Wednesday

22nd Sep 2021

Analysis

First 100 days: Digital and Green Deal policies hit by crises

  • 'Without a new budget, we are running short of flexibility,' said the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as the coronavirus and the Greek border situation threatened her commission's agenda (Photo: European Commission)

"We have the duty to act and the power to lead," the president of the European Commission, Germany's Ursula von der Leyen, told MEPs before her team of commissioners took office late last year.

At the core of von der Leyen's pre-election campaign was her commitment to using her first 100 days in office to respond to the digital and environmental transitions.

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However, the agenda of the commission since then has, in fact, been directly impacted by massive and immediate international circumstances.

"Today, we are in the middle of a deep dilemma," admitted von der Leyen on Monday (9 March) referring to the ongoing emergency on the Greek border where thousands of refugees have attempted to enter Europe after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he was "opening the doors".

"This is a very acute situation. Finding a solution means relieving pressure on the border while ensuring that the individual right to request asylum is respected," she added.

The first three months of the commission has also been marked by the crisis of the coronavirus - which has seen over 11,000 cases and 400 deaths in Europe.

"We don't know what kind of crisis this will be. The spread of this virus not only has a vast impact on people's lives but also on our economy," said von der Leyen.

However, she warned that without the EU's planned next seven-year budget, the commission will not be able to respond accordingly to the challenges.

"Without a new budget, we are running short of flexibility," she added.

Besides crisis management, von der Leyen said that her commission made a "good start" in the first 100 days.

In that time, the EU's executive body had over 1,400 high-level meetings with the Green Deal making up nearly one-fifth of all these lobby meetings, Transparency International EU reported.

Green Deal - unprecedented but mixed response

The commission unveiled in December the Green Deal and its investment plan, pledging to fight climate change, cut pollution and protect biodiversity while creating jobs by investing a total of some one trillion euros.

However, NGOs like Greenpeace slammed the proposal as "too weak, half-baked or missing altogether".

The von der Leyen Commission's main objective is to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, but this approach did not manage to convince everyone - including member state Poland.

Aiming to bring all member states on board, the commission proposed a just transition fund (€7.5bn investment) to support the regions most affected by the industrial transition.

Last week, the commission announced its flagship climate law.

But environmental activists, including Greta Thunberg, quickly declared the proposal a "surrender" for postponing immediate action.

The commission also presented new rules for sustainable finance, although a specific taxonomy of harmful economic activities for the environment is still a pending task.

The EU's executive body also kick-started work on a possible carbon border tax. If this initiative is implemented, imports could be hit with some form of tariff if they do not meet the EU's environmental standards.

Meanwhile, the upcoming strategies on biodiversity, the circular economy and agri-food, as well as the reforms of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) post-2020, will also be key to green the economy and tackle what was called "this generation's defining task".

Dangers of Artificial Intelligence

Another essential task for the commission's first 100 days was the EU's new digital strategy.

The commission began a public consultation on artificial intelligence (AI) governance when it presented in February its white paper on AI.

Brussels wants to establish new binding requirements by the end of the year for the development and use of "high-risk" AI applications.

However, the specific criteria that would qualify an application as "high-risk" are far from decided.

At the last minute, plans for a European data strategy were added to the taskforce of the commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, who aims to create "common European data spaces" to boost innovation.

"We know that Europe has a huge amount of sleeping potential of unused data, which we can share in the European data space we want to create," von der Leyen told reporters on Monday.

Additionally, the commission and the member states defined a common approach for the security of 5G networks in the EU without excluding any specific telecom suppliers - amid concerns over Huawei's links to China's intelligence services.

Meanwhile, the commission is due to present on Tuesday (10 March) its new industrial strategy, to boost EU companies while reducing the barriers of the single market.

However, upcoming rules for online platforms, common standards for online digital identity and a European approach for cybersecurity will also play a part in the digital transformation of the EU.

From West Balkans to gender pay-gap

With von der Leyen's ambition to lead a "geopolitical commission," the institution delivers an updated enlargement methodology and the EU-Africa strategy within the first 100 days.

However, the engagement with the Western Balkans will remain "a priority" for the rest of the mandate, said the commission.

Despite the objections, the commission also launched a two-phased consultation for a possible for EU minimum wage and debate on a forthcoming "Europe's Beating Cancer Plan".

Likewise, the most gender-balance commission of EU's history recently pledged to combat the gender pay gap by implementing "binding measures on pay transparency".

According to von der Leyen, "it was important to grasp the key underlying driving factors for change to spell out this vision for the next 30 years we do have together in Europe".

EU commission to finally combat gender pay gap

The EU exectuive plans binding measures on pay transparency, and also wants lagging countries to ratify the Istanbul convention preventing violence agaisnt women.

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

Greece is now "Europe's shield" said the European Commission, as it shores up border patrols on the Turkish border. But when it comes to Greece suspending asylum claims, the same institution was unable to comment.

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The European Commission is to present its new pact on migration at the end of March. Margaritis Schinas, the commissioner in charge, says its 2016 Dublin-reform proposal will be "taken off and be repackaged, redrafted."

Digital gap: 42% of EU citizens lack basic digital skills

While nine-out-of-10 future jobs will require digital skills, a new report revealed that a large part of EU citizens were unable to perform basic tasks such as connect to the wi-fi network or use websites.

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

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