Europe back on track
2017 was a remarkable year for Europe. The dark clouds that were looming over the EU at the start of the year gradually dissipated, creating a propitious atmosphere for much-needed constructive thinking on Europe. The economic prospects improved, the political orientation became more pro-European and a provisional deal was reached with the UK on a soft Brexit. Most importantly, the Brexit negotiations shifted the public debate on Europe, as it became clearer for many what the single market and the EU project means in practice, and what leaving the EU implies. From spring 2017 onwards, opinion polls indicated a clear trend break in popular sentiment towards the EU (Eurobarometer, Pew).
The more positive political context allowed European leaders to entertain initiatives in areas where progress would have been previously difficult to achieve. New items in the areas of security and defence, foreign policy and fiscal union were placed on the EU agenda and decisive steps forward have been taken. …
But this is not the time to relax. Populism remains a concern for the EU, especially following the German elections. An even-larger share of the electorate is expected to support populist parties in the June 2019 European Parliament elections than is found in the current legislature, with all the obstacles that this entails for the decision-making process. The EU still has to deliver on the main items promised by the Juncker Commission, especially in the areas of energy, digital and capital markets union. Also on migration and the fight against terrorism, the advancement of the European agenda is unclear for European citizens, which nurtures populist movements.
Maintaining Europe’s new-found momentum, but also attending to the unfinished agenda and new emerging items will be at the centre of our work in 2018. The effects of digitalisation have become a major theme in many of our research units, whether from a micro or macroeconomic perspective, in public administration, security or defence. Sustainable development is the other major cross-cutting theme, playing a central role in energy and macroeconomic policy, in finance and digital.
“Europe - Back on track” is the title of the fifth CEPS Ideas Lab, to take place in Brussels on 22-23 February 2018. Even more than in previous years, this coming event will give participants the opportunity to share their insights on where Europe now stands and assess the direction in which the various tracks are taking the Union. We at CEPS are happy that we can provide fertile grounds to stimulate a healthy debate on Europe’s future.