We need a European Union which addresses the social, economic and political questions of today - while creating the opportunities of tomorrow. The EU has steadily become more protectionist, isolationist and anti-industry. This needs to change if peace, prosperity and progress are to be achieved.
The future focus of the European Union should see the bloc return to its origins and concentrate on building open societies and open economies. Power should be given to independent individuals and entrepreneurs with the freedom to innovate, create, work, buy and sell with minimal interference.
This is why the following five priority themes are vital for governments, businesses, NGOs, decision-makers and citizens to focus on: 1) International trade, 2) Environmental Stewardship, 3) Democracy, Openness & Enlargement, 4) Completing the EU Single Market, 5) Technology, Innovation & Competitiveness.
The European Union needs to promote, facilitate and commit to a rules-based multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Closed borders, tariffs and quotas harm all economies as businesses and consumers lose out. Similarly, we do not want to see a “Fortress Europe” but rather an open trading bloc that stands against damaging trade wars.
The use of environmental and sustainability policy and regulation to prevent trade is a rising and worrying trend which needs to be reversed. The EU needs to seek trade deals with global partners and co-create global agreements in a spirit of partnership, rather than by diktat.
EU countries have agreed to put in place ambitious targets for reducing emissions while aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050. Yet much of the EU Green Deal is anti-business and will cripple industry across Europe. The EU should use the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for viable solutions to climate change while promoting global trade and co-creating rules with the Global South, while underlining that countries have differentiated levels of responsibility in reaching climate objectives.
The EU must also recognise the role of science and technology: utilising it to address environmental issues in a concrete way. Furthermore, sustainability needs to be in the DNA of all organisations. At the personal level, we all have to take responsibility for our actions: making choices which reduce our impact on the environment and better use the resources available to us.
The need to promote democracy, fight corruption and address human rights abuses is vital within the EU’s borders, as well as around the world. The EU has an important role to play in both the online and offline worlds in protecting the Rule of Law as well as ensuring that free speech and personal choice are respected. Leading by example, sharing best practice and calling out abuses is fundamental to the EU’s purpose.
Similarly, the enlargement of the EU to welcome our neighbours in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Balkans is of vital importance in order to secure economic, political and social reforms, as well as promote stability, security and prosperity in the region.
The internal market for goods and services is crucial to the EU and should be protected and expanded over time. The four freedoms - labour, capital, goods and services - underpin the raison d’être of the EU and represent one of its biggest successes. Furthermore, completing a true Digital Single Market in Europe is essential: it will drive economic development, facilitate job creation and support SMEs. The approach here needs to be market-driven, technology neutral and supportive of interoperability.
EU figures state that completing the Single Market would trigger economic gains totaling up to EUR 1.1 trillion per year (almost 9% of EU GDP). It would also create at least 7.5 million jobs by 2030.
The role for governments here should be limited to creating an environment that allows organisations and companies to thrive, while facilitating digitalisation, the use of AI, growth and automation. Governments should not be picking winners, but instead invest in R&D - along with companies - and be open to public private partnerships. Workers need to be ready for this increase in technology and innovation. Education systems and training schemes therefore need to be reformed to provide citizens with the skills that make them employable and ready for the workplace of today and tomorrow. Similarly, labour markets need to be freed up for the future of work and allow individuals to earn money how, when and where they want.
As EU competitiveness drops vis-a-vis the rest of the world, it is important that these issues are addressed and that Mario Draghi takes them up in his forthcoming report on the future of European competitiveness.