THE EUROPEAN UNION HAS ACHIEVED A LOT SINCE ITS FOUNDING DAYS. IT HAS DELIVERED MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY OF PEACE, STABILITY AND PROSPERITY. IT HAS HELPED RAISE LIVING STANDARDS. AND IT HAS LAUNCHED THE WORLD’S LARGEST SINGLE MARKET AS WELL AS THE EURO. SO WHAT’S NEXT? IN THIS CHAPTER, YOU WILL FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW THE EU IS TACKLING TODAY’S CHALLENGES AND WHAT THE EU’S MAIN PRIORITIES ARE FOR THE COMING YEARS.

WHAT’S ON THE EU’S AGENDA?

We live in challenging times. Climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental damage are threatening Europe and the world. At the same time, new digital technologies are transforming the way we live, work and do business. These new digital technologies bring new opportunities, but also new risks. On top of this, the global COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Europe in 2020, has turned our lives upside down. It has shown just how quickly the world can be thrown into crisis, and how important it is for the EU to be ready to respond to new challenges at the same time as dealing with existing ones.

When President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen took office in 2019, she presented six key ambitions for Europe for the coming years. These ambitions range from leading the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world to strengthening the EU’s role as a world leader. In response to the global pandemic, the EU has put in place a recovery plan for Europe to ensure that after COVID-19 it is greener, more digital and more resilient, and provides plenty of opportunities for young people. This recovery plan is called NextGenerationEU. This chapter outlines what the EU is doing in each priority area to make this happen.

‘We cannot replace the lost time which the pandemic has taken from young people, but we can build something better and fairer, for them and with them. We have to act now, and young people must play a central role in this change.’

Find out more about the EU’s political priorities at: ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024_en

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, 9 May 2021, at the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe, Strasbourg, France.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, talking to a young person.

Europe’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

Europe is recovering from the biggest public-health crisis in its history, which has also led to an unprecedented economic slowdown. The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all in one way or another. Many people suffered illness or bereavement, others lost jobs and income.

When the crisis hit in early 2020, the EU acted swiftly to support healthcare systems, save lives and keep the economy going. It also secured the production, purchase and delivery of vaccines to EU countries. The EU is now working towards greater coordination between EU countries so they can prepare for – and respond together to – future health crises.

The EU aims to repair the economic and social damage caused by the pandemic by investing in projects and initiatives to make Europe healthier, greener, more digital and better able to deal with future challenges. To boost the recovery, the EU is using the EU budget together with a special recovery plan, known as NextGenerationEU. Taken together, this will amount to just over EUR 2 trillion (EUR 2 018 billion) to boost the recovery. See more in the section on ‘An economy that works for people’.

Find out more: ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/recovery-plan-europe_en

An infographic giving an overview of EU spending from 2021 to 2027.

DID YOU KNOW?

EU countries are in charge of their own national health policies including vaccinating their own citizens against harmful diseases such as COVID-19. The EU, on the other hand, provides support for these efforts. For example, it set up a system connecting national contact-tracing apps and coordinated a common system of EU digital certificates to enable people to travel more easily.

For information and advice on travelling, visit: reopen.europa.eu/en.

Funding Europe’s recovery

In 2020, EU leaders agreed the biggest-ever package of EU financing to help rebuild after COVID-19 and prepare a better future for the next generation. This package is made up of the EU’s long-term budget for 2021–2027 and the temporary fund created to fuel Europe’s recovery plan, known as NextGenerationEU. The bulk of the funding from NextGenerationEU will provide financial support to EU countries to help them recover from the effects of the pandemic. The money will be used to help them come out of the crisis greener, more digital and more resilient. It plans to achieve this by investing in areas that affect all Europeans such as faster internet connections, clean energy and transport, education and training, and making buildings more energy-efficient.

Find out about your country’s recovery plans: europa.eu/!wYRggt

DID YOU KNOW?

To help countries cope with the economic slowdown, the EU has put in place a scheme – the SURE initiative – to provide financial support for companies. In 2020 alone, this scheme helped keep around 30 million people in the EU in work.

Find out about the SURE initiative

europa.eu/!ch64Vq

Solidarity in action

European countries showed true solidarity by supporting each other during the pandemic. For example, hospitals across the EU took in patients from other countries and sent medical teams to help their neighbours. The EU also coordinated the delivery of protective equipment to where it was needed most. The EU is committed to ensuring that safe vaccines reach all corners of the world. The Commission and EU countries are leading donors to COVAX, the global initiative that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. They are also supporting vaccination campaigns in partner countries.

Find out more about European solidarity in action: europa.eu/!wR98Uj

With a little help from the EU, people across Europe – from Italian farmers to Croatian teachers and German small business owners – have been able to weather the coronavirus storm.

Discover their stories: europa.eu/!FR96Fq

EXERCISE 17 YOUR EXPERIENCE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

What did you experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, in your school, your city and other places? Discuss in groups how people reacted in your country and how the EU contributed. Could anything have been done better?

Find out more about the EU’s response to the coronavirus crisis: europa.eu/!wNDRGT

A delivery of medical equipment from rescEU reserve in Prague, Czechia, 24 October 2020.

Two men assembling a medical device on a loading dock. On the side, there is a box with the European flag.

A European Green Deal

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Of the 8 million species on the planet, 1 million are at risk of being lost. Forests and oceans are being polluted and destroyed. It’s not surprising that young people, concerned about the state of the planet they will inherit, have led the calls for greater climate action.

The European Union has been leading global efforts to fight climate change. It played a key role in securing the landmark global climate agreement in Paris in 2015. The EU is now determined to become the world’s first climate neutral continent – where we produce no more greenhouse gases than our ecosystems can naturally absorb – by 2050.

The European Green Deal is the EU’s action plan to reach this goal and to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. It will mean ambitious cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, investing in green technologies and protecting our natural environment, among other actions. It will also mean addressing the unavoidable consequences of climate change.

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU’s goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050 has been set in stone, thanks to the first-ever European climate law. This law also makes a legal obligation of the EU’s intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 % by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

europa.eu/!KtCumM

Delivering the European Green Deal

Achieving the EU’s climate commitments will require action in all areas – from industry, energy and transport to food production, agriculture and construction. This will include increasing the use of clean energy, cutting pollution, making our buildings more energy efficient and rolling out cleaner transport along with fuels to support it. In July 2021, the European Commission proposed a variety of measures to set the EU on a path to reach its 2030 climate target. These include:

  • increasing the share of renewable energy in the EU’s energy mix to 40 %;
  • reducing emissions from buildings, road transport and shipping by applying the emissions trading scheme to these sectors;
  • more ambitious targets for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars and vans;
  • restoring Europe’s forests, soils, wetlands and peatlands so they can absorb and store carbon.

The EU will provide financial support for those facing the greatest challenges to ensure no person or region is left behind. To underline its commitment, the EU is dedicating at least 30 % of its spending between 2021 and 2027 to climate-related initiatives.

Products sold in the EU should be designed to last longer, and to be easier to reuse, repair and recycle. They should also incorporate as much recycled material as possible. The new circular economy action plan, one of the main parts of the Green Deal, aims to make sustainable products the norm in the EU.

A bar chart showing EU emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050.

An infographic on the benefits of the EU’s target to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Find out about the Commission’s proposal to deliver on the European Green Deal: europa.eu/!XwJXrM

An infographic on the benefits of the EU’s target to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

EXERCISE 18 THE GREEN CHALLENGE

Is there something you can do as a class or school to contribute to building a greener Europe? Your teacher can find inspiration for class discussion in the ‘Green challenge’ teachers’ toolkit. Split into small groups to discuss your ideas.

The ‘Green challenge’ teachers’ toolkit: europa.eu/!wKxBm7

DID YOU KNOW?

Buildings are responsible for 40 % of the EU’s energy use and 36 % of energy-related CO2 emissions. The good news is that, by 2030, 35 million buildings in the EU could be renovated, significantly cutting emissions and creating 160 000 new jobs in the construction sector.

DID YOU KNOW?

Energy production and use accounts for 75 % of EU emissions. Saving energy through energy-efficiency measures and the massive scale-up of renewable energy will directly reduce emissions, air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.

Find out more about energy with this series of short videos: europa.eu/learning-corner/eu-energy-policy_en

Signs indicating a natura 2000 area at the edge of a forest.

Natura 2000 areas are indicated throughout Europe.

Leading the global fight against climate change

Climate change is a global problem that cannot be solved by the EU alone. The European Union is working with other countries and regions in the world to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. This agreement sets the goal of keeping global warming to ‘well below 2 °C’ above temperatures seen before the Industrial Revolution, while pursuing efforts to limit this increase to 1.5 °C. Countries meet to discuss progress towards these goals every year at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as the COP (Conference of the Parties).

Protecting and restoring nature

Nature is our greatest ally in the fight against climate change and outbreak of disease. However, the web of life we depend on is under threat from unsustainable human activities. Making nature healthy again is a central element of the European Green Deal. The EU plans to achieve this by expanding the network of protected areas on land and at sea (a network known as Natura 2000), planting billions of trees and encouraging sustainable farming practices, among other actions. It is also working to make sure that the food we eat is healthy, affordable and produced in an environmentally friendly way. This includes reducing harmful pesticides and increasing organic farming.

Find out more about the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy: europa.eu/!Hw37Bu

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU and the EU countries are together the biggest providers of climate finance in the world. In 2019, they contributed EUR 21.9 billion to support developing countries in their efforts to tackle climate change.

Visit the ‘Our planet, our future‘ website to learn more about climate change: europa.eu/learning-corner/our-planet-our-future_en

Find out more about the European Green Deal at: europa.eu/!Tr74bn

A Europe fit for the digital age

The COVID-19 pandemic has turbo-charged Europe’s shift to a digital world. Digital technologies kept families and friends connected, classes operating and businesses working. They have now become an essential part of our lives. However, not everyone has the same access to these technologies or the skills to fully benefit from them.

The EU aims to make the next 10 years Europe’s digital decade. It is working to make sure that the digital transformation works for all and not only for a few. This means, for example, ensuring everyone has high-speed internet access and the skills necessary to benefit from the possibilities of the digital world. At the same time, new technologies like artificial intelligence are transforming our world by bringing many benefits but also new concerns. The EU aims to lead the development of new global standards to ensure that Europeans can trust what these technologies have to offer.

The digital transition and smarter use of technologies will also be crucial in helping the EU to become climate neutral by 2050 and achieving the goals of the European Green Deal.

Making Europe’s digital decade a reality

In March 2021, the European Commission set out a vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030, along with a series of concrete targets and a plan to ensure these are delivered. The targets aim to achieve four main goals: a tech-savvy continent – with a digitally skilled population and highly skilled digital professionals; top-notch trustworthy and secure digital infrastructures; for Europe to have a large share of digitalised businesses; and modernised public services that respond to the needs of society. The first-ever digital Europe programme, with a budget of EUR 7.5 billion for 2021-2027, will provide funding for projects in important areas such as artificial intelligence, supercomputing, cybersecurity and advanced skills. As part of the EU’s recovery plan, EU countries must invest at least 20 % of the money they receive from the NextGenerationEU fund in digital initiatives.

Key targets for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030 include:

  • at least 80 % of all adults to have basic digital skills;
  • 20 million specialists in ICT – including more women working in digital fields;
  • gigabit connectivity for all EU households and all populated areas covered by 5G;
  • Europe to have its first quantum computer;
  • three out of four companies to use cloud-computing services;
  • all key public services to be available online;
  • all citizens to have access to their medical e-records;
  • 80 % of citizens to use digital ID.

More information about the digital targets for 2030: europa.eu/!qg48yY

Skills for the digital age

Digital know-how is essential for study and work. It is also essential to access a growing number of online public services – from opening a bank account to applying to study abroad. Yet today, more than 1 in 5 young people lack basic digital skills. Although responsibility for education and training lies with individual EU countries, the EU provides support in this area. It is supporting EU countries by investing in programmes such as the European skills agenda and the digital education action plan to train Europeans and expand Europe’s talent pool.

The European Commission has a wide variety of projects aimed at helping EU countries to improve the level of digital skills. These include the annual EU code week and ‘digital opportunity’ traineeships, both of which give students in higher education the opportunity to gain hands-on professional experience in digital fields demanded by the jobs market.

Discover the world of digital possibilities with this digital explorers cartoon series: europa.eu/!fPwNr6

DID YOU KNOW?

According to the 2020 ‘women in digital scoreboard’, only 18 % of ICT specialists in the EU are women. The EU is taking action to boost women’s participation in the digital sector by challenging stereotypes, promoting education and training in digital skills, and encouraging more female entrepreneurs in the sector.

Building trust in technology

Artificial intelligence (AI) can help us in many ways, for example through more accurate medical diagnosis and by minimising the environmental impact of farming. However, some people worry that their jobs may be at risk from AI, or wonder whether the technology can be trusted. To address these concerns, the Commission has proposed new rules to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, ethical, unbiased and under human control.

europa.eu/!FD36qK

EXERCISE 19 ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE – A QUESTION OF TRUST

What are the advantages and risks associated with AI? Discuss in small groups.

DID YOU KNOW?

Vega, the EU’s first world-class supercomputer, was launched in Maribor, Slovenia, in April 2021. It can perform an incredible 6.9 million billion calculations per second! Named after the country’s famous mathematician Jurij Vega, it is one of eight top-of-the-range supercomputers that will help European researchers, industry and businesses to make advances in many areas – from designing medicines and new materials to fighting climate change.

Keeping safe on the internet

The EU has some of the strictest data-protection and privacy rules in the world. These help ensure that the online environment is safe and fair. They also help to protect people, in particular children, from illegal and harmful content. However, online platforms can be misused to spread illegal content such as hate speech or terrorist content, or to sell dangerous goods and counterfeit products. The European Commission is working to ensure that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. It is also taking action to strengthen cybersecurity across the EU and to protect its governments, citizens and businesses from global cyber threats. As part of this work, the EU has helped to set up a joint cyber unit to bring together resources and expertise available to the EU and the EU countries. The aim is to effectively prevent, deter and respond to mass cyber incidents and cyber crises.

europa.eu/!xy48wN

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU-funded network of safer internet centres helps raise awareness about online safety. Each of these centres has a youth panel, where young people provide valuable tips and advice for their peers based on their own experience of online technologies.

Find out more about a Europe fit for the digital age at: europa.eu/!fG74BH

An economy that works for people

The coronavirus pandemic caused a major shock to European economies, affecting people’s livelihoods and businesses in all sectors. Young people, many of whom work in hard-hit sectors such as tourism and hospitality, were particularly affected by job losses.

As well as taking action to shield businesses and workers from the economic fallout of the pandemic, the EU has also designed a recovery plan to get Europe back on its feet. This plan, called NextGenerationEU, focuses not only on repairing the damage caused by the pandemic but also, as its name suggests, on investing in the next generation of Europeans and the long-term future of the EU. The financing for NextGenerationEU comes on top of the EU’s budget for 2021–2027, providing a unique opportunity for all EU countries to speed-up the recovery and accelerate the green and digital transitions across the EU. The total recovery package is worth more than EUR 2 trillion.

The EU is working to strengthen the economy across all countries and regions, with a strong focus on supporting young people. It is also working to reduce inequalities and improve living standards for all Europeans.

NextGenerationEU

The NextGenerationEU recovery fund is worth more than EUR 800 billion. It will largely finance reforms and investments in Member States up to 2026. The European Commission will borrow on the capital markets on behalf of the EU over this period. The money raised will be distributed to EU countries to spend on projects and initiatives. To benefit from financial support, EU countries had to set out national plans showing how they would invest the money. These had to include a specific share of their spending on climate and digital initiatives. This will help the EU to achieve its target of climate neutrality by 2050 and contribute to Europe’s digital transition, creating jobs and boosting economic growth in the process.

Investing in the decades ahead with NextGenerationEU

An infographic showing the distribution of money from NextGenerationEU across several programmes.

Supporting Europe’s youth

The EU is working to ensure that young people have the skills and competences that they need for the rapidly changing world of work – in particular those that will enable them to thrive in the green and digital transitions. The Commission has put forward targeted initiatives to support Member States in reducing unemployment and help young people who are entering the job market. Through the youth employment support initiative, the youth guarantee scheme was reinforced, and it now covers a broader target group of young people aged 15–29. It also provides a boost for apprenticeships, including renewing the European alliance for apprenticeships, which now benefits better both employers and young people, and reforms to make vocational education and training more modern, attractive and flexible.

A new EU initiative called ALMA (Aim, Learn, Master, Achieve) will help young people who are not in any kind of employment, education or training find their way to the job market. It will combine support for education, vocational training or employment in their home country with a work placement in another EU country.

The Commission is also working to improve conditions for those in non-standard forms of employment – such as work organised through digital platforms – which have become increasingly prevalent among young people.

The overall goal is for EU countries to invest at least EUR 22 billion of EU funding on measures to support youth employment between 2021 and 2027. For example, EU resources can be used for bonuses for small businesses to hire apprentices, start-up loans and grants for aspiring entrepreneurs and training sessions to help young people acquire new skills needed on the jobs market.

More information on employment support for young people: europa.eu/!xd44DP

Young workers taking notes while listening to a supervisor.

Towards a fair and inclusive recovery

From the right to equal opportunities and employment support to fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living, the European pillar of social rights sets out 20 principles that aim to build fair labour markets and welfare systems that work for everyone. Delivering on these is a shared responsibility for the EU institutions, national, regional and local authorities, social partners and civil society.

A set of targets for the EU to reach by 2030 aims to ensure that more Europeans have access to both the skills they need and equal opportunities in a more digital, sustainable and inclusive economy.

Being inclusive means ensuring that the needs of all people in society are taken into account. It also means that everyone should have the chance to work and earn their own money. For instance, the European Commission will work to make sure that people with disabilities can take part in training courses and learn new skills, and that they can get a job and be independent.

The Commission is also proposing new measures to ensure that women and men get equal pay for equal work. These measures will increase awareness of pay conditions within a company and give more tools to employers and workers to tackle pay discrimination at work.

The new European social fund plus will support people, regions and countries in the EU facing challenges that range from recovering from the pandemic to meeting the EU’s targets for employment, social inclusion, education and climate (europa.eu/!djQfMd).

 

Find out more about the Commission’s initiatives to turn the 20 principles of the European pillar of social rights into reality: europa.eu/!kt34bC.

EXERCISE 20 YOUR PRIORITIES FOR A FAIRER AND MORE INCLUSIVE EUROPE

Below you can find a list of areas covered in the European Pillar of Social Rights. Choose the three areas that you consider most important, then discuss your choices in small groups.

  1. Education, training and lifelong learning
  2. Gender equality
  3. Childcare and support to children
  4. Information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissals
  5. Social dialogue and involvement of workers
  6. Work–life balance
  7. Fair minimum wages
  8. Healthcare
  9. Inclusion of people with disabilities
  10. Housing and assistance for the homeless

Find out more about the EU’s plans for an economy that works for people at: europa.eu/!MM38Gv

Young workers taking notes while listening to a supervisor.

A stronger Europe in the world

The European Union is home to around 447 million people – the world’s third largest population after China and India – and plays an important role on the global stage. Operating as a single market with 27 countries, the EU is the world’s largest trading bloc. International trade deals generate economic growth for Europe and its partners. They also help to promote European principles and values, such as democracy, human rights, social rights and the fight against climate change.

The EU’s relationships with the rest of the world are based on solidarity and cooperation. Challenges like climate change, violent extremism, trafficking and irregular migration do not respect borders, while extreme poverty can only be tackled by working with partner countries in the developing world.

The EU works to make the world a safer place, where people are treated fairly and laws are respected. Its external actions are guided by the principles that inspired its own creation and development, including peace, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU is working to strengthen its partnerships with its immediate neighbours to the east – notably the western Balkans – as well as those further afield (for details on candidate countries for EU membership see Chapter 1 ‘What is the European Union?’).

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU has more than 45 trade agreements in force with almost 80 partners around the world. In 2020, the EU reached a new agreement on trade with Mexico, and its trade deal with Vietnam entered into force.

Following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 January 2020, the EU and the UK signed the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement on 30 December 2020.

DID YOU KNOW?

More than 35 million European jobs are directly or indirectly supported by trade with countries outside the EU.

Free and fair trade

Trade deals make it easier for countries to do business with each other and help create more jobs, boosting economic growth. They also give shoppers in the EU a greater choice of products from different parts of the world, along with lower prices. In addition, they help EU companies to compete abroad. The EU has negotiated trade agreements with many countries in the world. Speaking with one voice, it carries considerably more weight in international trade negotiations than any of its individual countries would alone.

Trade policy can play an important role in combating climate change and environmental degradation. The EU aims to make compliance with the Paris Agreement on climate change an essential element in future trade and investment agreements.

The EU is leading efforts to reform global trade rules to make sure they are better able to respond to today’s challenges.

International cooperation

The EU works closely with its neighbours and with other countries and international organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, to tackle common challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change. It aims to build new alliances with countries outside the EU and to strengthen cooperation with multilateral and regional organisations.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Global Gateway is the EU’s new strategy to improve connections in digital, energy and transport sectors, and strengthen health, education and research systems across the world. €300 billion in investments will ensure these links are democratic, transparent, green, safe and smart.

Find out more: europa.eu/!DfYv4w

The EU–US summit in June 2021 marked the beginning of a renewed transatlantic partnership and set a joint agenda for cooperation between them in the post-pandemic era.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, standing in the European Council building.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at the Aviation Academy of Addis Ababa.

The EU co-finances the business school that enables young Africans to become pilots, cabin crew or flight engineers. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visits the Ethiopian Aviation Academy in Addis Ababa on 27 February 2020.

The EU is building stronger and deeper cooperation with Africa. It has proposed a series of partnerships around shared interests and values focusing on key areas such as the green transition, digital transformation, migration and mobility.

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU has 140 offices, known as delegations, throughout the world. Their role is similar to embassies. They play a vital role in representing the EU and its citizens and building networks and partnerships.

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU, together with the countries that make it up, is the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid. It provides and coordinates relief assistance to people in areas hit by disasters in Europe and around the globe. Early 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Commission announced an additional €90 million for emergency aid programmes to help civilians affected by the war in Ukraine.

EXERCISE 21 THE EU IN THE WORLD

Here are some examples of the EU’s role on the world stage. 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.

  1. The EU has led and supported peace talks around the world to stop conflicts.
  2. The EU stands for democracy and the rule of law throughout the world. It has made human rights a central aspect of its relations with other countries.
  3. The EU has taken a lead in the global fight against climate change.
  4. The EU promotes and financially supports equality and women’s empowerment across the globe.
  5. The EU and the EU countries together constitute the world’s largest donors of development aid and humanitarian aid.

Find out more about the EU’s work for a stronger Europe in the world: europa.eu/!gR8BVU

Promoting our European way of life

The European Union is more than a single market for goods and services. It is a union of people who share a set of common values. These values are spelled out in the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which guarantee rights to people living in the EU. These values, including democracy and the rule of law, are the foundation of our societies. For example, no democracy can thrive without independent courts guaranteeing the protection of fundamental rights and civil liberties, or without an active civil society and free media.

The European way of life is inclusive, which means no one should be left out. Everyone living in the EU should have the opportunity to thrive, participate and lead, regardless of differences based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The European Commission is putting in place policies and actions that challenge discrimination and the stereotypes that are all too often present in society.

Building on lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, the EU is working to strengthen its response to health crises while also taking action to improve all aspects of citizens’ health.

Building a union of equality

The European Union has some of the most extensive anti-discrimination legislation in the world. However, more still needs to be done to address inequalities that persist in the EU and to ensure that everyone can participate in European life. The Commission is stepping up its work in all areas – from action to combat racism and antisemitism to action to ensure that people coming to Europe and those from ethnic minorities are not marginalised or excluded from society. The Commission is also continuing its work to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy their rights and have the same chances in life as everyone, and to combat discrimination against LGBTIQ people.

More information about the EU’s plans to combat all forms of discrimination: europa.eu/!rk44Jn

DID YOU KNOW?

Around 87 million people in the EU have some form of disability.

Find out how the EU plans to protect the rights of people with disabilities over the next decade: europa.eu/!My47xQ

DID YOU KNOW?

Almost 6 in 10 Europeans think discrimination based on ethnic origin or skin colour is widespread in their country.

Source: Eurobarometer 2251

A person in a library reading a book in braille.

EXERCISE 22 FIGHTING DISCRIMINATION

Can you think of times where you have seen – or maybe experienced – discrimination? What do you think can be done to fight it? Discuss this in small groups and present your thoughts to the class.

Upholding the rule of law

The rule of law has a direct impact on the life of every citizen. It is necessary for ensuring equal treatment before the law and the defence of individual rights. It is also necessary to prevent the abuse of power by public authorities and for ensuring that decision-makers are held accountable.

Find out what the EU is doing to promote, protect and enforce the rule of law in Europe: europa.eu/!Hm38wc

DID YOU KNOW?

More than 8 in 10 citizens say that effective judicial protection by independent courts, equality before the law and the proper investigation and prosecution of corruption are important to them.

Source: Eurobarometer 2235

A new approach to managing migration and asylum in Europe

The European Union is an area of protection for people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their country of origin. Every year, thousands of people come to Europe seeking international protection or a better life. The EU is working together with EU countries on ways to better manage the flow of people arriving on its shores. In 2020, the Commission put forward proposals to improve the migration and asylum system in Europe. These proposals include looking at ways of improving cooperation with countries of origin and transit, successful integration of refugees and the return of those with no right to stay.

Early 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU applied for the first time the temporary protection scheme for persons fleeing the war in Ukraine, allowing them to enjoy harmonised rights across the EU, such as residence, housing, medical assistance, access to education for children.
Find out more about EU solidarity with Ukraine: europa.eu/!CrG9bC

europa.eu/!wt69FQ

DID YOU KNOW?

Migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background play an important role in European society and in different sectors of our economy. The EU is working to ensure that they can participate fully in society through action in areas such as education, jobs, healthcare and housing.

play videoWATCH THE VIDEO: Interview with Suaad Alshleh audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-195435

Suaad Alshleh came to Europe as a refugee from Syria. She is now following her dream of becoming a doctor in Ireland.

Protecting the health of Europeans

The EU is working to ensure that EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises and that medical supplies are available and affordable. It is also working to improve prevention, treatment and aftercare for diseases such as cancer. This work – which is behind the European health union – will equip the EU to better prevent and tackle future pandemics, make Europe’s health systems stronger and better protect the health of citizens.

europa.eu/!VT48Dt

The EU will invest more than EUR 5 billion in actions with an EU added value to complement EU countries’ health policies under its 2021–2027 EU4Health funding programme.

ec.europa.eu/health/funding/eu4health_en

Areas of actions:

Improve and foster health in the Union.
Improve medical products, medical devices and crisis-relevant products.
Protect people in the Union from serious cross-border threats to health.
Strengthen health systems.

Find out more about the EU4Health programme in this short video: europa.eu/!7YpYFT

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2020, 2.7 million people in the European Union were diagnosed with cancer and another 1.3 million people lost their lives to it, including over 2 000 young people.

Find out how Europe’s ‘Beating cancer’ plan aims to cut the number of deaths from the disease and improve cancer prevention, treatment and care: europa.eu/!yV98ru

A healthcare professional performing an MRI scan of a patient.

A nurse setting up the machine for a patient’s MRI scan, Liège University Hospital, Belgium, 24 January 2020.

Find out more about EU’s work for promoting our European way of life at: europa.eu/!uj93JY

A new push for European democracy

Democracy is the foundation on which the European Union is built. In a healthy and thriving democratic system, citizens are able to freely express their views, choose their political leaders or become one themselves, and have a say about their future.

Recent years have shown a resurgence of popular political engagement and increased turnout in elections. But as in many places around the world, democracy in the EU and in the EU countries is facing challenges. These challenges range from rising extremism and election interference to threats against journalists and a perceived distance between people and their elected representatives.

The EU wants to strengthen democratic processes and encourages citizens to get involved in shaping their future in the EU. It also strives to make its own structures more transparent and democratic.

Find out more about how you can get involved and make your voice heard in section Your voice in the EU decision-making

 

Making EU democracies stronger

Individual rights and freedoms, transparency and accountability are at the heart of the European Commission’s plan to make EU democracies stronger. It focuses on actions to promote free and fair elections, support free and independent media and tackle disinformation. The European Union and the EU countries are stepping up their actions to counter efforts by those who try to exploit crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as those who spread propaganda or hatred. One of the ways in which they are doing this is by detecting and exposing disinformation and by working with online platforms to limit the spread of fake news.

europa.eu/!hq63Wv

DID YOU KNOW?

73 % of female journalists globally have experienced online violence in the course of their work (UNESCO/ICEF survey, 2020).

Giving children a voice

Every child in Europe – and everywhere else – should enjoy the same rights and live free from discrimination and intimidation. The first-ever EU strategy on the rights of the child aims to ensure protection and support to all children (young people under the age of 18), regardless of their background, origin, social or residence status. It proposes action in several areas, including those relating to children’s right to be free from violence and to be safe online. At the same time, the EU is working to break cycles of poverty and disadvantage across generations. The new European child guarantee aims to make sure that children who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion have access to healthy meals, education, healthcare and adequate housing.

europa.eu/!hK88MU

1/5 of EU Population are children or young people under 18

More than 10 000 children and young people contributed their ideas and helped shape the EU strategy on the rights of the child.

play videoWATCH THE VIDEO: The EU’s strategy on the rights of the child europa.eu/!7hvXnG

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, 22.2 % of children in the EU were living in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion. That’s nearly 18 million children in need.

DID YOU KNOW?

The European Commission will set up a children’s participation platform to give children space to become a part of the decision-making processes at EU level. For example, children will be actively involved in the implementation of the European Climate Pact and the European Green Deal.

DID YOU KNOW?

In May 2021, the EU launched a debate giving people across the EU the chance to say what kind of Europe they want to live in. The discussions and events were organised both online and in person in all countries. This feedback is important as it will help shape the future of the EU.

For more information about the Conference on the Future of Europe, see: futureu.europa.eu/?locale=en

A changing Europe

From longer life expectancy to lower birth rates, Europe’s societies are changing. Addressing demographic changes is key to building a more resilient, sustainable and fair European Union. For example, rural areas across the EU are often affected by population decline, and at the same time inhabitants are on average older than in urban areas. Rural areas provide us with our food, homes, jobs and essential ecosystem services. To ensure they can continue to play these essential roles, the European Commission has set out an action plan to help rural communities and businesses reach their full potential in the coming decades.

Take a look at what Europe will look like in the decades to come: europa.eu/!jH37uX

EXERCISE 23 CITIZENS’ DIALOGUES

Citizens’ dialogues between Commissioners and the public take place regularly across the EU. If you are not able to take part in one of these events, why not organise one of your own in class? Three or four students taking the role of a Commissioner should choose one of the topics presented in this chapter as a starting point for the discussion. In individual study time, they can look into the details of the chosen policy in order to prepare a 5-minute statement. In the classroom, once the ‘Commissioner’ has delivered their short statement, hold a 15-minute question and answer session, moderated by the teacher.

Find out more about the EU’s new push for European democracy: europa.eu/!Ck78uh