The Bled Strategic Forum panel which explored the challenges that lie ahead for the new European Commission produced numerous major tasks for Ursula von der Leyen’s team, some of them specific and practical, other fundamental and strategic, such as the need to tackle climate change.
Prof Enrico Letta, Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po Paris, for example proposed that solutions for pressing issues such as migrations might have to be found “outside the existing treaties,” including potentially a new treaty “with the willings” to replace Dublin.
This point was also stressed by Mr Andreas Peschke, Director-General for European Affairs at the German Federal Foreign Office, but he suggested a coalition of the willing had limited reach, it was also necessary to work on solidarity. However, this solidarity may mean some countries doing more in third countries, others involved in distribution of migrants, and yet others on border protection.
The idea of debate about a new treaty, modelled on deliberations of the Convention on the Future of Europe, was also endorsed in principle by Dimitrij Rupel, former Slovenian Minister Foreign Affairs, and by Mr Igor Mally, State Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister of Slovenia. However, Mr Mally pointed out this was an idea for the long term. “In the short term if we enter this debate, we will discuss only this – institutional issues,” which should be avoided at all cost.
Even more importantly, Mr Mally said for the new Commission the principal concern should be to strike the right balance between internal and external challenges that Europe is facing. External challenges include climate change, trade wars, mass migrations and G2 – the possible bipolar world dominated by the US and China. As for internal challenges, Mally singled out social cohesion, endless debates about the changing of asylum rules, security issues and the implementation of the rule of law.
“The EU is still the safest place to live in the world, but if we don’t act, in the next 30 years this may no longer be the case,” Mr Mally said.
Mr Klossa, President of Civico Europa from Brussels, also mentioned a conference on the future of Europe as one of five major challenges. Others include preparations for a potential new economic and financial crisis by developing a new vision for the single market; ensuring social cohesion by making sure there is some sort of offset for talent leaving Eastern Europe for the West; and artificial intelligence, an area he said the EU needed to act to develop its own transnational platforms to counter the US and China.
Another major priority highlighted by Mr Letta includes delivering on sustainability, where he said it was necessary to move beyond talk. According to him, the EU should take the leadership in this area, which would also be a very good way of avoiding a G2, a bipolar world dominated by the US and China. This point was also raised by Mr Pierre Heilbronn, Vice President Policy and Partnerships at the EBRD, who said that this was “a matter of survival” and an area in which the EU can play a leadership role.
Similarly, Mr Peschke singled out climate change as a big priority while also mentioning the need to work on the social dimension. “We have strong legislation on the single market … but less visibility on social pillar, which is increasingly negatively felt by our people,” according to him.
Mr Klajdi Kaziu, Board Member and Project Manager at the United Nations Association in Albania, who represented Youth BSF at the panel, provided the view of youths honed in debates at the Young BSF.
He said that for youths it was crucial to work on a European identity. “The young don’t care about borders, they do not get why they exist, why they are border checks, politics, institutional restraints; we want a more united and cohesive Europe,” he said, calling for more funding for Erasmus + and an obligatory term in the European Solidarity Corps for all youths as tools to build a European identity.
The keynote speaker, H.E. Mr Gordan Grlić Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, meanwhile presented the priorities of Croatia’s EU presidency in 2020, singling out promotion of economic growth, connectivity, stronger external and internal security and continued EU enlargement as the main programmatic priorities.
Ms Melania-Gabriela Ciot, State Secretary for European Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, presented the main achievements and priorities of the Romanian EU presidency.