Colleagues who have been in Brussels longer than I have told me that so far the autumn has been exceptionally calm. They recall the marathon night-time meetings and tough back-and-forth discussions that were commonplace in the worst days of the Eurozone crisis. The crisis is abating, even fading.
Now we wait the aftermath of the German elections. Most people predict few major shifts in the EU policies of the union’s leading nation, even if there are changes in the government. That is what happened in France. “France will be France” they say, and the same can be said of Germany. Both countries have a strong commitment to the EU and their actions are characterised by continuity. That is the most important outcome of these elections, too, for us and for the EU as a whole.
If the French were allowed to vote in these elections, they would re-elect Angela Merkel as Chancellor with a 56% majority. Even in a survey conducted a couple of years ago, a majority of French citizens had confidence in Merkel’s ability to solve problems of the Eurozone – even more so than Germans themselves. . The French have not shown the same confidence in the actions of their own government. In terms of the economy, they are keen to follow the lead of their German neighbours. In other words, there is a place for continued cooperation between these two nations.
The President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, gave his annual State of the Union speech a few weeks ago. He emphasised the need for joint action in solving financial problems and supporting economic growth. He reminded the member states that we are all in the same boat, and that one end of the boat can’t let the other end sink. He listed some of the initiatives that the Commission intends to have processed before the European Parliament takes its election break next spring. Barroso mentioned several initiatives that are supported by Finland as well, including the constitutional state principle, on which the Commission will give a communication soon.
Lithuania still has plenty to do during its presidency period. On the to-do list are the single resolution mechanism for the banking union, the data protection reform package, and the telecoms single market. Additionally, the European Parliament should be prevailed upon for a final decision on the EU budget for 2014–2020. Conditions for approval have been collected.
“What about Syria?” asks a diplomat from a non-EU state. Syria is being discussed, but the union in itself does not have a placepower in the ongoing negotiations. The EU has its duties in humanitarian aid, refugee assistance and reconstruction – a stage which hopefully will be reached soon. Previously it was often repeated that the EU was “an economic giant but a political dwarf”. This has not been heard since the rise of the emerging economies. Nor has the EU been able to claim its place as a global operator. Work is ongoing on a common foreign and security policy for the EU. In December the European Council will consider its defence dimensions in detail.
The success of the initial stages of the European External Action Service, established in 2010, will be evaluated this autumn. Creating the new structure has not been easy. Delineation of its responsibilities has given rise to jurisdiction disputes. The EU can speak with one voice only if there is smooth collaboration between agencies and member states. The solution is not simply to place all the expertise and resources related to external action under the same roof and the same hat.
Everything in the EU comes up against the European Parliament sooner or later. With the Treaty of Lisbon, the status of the Parliament was significantly reinforced by law. Now, three bodies – the Council, the Commission and the Parliament – try to work out their interpretations of new articles on the implementation of legislation. The Parliament has real authority that cannot be bypassed. Anyone wishing to put forward a cause would do well to make use of the European Parliament and to convince its members as they are eager to exercise their power.
The Parliament is a topic of discussion also due to the elections next spring. The future composition of the Parliament influence the actions of the European Union. Therefore we are all in an expectant mood.