Minister for European Affairs and Ownership Steering on German-Nordic-Baltic Digital Forum 27.10.2020
(This version of the speech replaces the previous version. Changes have been made to the final paragraph.)
Meine Damen und Herren, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year has been exceptional. This is the year of the pandemic. Next year will not be a walk in the park either.
Nevertheless, we should aim at coming out of this crisis as a union that is more resilient. I have three points on this.
First is the fundamental role of the rule of law.
Second, I will argue that an open economy is a prerequisite for resilience.
Finally, in my view EU should not fall between US China disputes, but act strongly according to our values.
First. Rule of law provides predictability and trust to our mutually dependent economies. It is a basic requirement for a functioning single market and for our credibility as trading partner.
However, it is not just about markets. The European Union is first and foremost a union of values. The rule of law is the core principle of our societies. It is the foundation of any free society.
As twenty-seven member states met in last July to make decision about the MFF and the Recovery Fund, we were convinced that these decisions were necessary to defend the solidarity within our Union. And we were equally convinced that the Union worth defending is a union founded on the principle of rule of law.
Our common values are the bedrock of resilience.
I am delighted that the German EU Presidency has put the Rule of Law high on it’s agenda.
Minister Roth, lieber Michael, die Rechtstaatlichkeit wollen wir fest entschlossen verteidigen, um gemeinsam Europa wieder stark zu machen.
Second. They say EU evolves as a result of crises and it is proving to be true once again. Personally, I do not like the idea of rooting for crisis to propel us ahead.
Resilience has quickly become a common and cross-cutting top priority as we are tackling this latest crisis. My message is: the basic elements for strengthening the Union’s resilience are more or less the same as the elements for enhancing growth, competitiveness and, the ultimate goal, our wellbeing.
The union has been able to rise to the occasion by agreeing upon a Recovery Package, which forms our common fiscal policy response to the crisis. The investments facilitated by it will enhance our competitiveness and transform our economies to be more sustainable - or more resilient, so to speak.
While we will co-ordinate our fiscal policies and investments like never before, we shouldn’t forget the EU’s traditional core business, namely strengthening the single market and promoting free, fair and rules-based global trade. These are policy areas where the EU can offer a real added value to each of its Member States while contributing to the Union’s prosperity and resilience.
When talking about resilience one cannot avoid referring to Strategic Autonomy – a concept initially used in the field of security and defence policy. In the current debate, it is not always clear what is concretely meant by “strategic autonomy”. I tend to think that resilience and strategic autonomy are two different issues.
Part of the discussion around strategic autonomy (or sovereignty) is linked to the unfair global competition.
But, I don’t think that our answer on levelling the playing field should be compromising the competition policy or state aid rules. What is reasonable however, is that the third country operators doing business in the single market play under the same rules that their European counterparts are required to do. We should be asking for reciprocity.
Neither do I consider it realistic to return the production or value chains back home as it hardly brings us sovereignty in the longer run.
This was actually one of the main findings of the recent publication by ECIPE, which confirmed that global value chains have kept Europe indeed more resilient during the pandemic.
Having said this, it is still evident that there are certain critical sectors where production capacity needs our attention; one can think of sectors closely connected to health and safety.
So, for me, strategic autonomy is not about building walls and barriers around ”Fortress Europe”. Instead it is about improving our competitiveness and investing in innovation, so that we are a global trading partner that nobody can ignore.
In a nutshell: I call us to remain vigilant to the risk of strategic autonomy ending up being protectionism.
Third point. Some have called for the EU to provide a “third way” in disputes between the US and China. High Representative Borrell has written an interesting piece arguing in favour of EU’s Sinatra Doctrine – of course a reference to his famous song “My Way”.
The EU should not fall victim to the US – China disputes which have been very harmful to multilateral rules-based governance, which we all depend on.
We should definitely find our “own way” – tell what kind of a world and global order we want to build, and then use all our instruments to promote our goals.
Let me take an example:
The fact is that data has become globally a key resource. On the global stage, there are differing approach to data:
On the one hand, in the East we have a rising super power where the state has significant control over data.
Across the Atlantic, the field is dominated by tech giants with very light regulatory coverage.
We are clearly lacking a comprehensive global data governance model. This is an opportunity the EU should seize – just like we did when creating a GDPR –regime, which major economies are now following.
The EU can fulfil the vacuum by providing a model, where people can have control over their own data, and the regulation is based on the principles of trust and privacy, freedom of speech and human dignity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Finding our own way should not mean “Europe First” - not in the spirit of the famous red baseball caps.
Our success will always depend on cooperation to solve the global challenges of our times.
The EU must show leadership in building coalitions and partnerships in support of effective multilateralism. Germany has done a lot in this regard under the Alliance for Multilateralism. Thank you for that Michael.
Neither should the EU’s position in the world be described as a “neutral third way” in between US and China.
With that policy, in a world that may split into two, Europe would fall into abyss.
We must look at the world based on our values and our own point of view and act accordingly.
We must be principled on our values and interests towards all global players. Often our interests coincide with the US - the Transatlantic bond is deep. But this is not always the case.
I don’t make any forecast for the US presidential elections, but I don’t think it is altogether impossible that we will have a US government more willing to co-operate with Europe.
Should this opportunity arise, we should not spare our ambition. One such action should be re-entering negotiations on a (comprehensive) EU-US Trade and Investment Agreement. A successful agreement would persuade China to follow Euro-Atlantic standards in trade and investments regulation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 1969 Henry Kissinger said: “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”
He has lived a very busy life.
I am convinced that we can come out of this crisis as
a Union that successfully builds the future on our core strengths like the rule of law, single market and open economy
a Union that is able to make independent policy choices at the global level based on our interests and values
and as a Union that is more resilient.
We recently celebrated the anniversary of the German Reunification. Just like 30 years ago, we must now act, open the gate and face new Europe.
In my mind, Europe shall become the most competitive, socially inclusive carbon neutral economy in the world.
Vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.