The European Union’s plans are bold. They dwarf those of post-Brexit Britain under Boris Johnson. In a nutshell, the EU aspires to rival the United States and China as the setter of global standards/values and the goal of “strategic autonomy” across a range of economic and industrial sectors.
This is no idle ambition.
The “Brussels effect” has quietly established EU product standards as the de facto global standards in very many areas.
Washington and Beijing increasingly view the world as a place for big power conflict between the two of them, whether this be in the fields of military prowess/muscle, Big Tech and trade or in contrasting visions of human rights, economic models, democracy and other values. But Brussels is endeavour ing to steer a constructive alternative course between these (often) polar opposites.
Even with its pretensions for a defence union built on more efficient, joint military procurement and shared human and technological resources, the EU essentially exercises and is wedded to soft power. Its approach is built upon sharing and solidarity. It promotes such internal values externally and, at the same time, practices what it preaches by attempting to mediate between the US and China as well as others such as Russia and Turkey, most notably in trade disputes.
But it also wishes to assert leadership. The exemplar is climate change: the EU has set out plans to be the world’s first zero carbon economy by 2050 and will be spearheading the drive for genuinely radical moves as part of its Green New Deal at COP26 in Glasgow later this year.
EU aspirations for a leadership role also extend to the economy where the EU emphasises its commitment to Social Europe, a beacon for ending poverty and inequality, while at the same time promoting the eurozone as a haven of monetary stability.
There are some in Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam who would like to see the euro overtake the dollar as the world’s No 1 reserve currency (the US greenback accounts for 54% of currency reserves, the euro for 22% and the yuan for 2% as at April 2021.)
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the European Commission also set out ambitious plans for a Health Union, endowed with €9bn and designed to promote investment in new medicines and treatments as well as sharing R&D, procurement and distribution. These have been scaled back in the face of European Council (member state government leaders) opposition to ceding responsibility to Brussels.
The Next Generation EU Plan, worth €750bn, and it’s new seven-year Budget or Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), worth €1.2trn – almost €2 trillion taken together – is central to greater industrial self-reliance and addresses the perceived need for the EU to close and reverse the competitiveness gap with both the US and China (and even South Korea and Japan).
This feeds into the debate around “strategic autonomy” (or “sovereignty”) in areas such as the digital market economy, artificial intelligence, supercomputers, 5(6)G and so on.
You can read more about the EU’s plans in the 2021 Work Programme. It includes 44 different but laudably ambitious policies/measures/actions. At the same time, the Conference on the Future of Europe, launched on March 10, will last a year and is designed to give citizens a bigger say in shaping EU policies and ambitions.
A joint declaration, signed by the presidents of the Commission, Council and Parliament, mentions health, climate change, social fairness, digital transformation, the EU’s role in the world, and how to strengthen democratic processes governing the EU as key themes.