The European Union has achieved what it was originally created for: it has brought peace between its members — a peace that has now lasted for more than 60 years. But where are we heading now? In this chapter, you will find out more about how the EU is tackling today´s challenges as well as what its main priorities are.

What´s on the EU´s agenda?

The EU's 10 priorities

Today, the EU is facing unprecedented challenges in the form of unemployment, migration, climate change and terrorism, to name but a few. Many citizens have lost confidence in politicians. Some of the achievements of European integration, such as the free movement of people, are now being put into question.

In light of these challenges, the President of the European Commission elected in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker, presented a policy agenda to provide for a new start for Europe. Based on the competences given by the EU treaties, he identified 10 key priorities that the EU as a whole should focus on in the coming years to ensure that it seizes the opportunities that these trends present. This chapter outlines them for you.

In conjunction with these 10 priorities, the European Commission has invited all EU governments, civil society, stakeholders and citizens to reflect on the future of Europe.

You can learn more about this consultation here.

'Our children deserve a Europe that preserves their way of life. They deserve a Europe that empowers and defends them. They deserve a Europe that protects. It is time we — the institutions, the governments and the citizens — all take responsibility for building that Europe. Together.'

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, 2016 State of the Union address

1. Jobs, growth and investment

Europe is emerging from its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. As a result of this crisis, many jobs were lost and very few investments were made in the EU. The EU's top priority is to get Europe growing again and to increase the number of jobs, particularly for young people, without creating new debt.

In 2015, the EU created the European Fund for Strategic Investments. Since its launch, the Investment Plan has helped finance the rollout of high-speed broadband internet to 1.5 million households, renovate or build half a million affordable homes and improved healthcare services for 30 million Europeans. It has supplied 7.4 million households with renewable energy and improve rail and urban infrastructure for the 95 million passengers who use it every year. All Member States are benefiting, especially those who were hardest hit by the crisis.

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Exercise 17

Creating jobs for young people

The EU is helping economic growth and job creation by attracting capital from potential EU investors. What more could the EU do to increase the number of jobs for young people?

Discuss in small groups.

2. Digital single market

The EU continues to remove hurdles that prevent citizens, governments and businesses from taking full advantage of the internet. The solutions range from ending 'geo-blocking', removing mobile phone roaming charges and addressing the lack of internet access or digital skills, to new portability rules so people can access their online subscriptions for TV, games and music when travelling in the EU in the same way as they do at home.

Roaming charges ended in June 2017, so people can use their mobile devices when travelling in the EU, paying the same prices as at home.

Since 1 April 2018, Europeans have been able to access the online content they subscribe to at home, wherever they are in the EU, and their personal data is protected by the new General Data Protection Regulation which came in effect in May.

However, not all citizens and businesses have access to fast internet and online opportunities. The Commission aims to provide citizens with the best possible internet connection, while the WiFi4EU initiative supports installing free public Wi-Fi hotspots in local communities across the EU.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Geolocation is at the heart of the ongoing digital revolution. The EU has invested in its own Global Navigation Satellite System, called Galileo. It will increase geolocation precision tenfold and will enable new innovative services that may transform our daily lives, such as autonomous cars and improved urban transport networks. The Galileo constellation now has 18 satellites in orbit and has started offering its services to public authorities, businesses and citizens. The full constellation foresees a total of 30 satellites and is expected to be completed by 2020. No single European country could have done this alone.

Exercise 18

The future of digital

Are you a user of online/digital products and/or services? In small groups, discuss your personal experience and exchange ideas about how you see the future of the internet and of digital technologies.

3. Energy union and climate

Every EU citizen should have access to secure, sustainable, affordable and competitive energy and one of the greatest challenges for the European energy system is to provide this. However, at a time when the global climate is changing and the Earth's atmosphere is warming up, the EU is the largest energy importer in the world (importing 53 % of its energy), 75 % of houses in the EU are energy inefficient, and wholesale electricity prices in Europe are 30 % higher than in the United States.

To improve this situation, the EU has set ambitious climate and energy targets for 2030, namely:

  • a 40 % reduction in greenhouse gases;
  • an increase in the proportion of renewable energies (wind, solar power and biofuels) to 32 %; and
  • a 32.5 % reduction in energy use.

However, climate change cannot be tackled by the EU alone. The EU is also working to promote strong global action through the United Nations and other international fora. In 2015, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, a global agreement on combating climate change was reached for the first time. The EU played a significant role in making this happen.

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DID YOU KNOW?

20 % of the EU budget is spent on climate-related projects. In addition, at least 40 % of the European Fund for Strategic Investments will support projects with components that contribute to climate action.

Exercise 19

Saving energy

Small actions can also play an important role in saving energy. In small groups, discuss what you already do at your level, what more you could do and what you are not ready to do.

4. Internal market

The single market is one of the EU's greatest achievements. It allows people, goods, services and capital to move more freely. It offers opportunities for professionals and businesses as well as greater choice and lower prices for consumers. It enables people to travel, live, work and study wherever they wish.

Despite the overall success of the single market, its benefits do not always materialise because rules are not known or applied, or other things simply get in the way.

The EU has decided to complete the internal market for products and services and make it the place where companies and industries can grow and then succeed in the global economy. To make this happen, the European Commission is:

  • creating a 'capital markets union', making it easier for small businesses to raise money and making Europe a more attractive place in which to invest;
  • encouraging workers to take up jobs in other EU countries in order to fill vacancies and meet the needs for special skills;
  • strengthening social aspects;
  • combating tax evasion and tax fraud.

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Exercise 20

Free movement or protectionism?

'By allowing people, goods, services and capital to move more freely, the single market helps create growth and jobs.' Divide the class into two groups: one that supports this statement and the other that opposes it. After discussing amongst yourselves, each group should present its arguments to the class.

5. A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union

The economic and monetary union represents a major step in bringing EU economies closer together. It makes it much easier to work and do business together because economic and tax policies across the EU are linked, everyone operates under one common monetary policy and a common currency — the euro — is used in most of the Member States.

When the global economic crisis hit, the EU and its 28 countries took unprecedented measures to protect their economies. These measures proved difficult for citizens and did not always take into account the effect on people's lives. Today, the EU wants to draw on the lessons learned and complete the economic and monetary union to help support disadvantaged people and to create more jobs. In doing so, it aims to ensure the stability of the euro, to strengthen public finances and to relaunch social dialogue.

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Exercise 21

the European pillar of social rights

The EU also protects people through laws to limit working hours, tackle workplace discrimination, make working conditions safer and ensure that they receive compensation for work injuries. To deliver new and more effective rights for citizens, the European Pillar of Social Rights enshrines principles and rights in the areas of equal opportunities on the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection.

What kind of social dimension for Europe would you favour? Individually, choose in the list below the three principles that you consider most important for a social Europe, then discuss your choice in small groups.

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  • Education, training and lifelong learning
  • Gender equality
  • Secure and adaptable employment
  • Information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissals
  • Social dialogue and involvement of workers
  • Work–life balance
  • Minimum income
  • Healthcare
  • Inclusion of people with disabilities
  • Housing and assistance for the homeless

6. Free trade

Every day, the EU imports and exports goods and services worth hundreds of millions of euros. Together, the 28 EU countries represent the largest economy in the world, the biggest exporter and importer, the leading investor and recipient of foreign investment, and the biggest aid donor. Speaking with a single voice, the EU carries considerably more weight in international trade negotiations than any of its individual countries would. These open markets generate economic growth and better jobs for Europe and its partners. They also give EU consumers more choice and purchasing power and help firms to compete abroad.

However, the EU has made it clear with its partners that free trade will not be done at any price. Every trade agreement negotiated by the EU in the name of the EU countries must respect the EU's values, be transparent, reasonable and fair, and not be harmful to citizens or the environment. The economic and trade agreement signed between the EU and Canada in October 2016, commonly known as CETA, is a good example of this progressive approach, along with the free-trade agreements signed in July 2018 between the EU and Japan.

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DID YOU KNOW?

In 2018, over 36 million jobs in the EU were supported by EU exports to non-EU countries.

Exercise 22

Free trade and globalisation

Today, products are no longer made in one place from start to finish. Instead, they are assembled in a series of individual steps in places all over the world. In small groups, choose a product or a service that you are familiar with (it could be an item of clothing, a mobile phone or a computer, for example) and discuss together what it is made of, where its components come from and what the consequences might be of increasing or restricting free trade on how much it costs, what it is made of, and so on. Present your thoughts to the rest of your class.

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DID YOU KNOW?

The economic relationship between the EU and the United States is the biggest in the world. Together the two blocs accounted, in 2018, for around 46 % of global economic output. Every day, the two trade goods and services worth around €2 billion. European companies exporting to the United States are based not just in cities, but also in towns and villages throughout Europe. Click on the map to see how many companies in your country/region currently export to the United States:

7. Justice and fundamental rights

The EU is not simply a common market for goods and services. It is also a union based on the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. For this reason, the European Commission has taken steps to improve the protection of fundamental rights in the area of data protection, the sharing of personal information and consumers' rights, and has stepped up efforts to boost gender equality, to fight discrimination and to stop human trafficking.

However, terrorist attacks on European soil have presented EU countries with new and unprecedented challenges. This is why the EU is striving to develop an effective security union. A series of measures have been taken at EU level to address all aspects of the terrorist threat. This includes the prevention of radicalisation, including online; making it a criminal offence to travel in order to commit terrorism or support it; stepping up detection of terrorism by increasing the exchange of information; tackling the financing of terrorism; cutting access to firearms and explosives; and supporting partner countries, particularly around the Mediterranean.

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Exercise 23

European values

Get together in small groups and discuss the following points.

8. Migration

In 2015 and 2016, the EU experienced an unparalleled influx of refugees and migrants. More than 1 million people arrived in the European Union, most of them fleeing war and terror in Syria and other countries and others crossing the EU's external borders to reunite with family and/or in search of a better life.

However, no EU country can or should have to face huge migratory pressures on its own. For these reasons, the EU is stepping up its efforts to save lives, fight human trafficking and cooperate with the countries where the migrants come from and pass through on their way to another country. Even more fundamentally, the EU wants to tackle the root causes that force people to escape and migrate: poverty, war, persecution, violations of human rights and natural disasters.

The EU has already done a great deal to tackle the refugee crisis, and continues to do so. As well as providing more money, it helps to relocate asylum seekers already in Europe and to resettle people in need from neighbouring countries. In addition, in order to offer safe ways for people to enter the EU legally, it is working to improve security at its borders and to tackle the problem of people smuggling.

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DID YOU KNOW?

In 2017 the EU adopted new rules for the external Schengen borders to reinforce checks on all people, including European citizens, against relevant databases, to make sure that they do not represent a threat to public policy or internal security. A European Border and Coast Guard was created to ensure strong and shared management of the external borders.

DID YOU KNOW?

Seeking asylum is a fundamental right within the EU and is granted to refugees. EU countries have an international obligation to grant asylum under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

A refugee is a person who is fleeing his or her home country and who cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution.

An asylum seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee and who has made an application for international protection, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.

A migrant is a broader term than refugee and refers to someone who leaves his or her home country to settle in another, usually in search of a better life.

Exercise 24

EU support for refugees and migrants

The rise in the number of refugees and migrants arriving in the EU has put pressure on Europe. The EU has responded to this situation by taking various measures.

Firstly, give your view on the measures listed below. Secondly, in little groups, select three topics for which your respective views differ the most and discuss the reasons behind them.

Completely support Partly support Somewhat against Completely against
1 The EU has organised search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, saving thousands of lives.
2 The EU has set up reception centres in Greece and Italy and sent experts to help identify and register arrivals.
3 EU countries should share the handling of asylum applications. People in need of international protection should be transferred from Greece or Italy to another EU country.
4 Almost 90 % of refugees and migrants have paid organised criminals to get them across EU borders. This is why the EU has stepped up its fight against criminal networks and people smugglers.
5 The EU helps EU countries to return 'irregular' migrants to their home country if they have no right to stay in the EU.
6 The EU helps improve the living conditions of the illegal immigrants in their countries of origin so that they do not flee these countries.
7 The EU wants to create safe and legal ways for asylum seekers to enter the EU so that they do not have to risk their lives by turning to smugglers and traffickers.
8 The EU has improved the control of its external borders.
9 Many people arriving in the EU need basics such as clean water, food and shelter. The EU finances projects aimed at providing the most urgent humanitarian needs.
10 The EU provides humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants in countries outside of the EU, such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

9. A stronger global actor

The EU is a key player on many foreign policy issues, ranging from negotiating with Iran in order to reduce the amount of nuclear material it produces to tackling global warming. Its joint foreign and security policy, designed to resolve conflicts and foster international understanding, is based on diplomacy, while trade, aid, security and defence all play a complementary role.

The political crisis in Ukraine and the unrest in the Middle East have made it clear how important it is that the EU is united externally. For these reasons, the EU aims to strengthen its foreign policy. Indeed, acting together gives the EU countries far greater authority than they would have if each pursued its own policies.

For the EU, being a stronger global actor means that it is able to respond efficiently to global challenges, to promote the EU's values and to contribute to peace and prosperity in the world.

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU is home to around 7 % of the world's population. This share is decreasing, and in 2060 the EU will only represent about 4 %. Although Europe is a relatively small continent, it is economically significant. Together, the EU countries make up 24 % of the world economy, making the EU one of the largest economies in the world, similar in size to the United States' economy.

Exercise 25

The EU in the world

Here are some examples of what the EU does in the world. Pick the three that are the most important to you and explain your reasons for choosing them. Compare your answers with those of your classmates.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2018 the EU consolidated its position as the world's biggest donor of humanitarian aid, giving over €1 billion. The EU's humanitarian aid worldwide provided life-saving support following natural disasters and man-made conflicts around the globe.

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10. Democratic change

Some people think that the EU is overly bureaucratic and distant from its citizens. At the same time, citizens expect the EU to face and manage significant economic and social challenges.

The EU is committed to real democracy and reform. The European Commission has made it a priority not only to propose new laws only when they are needed and when there is a clear European added value, but also to be fully transparent about what it is doing. For instance, all the key texts on the trade negotiations between the EU and Canada, and between the EU and the United States, are accessible to the public.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Members of the public have the chance to make comments at any time while a law is being made. The Commission is renewing its commitment to listen to external views by means of an online tool called 'Have your say'

Exercise 26

Citizens´ Dialogues

Citizens' dialogues between commissioners and the public take place across the EU on a daily basis. If you are not able to take part in one of these events, why not organise a citizens´ dialogue of your own in the classroom? A group of three to four students, representing a commissioner, chooses one of the 10 priorities presented in this chapter. At home, the group looks into the details of the chosen policy in order to be able to answer the citizens'/classmates' questions and prepares a 5-minute statement on this policy. In the classroom, once the 'commissioner' has delivered his or her short statement, a 15-minute question and answer session follows between the commissioner and the classmates, moderated by the teacher.

ANSWERS TO THE EXERCISES