Brussels, 17 March 2022
Europe after Merkel: how can the EU best build on its strengths and mitigate its risks?”
When Lord Hill first talked to me about this conference, a few months ago, I found its proposed topic timely and relevant.
But little did we know that by now we would be living in a different continent – one that again witnesses the tragedy of large-scale war – and a different Europe altogether.
Because indeed, the EU today is already a different Union than before the invasion of Ukraine started.
The decisions that have been taken in the last few weeks alone, in Brussels and in many European capitals, represent a swift and abrupt transformation. Decisions on sanctions, military support or refugee protection that would have been a taboo only a few weeks ago.
We have reacted strongly and forcefully in view of an unprecedented attack. And it is good to see that we are acting in unity and together with our democratic partners around the world.
Because we have been reminded, by the inspiring courage of the Ukrainian people, that democracy and freedom have a price, and we must be willing to fight for it.
The Conference you start today is about the future of the European Union, in a world that is dramatically changing.
And while it is early to draw comprehensive conclusions from the ongoing war, let me try to distil three immediate takeaways from what we’ve seen so far, and what this means for the Union going forward.
First, the war is also being fought online.
We all understand now the influence that digital platforms and social media have on our societies. This becomes even more prominent in this war.
Access to quality journalism and genuine facts is essential for a democracy. But we see how much this is currently impossible for the people in Russia. Disinformation and misinformation are used to manipulate a whole country. It is therefore encouraging to see the efforts by some citizens to speak truth to power even under such repression.
The EU is actively working on getting democratic control back into our hands. With the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act we will very soon adopt legislation which will bring order to the internet. It will enforce basic rules to ensure a trusted online environment. This will have positive knock-on effects for the internet globally.
We have launched important fora to advance these aims, such as the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council, and the digital partnerships with Japan, Korea and Singapore currently under negotiation.
Soon, together with democratic partners around the world, we will launch a Declaration for the Future of the Internet, outlining a shared new vision for technological development. Second, our dependence on fossil fuels also comes at a geopolitical We all know that climate change does not take a break because we have more pressing things to do. But we had a hard wake-up call due to the war.
We knew about the enormous dependence of Europe from fossil fuels and gas from Russia. We knew the same is true for some raw materials. But we never before had experienced what such a dependency could imply in case it is tested for real.
More than ever, we are determined to advance the Green agenda. This will reinforce our ability to remain in control of our well-being. We need to invest in renewable energy and diversify our supply chains.
Maintaining our openness while addressing our strategic dependencies will therefore be part of our economic strategy going forward. Third, a free world only in a secure world
Security has many facets these days. From the immediate military threat to cybersecurity – which is more important than ever – over to food security and climate related natural disasters.
On all these areas. the EU has the tools it needs to be a genuine geopolitical actor. And while this has been the case for some time, we may finally now have the missing ingredients – the unity and the political will to use them.
This is most evident in the field of defence. The use of the European Peace Facility to finance the supply of military equipment to Ukraine takes us to new territory. Several Member States have made unprecedented decisions to increase their defence spending, and even my own country, Denmark, will hold a referendum to withdraw its opt-out from EU Common Security and Defence Policy.
Spending more is important, but it is not enough. Counted together, EU Member States already spend three to four times more than Russia on defence.
They key is to spend it strategically on the missing enablers, and to spend it together, in a way that allows us to act together in missions and operations. The declaration from last week’s Summit from Versailles gives us a chance to get it right: To avoid the fragmentations of the past. To create a stronger defence Union that in turn strengthens NATO.
Because we have many friends. And so does Ukraine. In the turbulent, more contested world we will live in for the foreseeable future, the partnerships we build with like-minded countries around globe will be key to success.
The enormous transformations from the green and digital transitions remain key to our success. If we want to position Europe as a leading force for democracy and freedom in the world, let’s use the momentum to advance as quickly as possible on these fronts. Together with our partners.
You will be discussing all these topics throughout the next two days. I wish you an insightful debate, which could not come at a better time.
May the outcome of your reflections help inspire us to build a better, more robust Europe.
Thank you again for having me.
Source – EU Commission: Europe after Merkel: how can the EU best build on its strengths and mitigate its risks?”