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How EU priorities are set

Before the start of each new legislative term – the 5-year period in office of the European Commissioners and MEPs in the European Parliament – the heads of state/government of all EU countries meet, in the form of the European Council, to set the official political priorities for the EU. 

Together, these priorities make up the strategic agenda – this helps guide the EU institutions and sets out how to deliver on these priorities.

The strategic agenda also guides the Commission’s own political priorities for its term of office, as set out in its political guidelines. The priorities broadly identify the main policies and steps the Commission intends to follow to ensure it achieves its political objectives.

The strategic agenda is implemented jointly by the EU institutions and EU governments, working together.

Once the Commission’s priorities have been set by the candidate for President, they are:

  • presented to the whole European Parliament (sitting in plenary form)
  • converted into specific mission statements for each candidate Commissioner, and presented to the relevant Parliament Committee.  

The political guidelines form the basis for the annual Commission work programmes. These set out the initiatives to deliver on the priorities over the following 12 months.

The preparation of the work programmes is kick-started by the annual State of the Union address and its accompanying Letter of Intent. 

This launches a round of discussions with the Parliament and the Council of the EU on the priorities for the next year. At the same time, the Commission also hears the views of the European Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee. 

Once the Commission work programme has been adopted, the Commission, Parliament and Council issue a joint declaration on the EU’s priorities, to enable swift action and ensure there will be political focus to deliver on those priorities.

To enable longer-term planning, at the start of the current term in 2020 the 3 EU institutions for the first time also adopted joint conclusions on policy objectives and priorities for the entire legislative cycle (running until 2024).

Infographic: How EU priorities are set

How the Commission work programme is implemented.

Other priorities

Alongside the priorities above, other EU institutions often set their own priorities to reflect their viewpoints.

Presidency of the Council of the European Union

Every 6 months a different EU government holds the office of Presidency for the Council of the EU. Their role is to act as an honest broker, driving forward discussions in the Council – among all EU countries – on EU legislation. 

Each Presidency identifies its own set of priorities. These are determined by the pressing EU issues at the time and have the overall goal of strengthening the EU and promoting its values.

More on the priorities of the current EU Presidency

European Parliament – political groups

The vast majority of the 705 MEPs belong to one of the current 7 political groups, organised by party rather than nationality.

Each political group sets its own priorities, which reflect the issues their voters consider critical.

Before every vote in plenary, the political groups examine the reports drawn up by the parliamentary committees and table amendments to them.

The position adopted by the political group follows discussion within the group. No MEP can be forced to vote in a particular way.

More on the priorities of Parliament's political groups

All priorities of the European Parliament

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