Part of the daily routine of a Commissioner is to explain how the European Union functions, what value added it brings to European citizens and, increasingly, to fight off unfair criticism or even outright lies. Last week, in the country I know best, the EU was described as socialism building COMECON…
In my frequent discussions with members of national parliaments, NGOs, students or journalists I realized that we take the biggest EU achievements – peace (after centuries of wars), freedom to travel, work, reside or study in other EU Member States (after decades trapped behind the Iron curtain), the Single Market (transforming Europe into the biggest trading bloc in the world) and, of course, many others – for granted.
We have got so used to seeing our kids studying abroad or crossing borders that we don’t even realise what an unusual benefit it is!
We tend to mistakenly believe that things have always been like this, and that there is no need for any … let’s call it maintenance and further development.
(As you can see from the high number of competition or EU law infringement cases, keeping things like this is hard work for the Commission on a daily basis.)
But the legitimate concerns of citizens aggravated by these difficult years of crisis are very often dramatized by something we can call a fashion for ‘intellectual negativism’. Often I cannot resist the impression that in the debate on Europe there is a race to the bottom to see who can be the most negative or predict the darkest doom!
My personal experience is that to have a good discussion on Europe it is important to look at the situation in a balanced way. That means from the other, optimistic side as well – taking into account Europe’s potential and overall perspectives. This was the way we discussed sustainable innovation with the US-based European Institute on Thursday evening. We have all heard lots of impressive statistics concerning innovation developments in China and other BRIC countries. So I just reminded our audience that China’s GDP, even when added to the GDP of Brazil, Russia and India (around 8 trillion euros in total), is still smaller than the GDP of the USA (10.7 trillion), let alone the EU’s GDP of around 12 trillion euros! I also mentioned some impressive figures on EU – US trade. The transatlantic economy is the largest and wealthiest market in the world, generating around 3.5 trillion euros in commercial sales. The US investment position in India and China combined is less than the US investment stake in…Belgium! (There are plenty more fascinating facts where they came from – Joseph P. Quinlan and Daniel S. Hamilton’s excellent ‘The Transatlantic Economy 2011′.)
So trends are one thing, but let’s not lose sight of our overall perspective. Europe’s potential is huge, and the right policies to develop it even further are being put in place as you read this.
I was very pleased to see that arguments I frequently use were much more eloquently developed in the article of P. Khanna and M. Leonard , ‘Why China wants a G-3 world’ published in the International Herald Tribune last week. G -3 of course stands for the EU, USA and China. The authors presented rock solid argumentation on the role of Europe in ‘driving policy innovation’, ‘addressing gaps in the governance issues ranging from intervention to climate change’ or global trade, reminding all of us that the EU is not only the largest trading bloc but also the biggest exporter of capital , source of funds and leadership for multilateral organisations. The G-3 represent together 60% of the world economy. We often forget the enormous EU–US economic relationship while being impressed by the ‘growing importance of Chinamerican economy ‘. And we tend to overlook that the ‘EU–China relationship is in many ways as dense.’
The authors mentioned several other facts to drive home the key message – Europe is a global economic and political player with huge potential whose input into the stability of the 21st century is absolutely crucial.
I agree with the authors when they say that for Europe to play its role better, we all need to speak with one voice more consistently and speed up our actions – not an easy task in our complex system.
Finally, last week brought important good news – the German constitutional court ruling on a conformity of the proposal on financial assistance to indebted countries with the Constitution, French Parliament’s ratification of a new package of financial assistance to Greece and a breakthrough in finalisation of the important economic governance six-pack. But lots of work still lies ahead to finally overcome the crisis and transform the European economy, of course. To progress we should also see the upsides, pluses and impressive EU achievements to boost our confidence in these difficult times. Well informed positivism is the best way to take on frequently oversimplified negativism or outright populism.
PS: Coming back to my country – to compare COMECON with the EU is possible only if you forget barbed wires on borders, and empty shelves in shops and political prisoners, and… Should I really continue?