Moving Europe Forward: Gordian knot or Möbius strip?

With the budget and recovery plan blocked, the post-Brexit negotiations blocked, and the Conference on the Future of Europe deferred, there doesn’t seem to be much on the European horizon for the end of 2020.

Even with the prospect of emerging from the current health crisis with an imminent vaccine, it is worth asking whether the ambitious program for Europe outlined in Mrs. von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech is still tenable.

At the same time, in late October, the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party unveiled not only their next five-year plan (2021-2025) but also a longer-term plan, “Vision 2035”, to deal with the “confrontation” with the United States.

In this context, Europe’s main political concern seems to be simply holding to its values of solidarity, collegiality, and democracy, invoking its raison d’être as a backbone to differentiate itself from the Sino-American duopoly. This in a world where multilateralism seems paralyzed, even beyond the nearly-finished Trump presidency, from the G20 to the WTO to the U.N.

From an economic point of view, the European recovery is hanging by a thread due to two states vetoing the adoption of the budget, and therefore the recovery plan, whose subsidies are conditioned on rule of law. This condition does not seem to be acceptable to Hungary and Poland, who brandish the argument of their sovereignty. This raises several questions for the remaining twenty-five member states, concerning the weight of national sovereignty versus European solidarity, as well as unity in diversity.

Of course, Hungary and Poland are not the first to attempt to go it alone or to form alliances to block, delay, or redirect E.U. progress. General de Gaulle’s empty chair policy was no different. But today, with the E.U.’s survival at stake, it’s hard to imagine how Poland and Hungary could take such an unpopular position with the other 25 countries standing to gain from the urgent recovery plan.

With Germany presiding over the Council and the Commission as mediators, several paths have been put forward to overcome the impasse and work around this obstacle without compromising the Union’s values.

As far as projects, the State of the Union speech seems quite far off. Rather than returning to the initial pre-Covid program, it would seem the Commission is taking a resilient approach and seeking to integrate the evolving situation of the crisis.

The pandemic has also accelerated the transition to a digital economy. Many expect that the crisis will also accelerate the ecological transition. By awarding a third of the recovery subsidies to green projects, the Commission is seeking to shape public behavior to comply with the E.U. commitments.

On September 23, 2020, the European Commission presented a “New Pact on Migration and Asylum”. This pact is the result of long negotiations between the 27 E.U. countries, who disagree heavily on migratory questions. The European Parliament and the Council still need to examine it before ratification.

On November 10, the Commission also announced an agreement on Europe’s next long-term budget, which when adopted, will finance a series of measures totaling €1.8 trillion, the largest package every financed by the E.U. budget.

On the Green Deal side, the Commission presented the E.U.’s offshore renewal energy strategy, proposing to increase Europe’s offshore wind power production from 12 GW today to 300 GW by 2050.

Thus, sector progress is very real. On December 10 and 11, the European Council will meet in Brussels for the biannual summit which marks the end of the German presidency. They will debate ongoing coordination measures for COVID-19, climate change, trade, security, and foreign relations. A Euro Zone summit will also be held.

During its six months as president of the Council, Germany adopted a program with clear and ambitious priorities. Its key goals were the sustainable management of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery through innovation.

The German government’s message was unambiguous: “helping Europe emerge from the crisis is the task that will define our presidency”, with a relatively unanimous line of action: “we must have more solidarity internally, and show more strength and sovereignty externally.”

This is neatly reflected in the logo selected for this semester’s presidency: a Möbius strip, the one-sided ribbon with no beginning or end. With its stylized flag colors, it can also represent an unbroken transition in a both German and European dynamic, and continuity without contradiction. In short, another way of progressing little by little, via the “silent transformations” that China once held dear.

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