the future. Europe could gain a first-mover advantage to build up a competitive edge and use its regulatory heft to impose global standards by leveraging the size of its internal market.
It could thus respond to growing demand from citizens, provided the transition is economically and politically sustainable – i.e. that the associated gains and losses are fairly distributed. The overarching nature of a green deal means negotiations could be opened up on enough fronts for every stakeholder to be able to secure an advantage and be properly compensated for any losses.
Abandoning the fragmented exercise of power and going beyond national preferences in managing geopolitical issues
This strategic vision requires the principle of “unity in diversity” to be rethought, bearing in mind that, in many areas, it will not be possible to abandon the principle of unanimous voting in favour of qualified majority voting – especially since the superpowers will bring all their weight to bear to undermine unity by playing up to national preferences. That being the case, a variable-geometry Europe will probably emerge, moving at different speeds in different areas, with a core forging ahead followed by those who are able to and want to follow. It will be the ability of this pioneering core to deliver that will lay the foundations for renewed attractiveness and ensure the European level continues to have a worthwhile role to play.
Paola MONPERRUS-VERONI - firstname.lastname@example.org