State of the Union Conference 2021: Daily Report 2
01 Oct 2021 - 11:37

Report State of the Union Conference: Day 2 - 29 Sept 2021

Keynote speech and moderated conversation (09:30-10:15)

With Gašper Dovžan, State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia. Moderated by Louise van Schaik and Nienke van Heukelingen.

Slovenia holds the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Minister Gašper Dovžan starts by explaining the role of the EU Precidency has changed considerably since the Treaty of Lisbon. Today, the emphasis is on bringing legislative files from point A to B, to work in the direction of consensus. For the Slovenian Precidency this means pushing the agenda on the most pressing topics like migration. Minister Dovžan: “The root causes of migration have to be addressed, we have to do more regarding economic development, creation of jobs in the countries of origin, to help create better perspectives there. At the same time we agree that we have to work together and strengthen our external instruments. The recent crisis in Afghanistan emphasizes the importance of a Team Europe approach and the importance of cooperation with other international organizations. Under the Slovenian Presidency we have dedicated special attention to comprehensive and mutually beneficial migration partnerships.”

Inevitably, there are national touches member states bring to their 6-months term of the EU Presidency, like the Western Balkan summit on the 5th of October. Minister Dovžan “We are doing our best to be an honest broker. But it is not a secret that enlargement of the EU is very important to us. The question what will happen if these countries would accede to the EU, is not the right question. The right question is: what will happen if we continue this stalemate?” The reserved attitude of EU member states vis-à-vis enlargement has much to do with current trends in Hungary and Poland. Against both countries an Article 7 procedure was started. The annual report of the European Commission states Slovenia is also not moving in the right direction regarding the rule of law. Minister Dovžan: “We are all committed to the rule of law and strengthening the rule of law across the EU plus the values that are enshrined in article 2. But at the same time there are different political cultures in the member states, partially for historical reasons, different political traditions and practices. Even though we are speaking of the same values, we sometimes understand this in a different way. We need more dialogue on this.”

Security narratives for a geopolitical Europe (11:00-12:45)

Online conversation with Arnout Brouwers, Joanneke Balfoort, Dick Zandee, Jana Puglierin, Sander van der Sluis. Moderated by Bob Deen and Adája Stoetman.

Should Europe have a narrative when it comes to security and defence – and if so, what would it be? And can it even have a common narrative, given our different histories and interests? As Arnout Brouwers expressed in his column, European defence is a very delicate thing: “It is both precious and mysterious. We talk about it endlessly but we have rarely spotted it in action.”

A parallel reality seems to exist. On the one hand there is real progress being made. With concrete defence projects and initiatives, with cryptic names such as PESCO, the EDF and the Strategic Compass, we are making steady steps towards more European defence cooperation. On the other hand, these are largely technical in nature, and the EU struggles to convince its audience – the European citizens – that Europe can step up at crucial moments, take for example Afghanistan. The key image that results is one of weakness and dependency on others.

The EU needs to start showing results, even though it is a hard job to communicate on because developments take time to materialise. There is also a lack of real European leadership, and given the results of the German elections it remains to be seen if Germany will want to step up and join France in pushing for a more ambitious narrative. The current narrative that emerges by default is ‘Europe can’t do it, it is not able’, and it should be replaced with a more optimistic story that allows a role for both the EU and NATO. Next year will be crucial, with the EU’s Strategic Compass, NATO’s Strategic Concept, and the French-led EU Defence summit. As Bob Deen concluded: “Europe could do more, because the instruments are actually there. We don’t need a new massive treaty, we need to make the things that we have actually work.”

Read the column of Arnout Brouwers.

European Green Deal or Dream? (13:30-14:45)

Online conversation with Yvon Slingenberg, Piotr Arak, Rebecca Collyer and Heleen Ekker. Moderated by Louise van Schaik and Giulia Cretti.

It is clear that the European Green Deal is currently at the heart of EU policymaking and a key guidance for its post-Covid recovery. The Green Deal, and the recently proposed ‘fit for 55’ package with measures to achieve a reduction of emissions by 55% in 2030, are presented as a growth strategy that will strengthen the EU’s economy and competitiveness. But what about the costs of climate policy and energy transition? For Polish citizens, for example, this is a very social issue, Piotr Arak pointed out. “In order to become climate neutral by 2050, it means Poland is going to have a stronger, more rapid transformation than any other European country up to this point. This is causing social tension, connected to the prices of energy.”

The narrative on the European Green Deal is rather different from previous climate policy initiatives. “We are really trying to have an integrated and holistic approach to policymaking, with the climate goals as the main objective. Previously it was more fragmented and bottom-up, it was about having to make the case”, Yvon Slingenberg explained. However, the big challenge for the EU is to reach all its citizens, and especially reach those who are not already active in this policy debate. A change of mindset is needed. “We have to remember that we have a legal obligation, we agreed to this. We also have to keep in mind that the costs of not doing anything will be far higher than the costs of transformation. We have already seen this recently with the floods in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.”

In the future, the EU can act like a narrative template for international institutions, Rebecca Collyer added: “The world is looking very closely to how the EU deals with energy prices, and how the narrative is about historical misinvestment or about opportunities of future investments.” That sense of narrative successes and the balance of narratives is crucial. “There is a lot to play for here. But there is also a lot that can go wrong. So thoughtful narratives, thoughtful storytelling are going to be really key.”

Read the column of Heleen Ekker.

New industrial policy narratives (15:30-16:45)

Online conversation with Reinhilde Veugelers, Malorie Schaus, Maaike Okano-Heijmans and Focco Vijselaar. Moderated by Rem Korteweg and Brigitte Dekker.

New global challenges, such as the COVID-19 crisis, climate change, geopolitical tensions, the race in technology supremacy and social polarisation, are the main drivers behind the new attention for and evolution of a more robust European industrial policy. It is clear that the ‘traditional’ European way no longer suffices for the challenges the EU is facing today. We are experiencing a paradigm shift, as policymakers throughout Europe agree on the need for more government intervention to address these global challenges to create a level-playing field internationally, while not turning to protectionist measures.

We need to move from a horizontal industrial policy that focuses on the framework conditions to also vertical, mission-oriented policies. The challenge is how to combine those two. On both axes there is a real need to act on a European level, Focco Vijselaar explained: “To take the example of framework conditions and digitalisation: addressing the public issues that are at stake, like privacy, cyber security, access to data, is not something we can deal with at the national level. We really need the European level to address those issues.”

In the narrative, the European industrial policy seems quite clear. But is it robust? “To have a robust, fully-fledged strategy, we need a north star, a clear mission in the narrative”, Malorie Schaus pointed out. “For this, we need concrete indicators identifying the clear milestones and goals and the whole governance framework.” For example, the added value and the sustainability of innovation needs to be clear, otherwise the shift from innovation to commercialisation will be hard. Compared to China and the US, this is a challenge for the EU, as the EU aims to profile itself as the international standard setter for new technologies. Only when the EU has the businesses to compete internationally, it can set the rules of the game.

Clearly, the EU and its member states are making progress with (EU-internal) industrial policies to protect and promote their interests. As an extension of this, the connectivity agenda – recently rebranded Global Gateway – now also needs to be acted upon. After all, the global challenges that are the drivers of the EU's new industrial policy do not stop at EU borders.