On 17 September 2020, the European Commission launched this year’s European Semester cycle with the publication of the
Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2021 (ASGS).
Usually issued in November, this ASGS came unexpected early due to the Commission’s decision to
“temporarily adapt the European Semester to the launch
of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)” in order to avoid an overlap between both. This ASGS is also unusual in its content since it largely focuses on setting the strategic guidance for the implementation of the RRF. It was accompanied by two Staff Working Documents providing additional
guidance and a
template to support Member States in the preparation of their national and Recovery and Resilience plans (RRP).
The ECON secretariat drafted a
short analysis of these documents, from the CoR perspective; these are the main conclusions:
An adapted Semester cycle
This will be an uncommon European Semester cycle, not only because it starts earlier than usual, but also because there will not be any Country Reports nor Country-Specific Recommendations. The National Reform Programmes will also need to be adapted, but some degree of uncertainty can be noted in this regard: little reference to the National Reform Programmes in the documents, potential overlaps with the RRPs, etc. Member States are encouraged to submit their draft RRP from 15 October and the final deadline is 30 April 2021.
Role of local and regional authorities and multilevel governance
Member States are usually “invited” and “encouraged” to describe the role of local and regional authorities in the process leading to the adoption of their RRP and in the implementation of the reforms/investments under each of their components. Emphasis has been placed on describing the coordination mechanisms to ensure the complementarity of the RRF and other EU Funds, but despite some guidance was offered, this coordination is likely to be one of the main challenges that Member States and local and regional authorities will have to face. Also, the role of local and regional authorities in setting the milestones, targets and timelines of the reforms and investments is not explicitly recognised.
Territorial dimension and cohesion
Digitalisation in rural areas was heavily referenced. In some cases, the need to reduce territorial disparities was also mentioned, but despite a few mentions of "cohesion", this objective does not seem to be prioritised to the extent that it could be expected, given the legal basis of the Proposal for the RRF.
Twin transitions and SDGs
There is hardly any reference to the United Nations SDGs, in contrast with the previous year’s intention of integrating them in the Semester. However, the importance given to the green and digital transition and the contribution of the RRF to “delivering competitive sustainability” will most likely contribute to the SDGs. It seems that the reference framework has been moved from the SDGs to other initiatives such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, the Green deal or the National Energy and Climate Plans. Nonetheless, this may also suggest a lack of leadership and coordination of the Commission on the SDGs, which could lead to a sub-optimal implementation and problems of policy coherence. For instance, greater reference to the multilevel governance and participatory approach of the SDGs has been missed in the ASGS. In this context, will the EU be able to reach the SDGs by 2030?