For months, if not years, Brexit has been the overarching topic shaping the political landscape in Brussels. But there are other challenges that require the attention of the European Union. Even before the European elections take place at the end of May, it is clear what politicians in Brussels will have to deal with over the next five years. The following will be among the key issues in the coming months and years.
Industry and competition:
China is supporting its economy with multi-billion dollar subsidies and is pooling all its resources to create new world market leaders over the next few years. Europe in the meantime is searching for answers. Among the bloc's considerations is a merger law reform in order to make it easier for large corporations to integrate their businesses as well as increases in state aids for private industry. The main focus is on renewable energies, digital development and battery cell drives. The EU's relationship with the US is also strained following a dispute over extra duties. The European Commission wants to settle the dispute by completing trade talks with the US by the end of October. The process could, however, take much longer.
When hundreds of thousands of migrants arrived in the EU in 2015, many member states were hopelessly overwhelmed. Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece were barely able to cope. Since then, a lot has happened in the EU, most of it, however, has been limited to security policy. A major asylum reform is pending. EU countries also remain far from an agreement on the equal distribution of asylum seekers among all the member states. No solution is in sight as countries including Hungary and Poland aren't prepared to commit themselves to accepting refugees. It's one of the reasons that humanitarian rescue vessels carrying migrants plucked from the Mediterranean have had to spend days and even weeks in waters off the Italian coast. Migration will be perhaps the most difficult issue in the years to come.
The EU is to become climate-neutral by 2050 - at least if the EU Commission has its way. This means that the economy, energy supply and transport have to be rebuilt in a way that they emit no new greenhouse gases, or that such emissions are captured. However, the EU's long-term climate protection strategy remains unclear. The aim of the member states is to agree on a common approach for the coming decades by 2020.
19 countries in the EU already have the euro as their currency. According to the EU treaty, all member states apart from the United Kingdom and Denmark are supposed to introduce the common currency at some point. But for the foreseeable future at least, this is not to be expected. In the next five years Bulgaria and Croatia could join the single currency. However, as a provision these countries still have to fulfil various development goals so that their accession will not weaken the euro. Regarding the reform of the Eurozone, a number of issues remain. Ten years after the beginning of the most recent financial crisis, the Eurozone is still not considered to be crisis-proof.
Among the objectives for the next few years are a budget for the eurozone and a strengthening of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) rescue package.
Already today, the unanimity principle is having a hard time: the EU regularly fails to achieve a joint stance on sensitive foreign policy issues. A special tax for digital giants like Google and Facebook also wasn't agreed upon. Consequently, the EU Commission has proposed to move to a majority vote system in some areas. But that would require changes to the EU treaty - which in turn requires unanimity.
It could become even more difficult if and when the EU accepts new members. Currently there are 28 member states, after Brexit the number would be 27. Most of the current candidates for accession are Western Balkan countries, among them Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia. Geographically, they are located in the middle of Europe, but politically and economically some of them are worlds apart from some of the wealthier EU states. However, the bloc cannot and will not leave them behind. Russia is trying to increase its influence, for example through a massive expansion of its media presence. If they execute the necessary reforms, the EU Commission has promised the aspiring members a possible accession by 2025. A fresh round of elections to the European Parliament will take place shortly before that in 2024.
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