”A politician looks to the next election.
A statesman to the next generation”
Alcide de Gasperi
On 8 November 2018 the European People’s Party will choose its lead candidate for President of the European Commission. The question before us is simple: who is best suited to help our parties win the European elections next spring, get the support of the European Council and the European Parliament, and ultimately run the European Commission. It is about leadership and experience. It is about communication and language skills. It is about values, vision and a credible programme for the Next Generation of Europe. This is what I propose for us, the EPP.
A vision for Europe
We must look forward and provide all Europeans with a better, value-based vision for the future. My vision is pro-European, positive and pragmatic.
Pro-European, in that I believe in smarter and better European integration. We need more Europe where it makes sense, and less where it does not. What can be better done at the national or regional level should be done there. We need less brute nationalism, but more genuine national ownership in our common European project. We need national and European leaders that influence and take full responsibility for decisions taken together.
Positive, in that we need to stop politics driven by fear and hatred. There are no easy solutions to complex problems. Yes, technology will change the way we work. Yes, migration is a challenge. And yes, we are all afraid of constant change and disruption.
But this does not mean that political leaders should feed these fears. On the contrary, leadership is about providing opportunities, working for stability, finding solutions and giving hope for a brighter future. And pragmatic, in that we must provide concrete, operational solutions to our common challenges.
The digital revolution will change the economy, work, politics, the media, science and possibly the future of mankind. This, together with climate change, will be the main challenge, not only for the next European Commission, but for generations to come. I want to see technology at the service of humans, not the other way around. I want to see a planet that is, and will continue to be, liveable for everyone.
In this short programme for the Next Generation of Europe I do not pretend to have the solution to all of the EU’s current challenges; nor do I give detailed policy recommendations – their time will come.
My aim here is to chart some of the key challenges that lie ahead. The two main questions of our generation are the digital revolution and climate change. These are transnational challenges that no single country can tackle on its own. In times of uncertainty we need an anchor – that anchor is our values. And those values are the basis of my six points for the Next Generation of Europe.
1. Defend European values
In the 20th century the European People’s Party won the battle of ideas. Democracy prevailed over fascism, communism and nationalism thanks to the relentless fight of our founding fathers all over Europe, east and west, north and south.
We launched the European project, defended democracy and freedom, and brought peace. But our world view cannot be static or taken for granted. Our values are under attack from both inside and outside the European Union – it is time to stand on the barricades and defend them.
Our values are based on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, solidarity, equality between men and women, the rule of law and human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. In uncertain times these values are the anchor of our security, the basic foundation making us who we are as centre-right Christian Democrats. Without them we have nothing, and forgo the moral compass which has guided us so well in the past.
”We hold our head high, despite the price we
have paid, because freedom is priceless.”
But we cannot be in denial – there is disquiet in our societies, anxiety about the future, a sense that the best may be behind us. I do not condemn those who feel tempted to vote for populists.
Instead, I want to say ”we hear you”. We will not ignore fears linked to technology, jobs, security or migration. Many of them are legitimate, but they must be resolved within our democratic order. Democracy, individual freedoms and justice are what we have fought for over centuries.
History has taught us that once the path towards illiberalism is taken, it will be difficult to reset the course. Illiberal democracy is a contradiction in terms and goes against what the EPP stands for.
2. Lead the Digital Revolution
The fourth industrial revolution – artificial intelligence, robotisation, internet of things, 3D printing and digitalisation – is already here, and has a far reaching impact on everything, including the economy, politics and science. Unlike previous industrial revolutions, this one is not incremental – it advances fast and is disruptive. Europe has to be on the cutting edge of technological development, otherwise we risk falling behind. Taking the lead in the digital revolution means that we must focus on the future of work, innovation and the protection of individuals.
The digital revolution is changing the way we work and learn. We have little understanding of what the job market will look like in 2050. Many of the jobs – be they blue- or white collar – of today will not be there tomorrow. It is not about machines taking over, it is about us cooperating with robots to get better results.
Education is not anymore about acquiring one skill and many facts, it is more about life-long learning and emotional intelligence. No matter what skills you learn in the future, understanding data will be a big part of it. Several member states are already trailblazers in this respect. We should build on their experience for the whole of Europe.
Currently all of the top 20 technology firms are from the US or China. Without investment in education, innovation, research and development this trend will continue. European decisions must improve technological infrastructure, such as 5G networks, and create opportunities for European companies and entrepreneurs to thrive in the digital era. Modern financial instruments and legislation which create the conditions for innovation will help in paving the way forward.
”Success in creating effective AI could be the
biggest event in the history of our civilization.
Or the worst. We just don’t know.”
At the same time we live in an era of platform economy where the value of data keeps on increasing. This brings with it issues relating to the protection of individual rights. Big data already knows more about you and your preferences than you think. Constitutions were created to protect individuals from the state. Now we need to work at protecting individuals from the use of their private data by big multinational companies or authoritarian governments. As a regulatory superpower, the EU can take the lead in establishing international rules for a future world of artificial intelligence and robotisation. Better to be a rule-maker, rather than a ruletaker.
3. Make the European economy work for everyone
The single market has delivered – without it we would not be able to uphold European welfare states. Over the decades it has been the foundation of growth and jobs in Europe. EU membership means an increase in prosperity.GDP per capita has doubled over the past twenty years. In some of the poorer member states the increase has been over ten fold. The single market has helped in the creation of over 10 million jobs in the past few years. The euro is the second most important global reserve currency. The European Union is back on a solid path of growth, job creation and investments since the financial crisis.
But this is naturally not enough. While the EU has been good at increasing the size of the cake, we have been less good at distributing it evenly, whether between individuals or the member states. Much of today’s populism, from both the right and the left, stems from a sense of injustice, a feeling that our current model of society – including a social market economy and globalisation – does not treat everyone fairly.
This needs to change. We all know that market liberalisation stimulates growth and creates jobs, now we just have to figure out how to make it work for all Europeans.
”Europe has to be about more than
market, goods and money.”
Europe must focus on modern sources of sustainable growth, including digitalisation, creative industries, green growth, the circular economy, start-ups, sustainable and innovative food production and the like. It is not the EU that creates jobs or chooses new champions, but the Union can provide favourable conditions to help companies, workers and entrepreneurs all around the continent to do just that. The EU is a champion of free and fair trade, and should continue to be so. At the same time we must improve global rules, act against unfair practices, work on structural reforms and the completion of the internal market. The redistribution of European growth through welfare policies is and will remain in the hands of national governments.
The future of the euro is a crucial part of our economy. Without a stable and sustainable common currency we will not be able to have a successful economy. In the coming years we must accelerate progress towards a true Banking and Capital Market Union. We must also transform our stability mechanisms into a European Monetary Fund. But first and foremost we need to continue to build trust, stick to the common rules that we have agreed on, and show solidarity when one of us is in need. This is what the EPP parties did during the euro crisis, and this is what we must do in the future. Without the difficult and responsible decisions taken by EPP parties in government – from Ireland to Portugal, from Spain to Greece and Cyprus – the euro would not have survived.
4. Tackle climate change
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the future of our planet. The last 19 years have included 18 of the warmest years on record. At current rates the average temperatures will continue to rise 0,2 degrees Celsius every decade. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms this trend and warns of the impact of a further global warming beyond 1,5 degrees of Celsius. The changes in temperature will have an unprecedented impact on our whole ecosystem, including weather patterns, species, sea levels, food security and health.
Over the past two centuries we have been able to create unprecedented economic growth and welfare, but this has come at a cost. It is our job to protect the planet and respect its boundaries. At the same time the EU should not be naive, we must defend our strategic interests and help our member states in the transition towards a cleaner economy. This means that our climate policy should not only tackle climate change, but also give us a competitive advantage globally.
Reducing European emissions is not enough to save the world, but the technology that our pioneering companies develop will do so. The focus should therefore be on clean technology and circular business models. Companies willing to take risks at this stage will be the leaders of the future.
”There is no planet B, saving our planet Earth
should be our number one mission.”
Miguel Arias Canete and Carlos Moedas
The EU must put decarbonisation at the heart of its programme. We should work towards a carbon neutral Europe by 2045. The Paris agreement was a good start, but we need to be more ambitious. A target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees of Celsius is necessary and will require tough measures on both emissions trading and effort sharing. Europe should lead this transformation together with its member states, regions and cities.
5. Manage migration
The global share of people living outside their country of birth has remained more or less stable over time, it is close to 3%. Migration, in all of its various forms, is here to stay. We can either pretend that it does not exist, or address the challenges head on. I propose the latter. We solved the worst migration crisis and now it is time to show all Europeans that the situation is under control. Without the efforts of EPP parties all over Europe – from Malta to Italy, from Bulgaria to Sweden, from Greece to Germany and Austria – we would not have survived the migratory crisis of 2015. Now we must make sure that it is never repeated.
Europe needs immigration which is controlled and legal. We must not return to an uncontrolled situation, similar to that of 2015. With an aging population and shortage of skilled labour, we will not be able to survive by building walls. The job of politicians is to find solutions and facilitate this transition, not stir up fear. Free movement inside the European Union makes our lives easier, whether it is travel, study or work. Immigration from outside is more complicated, but solvable. Better external border control is a prerequisite for free movement of people inside the EU area.
”This Europe must not become a fortress in
which we isolate ourselves from the others.
It has to be open.”
Migration will remain a defining issue for the EU for years to come. The next European Commission should have it at the centre of its agenda. We should establish asylum centres, together with the UNHCR, outside the EU. We should strengthen Frontex – without a common border guard it is difficult to guard the common border. We should also find joint solutions for effective returns of those who are not granted asylum in Europe. We should establish a quota for humanitarian based asylum seekers for each member state. If this does not work we will have to develop a system of flexible solidarity where member states can help each other in different ways. And finally we must address the root causes of migration by strengthening the EU’s ability to work in our neighboorhood by investing in growth and jobs in Africa. This will not solve the problem outright, but at least takes us a step closer to avoiding a future crisis.
6. Create a more secure Europe
For decades the United States has guaranteed European security. As an avid supporter of our close Transatlantic relationship, it is hard for me to accept that this guarantee is currently less evident than what it used to be. The voluntary marginalisation of the US from world politics means that we must take more responsibility for our own security. We need to step in and fill the emerging power vacuums, whether they are in trade, foreign policy, defence or multilateralism.
We should seek to build dialogue and partnerships in all directions. But we should also be firm on Russia and others who attempt to intimidate our member states.
”The era in which we could fully rely on
others is over…It is time for Europe to take
our fate into our own hands.”
Over the past years, the line between war and peace has become blurred by challenges such as cyberattacks, stateless and state sponsored terrorism, meddling with our democratic processes, illegal migration, and information wars. Their roots lie in on-going conflicts, renewed great power competition, and technological breakthroughs. While much has already been achieved, we cannot protect Europe adequately with existing patchwork of security and defence-related policies, instruments, and actors. We need to bring them under one umbrella.
Member states and European institutions should step up their efforts to build a true Security and Defence Union. We should also develop the EU’s first-ever Artificial Intelligence Security Strategy to help address the new challenges created by AI, and take further steps to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of Europe’s defence technological and industrial base. Securing our own will also require close coordination with the member states, NATO, and our partners. We have to begin taking more responsibility for one of the most important tasks of the EU: security.
If there was an award for the worst communication strategy in the history of world politics, the European Union would be a serious contender. It is the most successful peace project of international relations. Yet the perception of what it does or is all about, could not be further from the truth. It is not good enough to say that the digital era has increased fake news or that we humans like stories more than facts. In the era of information wars the EU must get serious about communication.
This does not only mean using modern means of communication through a wide range of social media, but also using understandable language about what Europe is all about. Fending off fake news and trolls, will also be a big part of what should be done. A good starting point is that political leaders stop blaming Brussels for their own failures, begin to take responsibility for European decisions and come out of the cabinets to do so. Europe is about transparency, not secretive decision-making.
This is Europe’s moment
I believe this is Europe’s moment. If we get things right in the next few years, we will look back at this era of attempted illiberal democracy and kneejerk populism as another solved crisis in the process of European integration. If we do not get it right, we risk reverting to an era of repugnant nationalism and European irrelevance.
It is important that we rally around our cause for a strong modern Europe that shapes the world instead of being shaped by others. This means mitigating divisions between east and west, north and south. Enlargements have never been easy, but they have always been the right thing to do. We must be better at highlighting what unites us instead of what differentiates us. We need more solidarity, whether on the future of the euro or migration. We need each other.
”European unity was a dream of a few people.
It became a hope for many. Today it is a
necessity for all of us”.
The European Union is not perfect, and never will be. It will always be more than an international organisation, but less than a state. In many ways it is in constant evolution and crisis management. The pattern is often that we go from a crisis to what feels like chaos, and finally we produce a sub-optimal solution. But we do achieve our aims. That is what happened with the euro and migration crises, and that is what will happen with many of our challenges in the future. We are a Union of imperfection. And we should learn how to adapt it to the new challenges of the 21st century.
Next year, when the new European Commission begins its mandate, we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The year 1989 was full of hope. We had just defeated communism and authoritarian regimes were collapsing with the help of EPP parties in all corners of Europe. Many of us believed that most of the 200 nation states in this world would embrace freedom, liberal democracy and the market economy. Indeed the first few years after the Cold War were full of promise. Europe was again united. Little did we know what lay ahead.
”Political unity does not mean the
absorption of the nation.”
Fascism died in 1945. Communism died in 1989. I do not want 2016 to be the beginning of the end for liberal democracy. If I become the lead candidate of the EPP and eventually the President of the European Commission, I pledge not only to defend our values, but to make sure that the grievances that have led to a surge of nationalism and populism will be addressed. If these frustrations are not dealt with, the situation will worsen. Animosity will grow, tensions will come to the fore and nationalism will increase. I am not saying that Europe will snap, but we are reaching the limits of tolerance. The very tolerance that Europe was built on.
The European Union has never had a President of the European Commission from a Nordic country, a Baltic state, or from Central and Eastern Europe. This is, however, not a race of geography, but a choice of a leadership and experience. I come from a small country which has survived next to an expansionist power – a country that has always fought for its values and existence. I have always been in, or led, coalition governments, which require constant bridge-building. I have had first-hand experience of dealing with a populist party in government. These are all qualities which are most likely to be of importance after the next European elections.
We are a party family that believes in individual freedom and responsibility. The choice is yours. I know you will make up your own mind and vote for the person that you believe can help our parties win the European elections, and ultimately lead the Commission for the Next Generation of Europe. Welcome to Helsinki!