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The European Way: the EU is changing. Discover how and why.

The European Way: the EU is changing. Discover how and why.

By Mark Watts

(3 minute read)

Policy and law making in Brussels is changing. It is increasingly driven by policy drivers that seek to counter the rise of populism, growing geo-political threats posed by authoritarian or protectionist regimes, or those that seek to buy their global influence, and existential threats posed by climate change and environmental degradation.

Despite, and indeed because of global turmoil, the EU is enjoying a unique period of policy and political convergence around the ‘European Way.’ The COVID-19 pandemic has served to reinforce this new EU paradigm. The current budget debate has not changed the essentials here, with the vast majority of EU Governments supporting a massive increase in the EU budget.

EU policy, including the European Green Deal, is not made in silos.

All contribute to the European Way. It’s not a new concept, it’s essentially what European Christian Democracy in Europe has always been about. But it was clearly and most recently articulated in the European People’s Party (EPP) Manifesto for the 2019 European elections, where the EPP remained the largest party. I appreciate few look at such documents, but it really is worth a read, because it could not be more explicit.

‘What makes Europe unique in the world is our rich cultural heritage, our shared history and our common Judeo-Christian roots. In Europe, we combine great diversity with solid shared values and embrace a way of life that strikes the right balance between responsibility and solidarity, security and freedom, tolerance and our traditions. Radical Islam, terrorist threats and the authoritarian waves coming from Russia and Turkey, are all shaking the foundations of our European way of life. Now more than ever, we must safeguard, for all our citizens, our shared European identity and our European way of life.’

Even more recently in her Political Guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024, ‘A Union that strives for more, My agenda for Europe’ the then EPP candidate for President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, outlined her commitment to the European way of life.

Speaking to the European Parliament in July 2019, she made the European Way the centre of her policy programme:

Demographic change, globalisation of the world economy, rapid digitalisation of our working environment and, of course, climate change’..has.. ‘left people with a feeling of losing control. Of looser ties within our communities. None of these challenges will go away. But there have been different ways to react to these trends. Some are turning towards authoritarian regimes, some are buying their global influence and creating dependencies by investing in ports and roads. And others are turning towards protectionism. None of these options are for us. We want multilateralism, we want fair trade, we defend the rules-based order because we know it is better for all of us. We have to do it the European way.’

And as we know her candidacy was confirmed, and the European Way has become the centerpiece of EU’s reinvigorated approach to policy making.

The European Way is shaped by policy drivers.

The six main drivers are:

1. Responsible Global Leadership to challenge populism

2. Social Market Economy to ensure no one is left behind

3. Industrial Strategy - competitive, green and digital, so European industry can prosper

4. Trade and foreign policy to export European gods and European values to leverage influence

5.The world’s first carbon neutral continent to strengthen European global leadership.

6. Energy security by developing European sustainable alternatives to reduce dependency on imported energy.

All to be funded by a massively increased EU budget, NextGenerationEU, which will see the EU budget more than double to a total of €2390 billion.

In summary, reasserting the European model at home and promoting Europe’s values abroad.

We will be seeing a lot more European Way shifts in EU policy in the year in the years to come.

One dramatic recent development is that the US is now also considered to be a populist and protectionist regime, in light of the direction taken by the White House on a host geo-political and trade matters, but reinforced recently by the unilateral decision to withdraw thousands US troops from Germany without consulting the German Chancellor. Coming on the eve of the Germany Presidency, that decision has served to focus the mind of European leaders on the need for even greater European sovereignty through the European Way.


Since this blog as written the EU leaders unanimously agreed on the long-term budget for 2021-2027 and the recovery plan,which will reinforce the delivery of the European Way.

Mark Watts is Director of LP Brussels, a former two-term Member of the European Parliament, and has been advising organisations and businesses on EU transport, energy and environment policy for over fifteen years. He writes in a personal capacity.

LP Brussels
LP Brussels