It is an honor for me to close this year’s extraordinary, and for the first time digital, Economic Ideas Forum. The purpose of this year’s forum is to discuss the potential and ability of the European Union to have a more geopolitical and coherent economic strategy on the global stage. Like my friend, President Mr. Dzurinda said, we are facing urgent challenges. Not just the immediate danger of a pandemic that isn’t slowing down, but also other threats that will continue being imminent even after the pandemic: trade protectionism, great power competition, rapid technological innovations, outdated educational systems and many others.
In this context, exchanges of views like the ones we had yesterday and today are key. Thanks to the Martens Center, we were able to hear expert voices on the most pressing issues facing Europe. And not just from politicians. We heard from all the sectors of the society: we heard from civil servants, private sector officials and academics.
As we saw, the pandemic has been an accelerator of existing trends. Trends that will continue existing in the future. The challenges have to be met with bold action at the European level. In this forum, we had lively discussions about the detailed policy proposals currently under way in the European Commission and the European Parliament. This is exactly the case of the green deal and the ecological transition. Through the Green Deal, the EU has set enormous expectations. And it has done so, the right way, involving the private sector, with targeted and practical solutions. As the Commission has aptly named one of its instruments, we are striving for a Just Transition. A transition where the cost is distributed and is fair. A transition that includes everyone and leaves no one behind.
Though we represent less than 10% of global emissions, the world recognizes that we are a leader in this field. Our actions have reverberated across markets and countries. As my friend Jyrki Katainen said, Europe will show the way to build a sustainable and carbon-neutral economy. We have to take advantage of the historic recovery package and the subsequent funding. We need bold actions at the European and the Member State level. And I am glad that as always, the EPP has been the most productive voice in this debate.
Another EPP priority that we discussed was world trade and the many challenges it is facing. From the pandemic to global trade tensions and the rise of populism, world trade and the very idea of open economies are being questioned. Trade is a crucial element for our prosperity, and we need to protect that. But we cannot trade just for the sake of doing trading. As my friend, the new European Trade Commissioner Vice-President Dombrovskis said, and previous Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan defended, we have to be open to world trade while dealing with the new world reality we are living in. An open strategic economy, to take care of ourselves whilst not being naive. We are open but we face challenges from other countries, which means we need a new strategy. Once again this Commission has been able to think strategically about the challenges we face, with the upcoming review of our trade policy.
But our power cannot and should not be ignored. By those who seek to show us as irrelevant, both within and outside our borders. Trade is one of our strongest tools, not because we can leverage and bully other countries through our single market. We are not and should never be unilateralist by choice. But because of the power and influence of our market. As Ms. Bradford argued, as long as there is globalization, the EU’s influence, the so-called Brussels effect, will not diminish. We are not unilateralists. And as such, we have to work towards a strong and key role for the WTO. We have to show that negotiations and dialogue, not tariffs and confrontation, are the only way for our societies to benefit from world trade. We have to unlock trade deals with our allies, like the United States, the UK and MERCOSUR, while also finding a solution to the challenges that countries like China pose to the global trading system. Only through such a multilateral approach that includes our partners, can we truly use the power of trade.
Friends, we know how populists act when it comes to trade. Which is exactly why we need to involve citizens and hear their concerns. Contrary to some voices out there, trade must not come at the expense of some and the benefit of others. However, as Mr. Winkler said, the benefits of trade are not always going where the cost is. It is on this difference that we have to focus.
As I mentioned, the emergence of new technologies has posed a very serious challenge to the way our governments work.
- Social media has changed how citizens perceive their governments, and how they interact in the political sphere.
- Our societies and our politics are more polarized than ever.
- The digital revolution that is currently under way, also means that much of a workforce is not ready for the labor market of tomorrow.
- It also means that our businesses are at risk of getting crowded out from the digital economies of the future.
I share with my good friend, Alex Stubb, not only being old enough to remember that Europe in the ’90s was at the forefront of the digital systems but also to say that we got lazy and we have to wake up! We have to adapt our way of thinking and our policies, to this reality of digitalization. Once again, the European Union has been strategic in its thinking, and has aimed to find a third way, a European way of doing things. As my colleague and very good friend Pablo Arias mentioned, we need to regulate our digital single market based on our values and our European Way of Life. If we do so, not only will we deal with the current challenges, we will have a competitive advantage in the economies of the future.
Friends, I would like to conclude by saying that we do not have to shy away from our strengths.
- From our global role as a regulatory power.
- From the need for an open strategic autonomy.
- From the defense of our European way of life.
The pandemic has presented a set of new challenges, but most importantly an opportunity to show European citizens that we are indispensable, and that only coordinated policy decisions at the EU level will allow us to move forward. Our economic strategies are based on our European values and in our citizens’ best interests. If implemented well, they will lead us to a competitive advantage and towards a truly geopolitical and coherent economic strategy on the global stage. There is hope and we have the necessary means to achieve our goals. Let’s work on it. Thank you.