Transcript: Spaak Lecture by José Manuel Barroso

The 18th Paul-Henri Spaak Lecture

H. E. José Manuel Barroso
President of the Commission of the European Union

Delivered on September 24, 2008

“A Letter from Brussels to the Next President of the United States”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'd like to begin by thanking Harvard University for inviting me to deliver the 2008 Paul-Henri Spaak lecture.

How fitting, in our fast-changing world, that we should honor a man who—along with other European founding fathers such as Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and Alcide de Gasperi—saw earlier than most how interdependent we were becoming. A man who recognized that “we are united in misfortune as we should be in prosperity.”

It is with this sense of our ever-increasing interdependence that I decided to write a letter to the next President of the United States. A letter that explains how radically different Europe is today, one that sketches out global trends as I see them, that calls for a whole new approach that can respond effectively to these trends, engage with others and focus on key challenges that we all face.

But wait. How could I write a letter when we don't yet know who the next US President will be?

The answer is simple. Because whether I am writing to President McCain or President Obama, the values that the US and the EU share remain the same. The challenges we face remain the same. And the contribution we can make to world stability and prosperity remain the same.

I happen to have the letter in my pocket. And with your indulgence, I'd like to read it to you now.

Dear Mr President,

Congratulations on becoming the 44th President of the United States. I understand it is the first time since John F. Kennedy in 1960 that a sitting senator has achieved this distinction, and that you are the first President ever who was born outside the continental United States.

As I write to you, the world is witnessing what some are now describing as the worst financial crisis since 1929, and I shall come back to this later, but it is a good example of the challenges we are facing together.

Over the coming weeks you will get a lot of advice, solicited and otherwise, about the European Union. But Europe is not what it was 10 years ago, or even five years ago. I have even heard some say that Europe is a growing regional power. In fact, they are wrong. I have to explain to you in this letter that the EU is a global player. It is time to leave behind old ideas about the EU. Let me tell you how it really is:

  • The EU is a single and dynamic market of half a billion people, using the euro—the world's second most important currency;
  • The EU is home to world-beating multinational companies which, outside the EU and despite the attraction of cheap labour markets in North Africa and Asia, employ more Americans than any other nationality. Seventy percent of all Americans working for foreign companies work for European ones;
  • The EU is a union of free countries that uphold the same political values that the US holds dear like democracy, freedom, and human rights. It is a natural ally that shares your belief in open markets and open societies;
  • The EU has now grown to 27 Member States, bringing together in peace 500 million people throughout Europe, through the transformative effect of a common market and the adoption of deep political, legal, and economic reforms;
  • The EU is a credible partner willing to share the burden of leadership, while welcoming new partners to the table—not just because that is our global responsibility, but because it is in our enlightened self-interest.
  • The EU is a growing peace and security actor, with nearly 100,000 peacekeepers, police, and combat troops on the ground, helping to consolidate peace in a number of the world’s hot spots;
  • The EU is the world’s largest development aid donor, delivering over 60% of international assistance.

Given all this, it is no surprise that we work so closely together. And our relationship is significant for the rest of the world as well. This is due as much to our joint weight in the world economy, in trade and world finance, as it is to our role in international organizations, in the management of world security or in development aid.

But in these times of uncertainty, the EU needs the US and, yes, the US needs the EU more than ever.

This view is shaped by two inescapable trends that have emerged into the international spotlight in recent years.

The first, of course, is globalization. This is not the first wave of globalization the world has ever seen. But it is by far the broadest and deepest, sustained and driven by accelerating progress in communication and technology. And its transformation of the world is only just starting.

Globalization is a fact we are inevitably confronted with, not a political choice. It is nonsense to say one is "for" or "against" globalization. But if we want to remain masters of our own destiny, we do have to be prepared for the opportunities and challenges it brings in its wake.

The opportunities are immense indeed. Globalization has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and provided businesses with the possibility to invest and expand abroad.

But the risks are real and significant too. Those same businesses that benefit from globalization are also finding that they can no longer coast along on past achievements. Workers globally fear for their jobs, not just because of economic downturn but because they feel they are being by-passed by economic change. Globalization increases competition and ruthlessly exposes weaknesses and poor commercial decisions.

A word here about the current financial crisis. Events are unfolding as I write this, so my words here may soon be overtaken. But stepping back, I would stress that the degree of interdependence of our economies requires careful coordination, not just in the coming weeks, but crucially in the longer term. On both sides of the Atlantic, we must maintain open and dynamic financial markets to ensure the reliability of the overall economic system and to drive growth and jobs. To achieve that, we need clear and effective rules—maybe commonly agreed rules, where appropriate—to ensure transparency and confidence in the market.

Turmoil in closely linked financial markets can undermine our economic progress; global pandemics can spread faster; terrorists can more easily coordinate and carry out attacks on our homelands; a lack of secure and sustainable energy could push us into a worldwide recession; and climate change, beyond its environmental consequences, could have serious geopolitical and social repercussions.

These challenges have no respect for national frontiers. America and Europe have no choice but to face them together.

Given the complexity and scope of these challenges, it is tempting to take a step backwards into protectionism, isolation, and economic nationalism. But this would be a serious dereliction of our duty to protect the interests and security of our people. As so often in life, doing what is right is going to be considerably harder than doing what is easy.

We need to approach the challenges with determination, firmly convinced of our ability to shape globalization, to seize and maximize the opportunities, while managing and minimizing the risks. We must keep making the case for open and inclusive societies and for open and modern economies, because that is the right way forward. For all nations.

A second key trend in international relations today is the emergence of new powers.

As with globalization, this process is not something we can be “for” or “against”. It increasingly confronts us as a geopolitical fact. I believe it is welcome that other nations are now ready and willing to take on global responsibilities, and we must ensure that stability, freedom, democracy, and justice will prevail as cornerstones of international relations.

I do not agree with those who believe that a multipolar world will solve all the problems we face today. Europe tried a multipolar balance of power in the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth century, and we all know where that led. We certainly welcome pluralism in international relations but let us not forget that multipolar systems are based on rivalry and competition. I prefer to leave rivalry to business and international sporting events. In international relations, partnerships and a multilateral approach can achieve so much more.

Therefore, as you will have realised, I see globalization and the rise of other powers as an opportunity for us to re-think and adjust our engagement with the world.

Let me outline some of my ideas as to how to achieve this.

Looking back on the past 60 years, we can be proud of our accomplishments of course. But more of the same will no longer suffice. First, we need to strengthen the transatlantic economy.

When we look at the figures, that may seem a strange priority. The transatlantic economy is already a behemoth. It accounts for 40% of world trade, generates $4 trillion in annual commercial sales, provides up to 14 million jobs, roughly four times the entire workforce of Massachusetts.

But as we have seen, globalization is unforgiving of complacency, and the picture is changing fast. Last year, one in every six dollars of foreign direct investment came from outside the developed world. Emerging economies' share in the world market is expected to double between 2005 and 2020. The trend is clear.

We can thrive in a global economy as long as we maintain our productivity and our ability to innovate. This means promoting trade and investment between our economies even further, which is why your predecessor, along with Chancellor Merkel and myself, created the Transatlantic Economic Council last year, in a bid to eliminate remaining non-tariff barriers.

Your support for this process will send a crucial signal about our confidence in open markets and open societies.

In addition to strengthening the transatlantic economy, we must also make the transatlantic relationship more outward looking. Faced with the trends I outlined earlier, we need a renewed politics of global engagement, particularly with international institutions. Indeed, I believe we will need to reform these institutions and maybe even create new ones to address effectively the great challenges of our times.

Recent crises have shown the need for reform and it is clear to me that a new multilateralism is not only desirable but necessary.

Europe and America provided the ballast for the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the GATT, and other multilateral organizations. They have been fundamental to our international system. But they are not enough to tackle today's priorities. The EU has a particular experience in economic integration, which can serve as an important example in transformation.

The EU and the US must now join forces towards such a new multilateralism, working hard with our partners around the globe to show that it is in their interests as well as ours to work for effective institutions.

In short, we have to make room at the top table for others because that is the only way we can consolidate and strengthen a stable, multilateral world, governed by internationally-agreed rules.

This strategy does not have to imply the surrender of our sovereignty, our interests, and our ambitions.

On the contrary, it is a hard-headed and realistic conclusion that flows from a sober analysis of geopolitical realities and the challenges of globalization.

The strategic effect of our partnership, so positive in the past, will start to evaporate unless we succeed in complementing it with a new politics of global engagement that reaches out to the world in search of new partnerships and effective multilateral strategies.

Let me give an obvious example. Climate change. It will not be new to you that I believe the EU and the US must show leadership on this. We have a moral obligation to offer real, deep cuts in emissions in the medium term, not least because we are responsible for the bulk of past emissions.

But we also need China and India to play their part in moving as quickly as possible to a low carbon economy. China's annual increase in emissions is greater than Germany’s total annual emissions. So we must engage with India and China in a real dialogue on this. We must deliver a successful outcome to the UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Another example is trade, specifically the Doha Development Agenda negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Disagreement at the end of July between the United States and India in particular, has left the talks on “pause”. Well, in my view, we have to find a way to move these talks forward, and I am glad that there appear to be one or two positive signs.

These talks are too important to fail. The WTO is fundamental to our prosperity and the prosperity of the whole world. No differences over the extent of tariff cuts are as important as the security our exporters and investors gain in the WTO framework—not least because it anchors emerging economies in an open system based on international law. That is good for the emerging economies, and it is good for our economies.

A final area I would like to highlight that could reap the benefits of a more outward-looking and engaged transatlantic partnership is peace and security.

Many of the challenges thrown up by globalization can be seen to have security implications. The expansion of the world population, heightened competition for food and raw materials, and desertification are acting as crisis accelerators that may well result in pressure for mass migration. Then there are the public health challenges and pandemics, such as AIDS, malaria, TB, and the rise of new diseases or drug-resistant forms of well-known diseases.

These are aspects of security in the broadest sense: environmental security, food security, health security. Then there is security, period. Reflecting on security in a narrow sense, as being able to live in peace and freedom, safe from any threat, the picture continues to be mixed.

Seven years after 9/11, we must recognize that the world has not become a much safer place. Terrorism is down, not out—as we witness in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan.

There can be no respite in the fight against terrorists and their sponsors. Dangers of proliferation, putting weapons of mass destruction in the hands of extremist regimes, loom large.

Added to the threat of radical Islamism is authoritarian state capitalism, which is increasingly willing to show its assertiveness.

Against this backdrop, it is essential that we—on both sides of the Atlantic—continue to work together closely, that we stay the course. This is a time for cool heads, not cold war.

Security in the transatlantic context is first and foremost an issue for NATO. As we prepare for the 60th anniversary celebrations in Strasbourg next year, we should remind ourselves of the decades of peace the Alliance has assured us.

In a complementary manner to NATO, the EU is also—increasingly and with recognized effectiveness—acting to bring peace and security through a range of crisis management tools. We have sent troops, police, magistrates, and other staff to more than fifteen trouble spots in the Balkans, Moldova, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Central Africa, and Aceh. In the process, we have helped to stabilize the domestic situation and enabled states to fulfil their basic public functions.

At the political level, too, the EU is increasingly shouldering its share of the burden. A recent example was the trip to Moscow and Tbilisi by President Sarkozy and myself. This allowed us to make concrete progress on implementation of the EU's six-point ceasefire plan between Russia and Georgia, including the sending of EU observers into Georgia.

We made it clear to President Medvedev that if Russia wanted to be seen as the great power it rightly aspires to be, then it must defend its legitimate interests through political dialogue, multilateralism and diplomacy, not through archaic tools that should be left to the darkest days of the twentieth century.

In Eastern Europe more generally, the EU has established and is developing further a policy mix of regional and bilateral cooperation that will help countries such as Ukraine, to pursue deep political and economic reforms that will help bring them closer to Europe and to a future of peace and prosperity. A similar policy is in place for most of our neighbours, helping them at their different speeds, to meet the challenges they face.

So if I ask you now to listen and work more with the EU on peace and security issues, it is because the EU has done much in recent years to make itself worth listening to.

Mr President, with this in mind, I think you will agree that while many files will be waiting for you in your in-tray when you arrive in the Oval Office, the one marked “Relations with the European Union” deserves to be kept close at hand.

It's a relationship that has achieved great things in the past. But set on the road of modernization and engagement with the wider world, it has the potential to achieve even greater things in the future. It is obviously in the interests of both the EU and the US to deepen their partnership further.

In fact in my view, the time has come to start thinking of an “Atlantic Agenda for Globalization.”

We have the transatlantic marketplace, NATO, the Transatlantic Economic Council, and other instruments that we should continue to leverage for maximum mutual benefit. But I think we should move beyond this and set an agenda of common action for a new multilateralism that can benefit the whole world. From climate change to trade, from development to terrorism, these are the challenges that require Europeans and Americans to agree on a new multilateral agenda.

I'm not talking about an exclusive club that is closed to outsiders, or a counterpoint to balance emerging powers. I'm talking about bringing our Atlantic community of values to work more effectively with others, moulding the structures of global governance, and helping to solve the new types of challenges that the whole world now faces.

Mr. President, you will be seeing me and other European leaders regularly from now on, in the annual EU-US summits and on ad hoc transatlantic occasions, in the yearly G8 meetings and in a host of other multilateral gatherings where so many of today’s international questions are addressed.

We should seize these opportunities and start writing our new Atlantic Agenda now.

Yours sincerely,

José Manuel Barroso

Ladies and gentlemen,

This letter outlines genuine hopes and concerns that the next President will also have to face.

If some of my arguments and observations have been heard before, that doesn't make our goals any easier to achieve.

Paul-Henri Spaak once said, “What a pity it is that while we all know what we should do, we should prove so incapable of doing it… We are clear-sighted enough to see the goal to be attained, but also too weak to reach it.”

I think it is time to prove him wrong. And if we move ahead with an Atlantic Agenda for a new multilateral approach to tackle today’s global challenges, no one would have been more delighted than Paul-Henri Spaak himself!

Thank you.