An End of Year Message

Every month, TEPSA Secretary-General Jim Cloos writes a newsletter editorial on the news of the day, the future of Europe, and the work of the TEPSA network. To receive every upcoming editorial direct to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE to the TEPSA Newsletter here.

TEPSA’s traditional Pre-Presidency Conference (PPC) took place in Paris last week. It was a real pleasure to be able to meet physically, thanks to the tireless efforts of the colleagues from Sciences Po CEE and the TEPSA secretariat. This was quite a momentous week with the setting up of a new German government and an important press conference by President Macron devoted entirely to the upcoming French Presidency.

The debate triggered by the TEPSA recommendations to the incoming Presidency was lively and highly informative. The representatives of the French administration responded to the call to Europeanize the French Presidency by stating that France wanted to move the EU train in the right direction while respecting all the opinions across the EU. They pointed to the strongly European program for the upcoming semester, set out by the President in the afternoon of 9 December.

PPC Paris covered an impressive range of key issues, from the green and digital revolutions to the implementation of the Recovery and Resilience Fund and economic governance. It also discussed a number of more horizontal and rather formidable challenges the EU faces. Some are internal and generate heated debates within the Conference on the future of Europe; there are divergences of views on the functioning of democracy and rule of law and different readings of what European solidarity means. Others are external, hence the importance of working on strategic autonomy, i.e. the capacity to act and to actively shape the world. While speakers recognized the difficulty of the tasks ahead, they mostly expressed cautious optimism on the capacity of the EU to live up to the challenges.

Following the Brexit vote and the Trump Presidency a new mindset has slowly evolved over the past years. There is a growing feeling that the EU must take matters into its own hands and develop its resilience and capacity to act. The handling of the COVID-19 crisis raises hopes in that respect. The Next Generation EU package was a quick, efficient and innovative; the vaccine procurement proved to be a success and showed the added value of the EU. All in all, the EU seems to have learned from the repeated crises since 2008, and the lesson it draws is clear: in many areas, the only way to cope with crises of that dimension is by working together and becoming more integrated.

The TEPSA Board meeting and the General assembly that took place in the margins of PPC confirmed the dynamism of our network, the very positive atmosphere overall, and the will to innovate and further develop activities. The situation concerning project applications is very encouraging overall and reflects TEPSA’s good reputation built over the past years. Initiatives like the TEPSA book series provide useful insights into the attitudes in our various Member States towards the future of Europe and key issues such as solidarity or relations with Russia. The TEPSA communication effort is further gathering steam; TEPSA has increased its presence and impact in the Brussels sphere and generally.

New ideas or initiatives are emerging and should be pursued actively. It would thus make sense to engage in a more systematic monitoring of the activities of the European Council (EUCO). In fact ‘monitoring’ may not be the right word here; the idea is rather to develop a pro-active stance and to stimulate thought and work on and around the conclusions of the EUCO. This could be done by setting up an informal network within TEPSA, which is ideally suited in that respect, with its 47 institutes across the EU and the neighborhood and its many researchers. This network could also comprise experts and practitioners from outside who are able and willing to provide input. It would be asked, on the basis of short notes we would issue before and after each EUCO meeting, to provide more information and research on individual themes. This should include reactions within our Member States and explanations on why certain Member States take certain positions.

A second possible initiative concerns Strategic autonomy. Again, the objective is to be more pro-active, more systematic and more operational. As we heard at the roundtable at PPC Paris on this theme, there is a growing awareness across Europe that the EU must increase its autonomy and its capacity to act. Interestingly, the program of the new German government quite explicitly calls for going in this direction. The new mindset is welcome, but it should be followed up by a much more structured and systematic operational effort and a method to do so. The idea is to look at our various policies and to better understand our strengths and weaknesses as an EU. In this context, the key question to be asked is: what is the added value of EU action? We do not pretend to do long scientific analyses but to ask the right questions, provide some basic information and suggest themes for more detailed study. This would then allow us to reach out to other think tanks and to the practitioners in the institutions, but also to communicate more efficiently on this key theme.   

I would like to thank you all for your commitment to TEPSA and to Europe. We have had an eventful year, and 2022 promises to be as eventful. We will support the French presidency and engage early with the Czech presidency that will take over on 1st July. TEPSA has a lot to offer and will further increase the panoply of its initiatives and projects.

Meanwhile I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas and an excellent New Year.

Jim Cloos, TEPSA Secretary-General