On the 26th of May, the citizens of Brussels will have some voting to do, and one of those votes will be for the European elections. But there is no other capital in Europe where voting for the European elections is as meaningful as it is in Brussels. The presence of the European institutions and the accumulated knowledge of minds and organisations that are stakeholders in the process of EU decision-making, mean that Brussels is not only the capital of Europe: it is inside Europe.
As a result, Brussels Express is launching The Express Debates, a series of three informal, informative and interactive debates. They will be based on issues and not on political party programmes. Each debate will involve insiders from the field of European affairs (NGOs, trade associations, stakeholder groups, think-tanks etc…) and highlight a specific perspective from Brussels. Throughout the debate there will be plenty of opportunities for the audience to engage and interact with panellists and between themselves.
The 3 debates will take place on the 29th of April, 6th of May and 13th of May, at the Press Club Brussels Europe on Rue Froissart, from 6pm to 9pm.
But there is a catch: We want to make sure the debates are relevant for you.
Before you cast your decisive vote in May, practice your voting skills with Brussels Express and select the topics that you want to hear most about! It is up to you to choose between the 13 pre-selected topics we present below.
Only the top 3 will be debated!
Be quick: we will close the poll on the 28th of February!
Take the poll here
Future of Europe: Federalism and the nation-state: is European federalism still worth fighting for?
When Juncker took up his role as Commission President, he famously represented his term as the “last-chance Commission”. 5 years later, with the pending withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in the background, these European elections come at a time where national governments are seeking to restore a sense of sovereignty, national identity and democratic legitimacy. In such a context, should federalism still be driving the agenda for further integration or should policies, legislation and decisions be further decentralised and localised?
Geopolitics: The Eastern border: should Russia be a partner for Europe?
Since the Maidan protests in November 2013, Russia has been regularly featured in the headlines for its illegal annexation of Crimea and fostering the conflict in Donbass, for perpetrating fake news on a global scale, for meddling in European and American elections (the Brexit vote, the Trump vote), for sponsoring far-right and extremist movements across the EU, for its military intervention in Syria, for attempting to kill ex-spies in foreign countries with nerve agent and the list goes on… As a result, the European Union has imposed sanctions on Russia. Have these been effective? What policy towards Russia should the European Union embrace and is Russia as bad as it is made out to be?
Technology: Big data, artificial intelligence: is Europe ready for the digital revolution?
We know of the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon), and we have heard of Commissioner’s Vestager relentless attacks on those giants through her mandate on competition law – maybe less so of QWANT. Beyond putting limits on the size, operations and market privileges of the GAFA, what are the broader implications of American companies trusting all knowledge and information in the digital era? Is their leadership too strong to be contested or can Europe still react? What policies should be put in place to address the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution?
Environment: Throwaway products: do we love plastic so much?
Plastic is everywhere. The Juncker Commission, alarmed by the media and popular frenzy on marine litter, has made of the fight against plastic one of its flagship measures. This resulted in a legislative proposal aiming at reducing the number of Single-Use Plastics products in the EU, which was a first-of-its-kind in the speed and execution of what is usually considered to be a complex co-decision procedure between Commission, Council and Parliament. How will the next term deal with the plastics crisis? And how should political parties position themselves: is the answer to ban more products, or rather to improve product design and waste management systems?
Climate: Global warming: is Europe leading the way?
The European Union is usually considered as a frontrunner in climate policy and the Commission’s 2050 climate neutral strategy aims to do just that: transform the EU into the world’s first climate neutral major economy. And yet street demonstrations continue, with some 70,000 people in the streets of Brussels on the 27th of January 2019 demanding increased efforts in the fight against climate change, with youth movements playing a central role. Climate policy is typically a difficult policy for any single country and cross-border, international agreements are key. How should the European Union pursue its goal of carbon neutrality, and convince its international partners to do the same?
Social policy: Justice and social rights: what is Europe doing to fight unemployment?
Some would say that the European social model brings European countries together, with a vision of economic growth combined with high living standards and good working conditions. Yet, although the EU is the guardian of the internal market from an economic perspective, social policy remains outside of its core competences. With EU unemployment rates hovering around 7%, youth unemployment peaks at 15% and can be as high as 43%, 33%, 31% or 20% in Greece, Spain, Italy and France respectively. Should Europe take up a stronger social agenda in upcoming years or is welfare policy necessarily in the national domain?
Society: Refugees: is Europe standing up to the challenge?
According to the results of a Eurobarometer poll released in May 2018, 72% of European want the EU to do more when it comes to immigration. At every election, at local, regional, national or European level, this topic is on the agenda. But what does this mean? Since the arrival of over one million migrants and asylum-seekers in 2015, the concept of immigration has been confused with the right of asylum. The issue is also perceived in a very different way, depending on a country’s geographic location (Mediterranean countries) and economic attraction (France, UK, Germany…). There are many root causes explaining why people are willing to risk their lives in order to reach Europe, from conflict zones (sometimes due to European military intervention) and the chronic underdevelopment in Africa. Even if there is no single solution, is Europe taking on the challenge?
Agriculture: Farm to fork: a European tradition under threat?
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the backbones of the EU’s policy, and comes in direct assistance to the farming community to ensure that our shelves are supplied with good quality and affordable products. Although the CAP budget has gradually declined, farming has massively evolved, thanks to technology and techniques that allow for greater efficiency and productivity in the field. With increasing consumer demand for varied products (gluten-free, organic, local, fresh, seasonal etc.) and the pressure that agriculture exerts on the climate, is Europe’s current agricultural model sustainable for the future? How is Europe tackling the use of technology in agriculture (breeding, pesticides, machinery, etc.) compared to other parts of the world? How can Europe protect its local agriculture in the CAP post-2020?
Enlargement: European Union: Should Europe continue its enlargement to other member countries?
Croatia was the last EU Member State to join the bloc in 2013. The United Kingdom would be the first EU Member State to leave. Where does that leave the European Union on its enlargement strategy? Currently, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are officially in accession talks with the European Union. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo could be next. Is this the path that should be followed, or should the European Union develop another type of policy and cooperation with its neighbours?
Industry: Trade and treaties: how to balance global supply chains with local jobs, growth and competitiveness?
There are tags and graffiti denouncing the free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. The fight against TTIP symbolised to a large extent the fight of the people against the big corporations that would impose rules and restrictions on national governments. That does not stop the European Union from signing free-trade agreements with other partners (e.g Japan), but this receives less media attention. In a world where large multinationals have a power that supersedes many individual countries, how can Europe continue to defend local jobs, growth and competitiveness? Does Europe need its own industrial policy and what would it look like?
Air quality: Living in a city: is Europe driving clean air and green mobility in densely populated areas?
Based on the EU Air Quality Directive, five local residents of Brussels are currently challenging the Regional Government at the level of the EU Court of Justice, calling in question high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that would be mostly coming from diesel vehicles. The legal challenge calls for the authorities to produce an effective plan to clean up the city’s air. With the Dieselgate scandal sending shock waves across the political spectrum, and an increasingly urbanised population, air quality will continue to be a priority topic for the next elections. The development of electric cars, green mobility and other innovation in public transport will be key. How to shape a European policy in this area?
Regional policy: Going local and cross-border: is regional policy still the main connection between the EU and local towns and villages?
As geeks of the European Union, when we travel across Europe, we notice the signs that say: “with the support of the European structural funds”. We have also heard of the word “subsidiarity”. Does everyone else really take notice? Europe’s regional policy is in fact the largest budget of the European Union and underpins many investments, from infrastructure, to business development, to cultural events etc. It is also the most redistributive of European policies, with the majority of investments earmarked towards the regions with less GDP per capita. As one of the institutions of the European Union, the Committee of the Regions represents that commitment: to take into account the specificities and diversity of the local and regional level in European decision-making. Are they truly taken into account?
Research & innovation: Horizon Europe: is that a horizon enough?
From 2021 to 2027, close to 100bn€ will be invested into Horizon Europe, marking the largest amount ever spent on EU research programs, which were first kicked off in 1984. But beyond the financial investments, one of the big stumbling blocks in the European Union has always been technology transfer and business development. What is achieved with high levels of academic excellence in science is not always matched by dynamic business ventures. Although the European Commission encourages public-private partnership, businesses often feel that accessing EU funds is costly and time-consuming, and that market regulation does not allow for the uptake of new technologies. Will Horizon Europe know no borders?