Olga Sarrado Mur; CEPS

, Conference: A New Departure for the European Union

Is the new-look EU capable of making a fresh start? What are the political challenges for 2015? How can the EU stabilize relations with its neighbors? These issues were the focus of this year’s “Brussels Think Tank Dialogue”.

This was the sixth occasion that ten leading think tanks organized the “Brussels Think Tank Dialogue”. The event, initiated by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, took place in Brussels on 28 January 2015 and welcomed over 250 participants. The Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Aart De Geus, opened the conference. In view of the new leadership in place and the numerous challenges facing the EU, the partners had chosen the topic of “A new departure for the EU”. According to De Geus, three key areas will provide the EU with new impetus for stability, growth and employment: energy security, labor market mobility and migration.

"We hope that the EU will find the strength to overcome existing dividing lines and find new common ground to deepen integration."
Aart De Geus

Video: Interview with Aart De Geus on the occasion of the Brussels Think Tank Dialogue 2015

Energy security in turbulent times

The debate on energy security took place against the backdrop of the conflict with Russia, with many experts believing that the EU is caught in a dilemma. The Union might be dependent on Russia, but at the same time it cannot continue the way it did before. First and foremost, better coordination between the member states is required in order to guarantee the EU’s energy supply and to create synergies. An internal energy market, accompanied by investments in infrastructure, must be the ultimate objective.

Labor market mobility to increase employment?

The discussion moderated by Eric Thode, a Senior Expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, addressed the issue of whether increased labor market mobility could lead to higher levels of employment. The two main obstacles to mobility were an insufficient knowledge of foreign languages and, in particular, a lack of recognition for educational qualifications. The transferability of social benefits is also an area in need of improvement, while another hotly debated topic was the introduction of unemployment insurance at European Level.

Prospects for a European migration policy

The participants in this round of discussions came to the conclusion that migration lacks a coherent policy at European level. At present, the political debate is dominated by populists and extreme right-wing groups, with the EU keeping a noticeably low profile. Matthias Mayer, a Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, called for a European migration policy that would give migrants clear prospects for the acquisition of citizenship in their host country. Contact points in their country of origin could help to prepare the migration process.

The EU investment plan – a guarantee for economic growth?

Guest speaker at this year’s event was the Vice President of the European Commission, Jyrki Katainen, who presented the key points of the investment plan, proposed by the Commission and addressed the critical issues raised by Aart De Geus and Daniel Gros, the Director of the CEPS. The focus of the investment plan will be on innovative SMEs. In particular, the digital economy as well as the energy and service sectors offer good prospects for growth, according to Katainen.

A new EU neighborhood policy?

The final round of discussions held by the think tank directors focused on the European neighborhood policy. The current neighborhood policy is in need of rethinking and restructuring, while country-specific approaches and policies must also be developed. Above all, it cannot serve as a replacement for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. Some of the directors also felt that a common defense policy should be an indispensable part of such a new EU foreign policy.


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