High hope, low expectations – Brussels' perspective on the future of Europe after COVID-19

Stefan Denig | Janis A. Emmanouilidis | Johannes Greubel | Corina Stratulat | Holger Thiel

Report by EPC, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, ifok

Brussels 10/2020

Download available here

This report details the Brussels community's views on the EU's handling of the pandemic and the future of Europe after COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has sent shockwaves through societies and economies, altering the parameters of politics in Europe and beyond. Germany holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) at this make-or-break moment in European history. In the eyes of many Brussels-based stakeholders, this places enormous responsibility on Berlin's shoulders.

They would like the German Presidency and particularly Angela Merkel to bridge existing divisions among the EU27 and use the crisis as an opportunity to promote closer European integration. However, there is scepticism that Germany can achieve this in its short six-month period at the helm of the Council. A similar duality of hopes and expectations also transpires from how different actors in Brussels perceive the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE): they acknowledge this initiative's potential for much-needed EU reform, but also doubt that it will produce meaningful results.

These opinions are some of the headline findings emerging from a study undertaken between July and August 2020 by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), the European Policy Centre (EPC) and ifok. 224 individuals from 29 EU and non-EU countries (with Germans slightly overrepresented at 32%) completed an online questionnaire about their main concerns and expectations for the German Presidency in light of the current situation and concerning the Union's long-term future. Respondents ranged from a high number of members of European institutions (30%), think tanks (21%) and non-governmental organisations to business representatives (17%), plus a smaller proportion of diplomats, journalists and academics. The project partners also conducted 20 personal interviews with high-level Brussels-based stakeholders to deepen the quantitative information collected via the online survey.

Overall, Brussels-based stakeholders are worried about the current state of European integration and 'dream big' for the Union's future. However, they do not call for deeper European integration as an end in itself. Their support for potential treaty change as an outcome of the upcoming CoFoE, for example, is conditional upon the actual need to amend the Union's primary law. Likewise, their ambitions to advance EU cooperation is mitigated by a healthy dose of realism: they recognise the resilience of existing dividing lines between member states and have come to accept the idea that differentiated integration is the most probable course of action from here on out.

Download of paper available here

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