Dear liberal friends, Current and future leaders of Europe,
It goes without saying, that the EU is facing a lot of difficult challenges in the present day and also in the years to come. Wars and invasions in our immideate neighbourhood (including in a country neighbouring Poland); numerous attempts to intervene other countries’ politics; unprecedented flow of illegal migrants; rise of populism in Europe and elsewhere; a country believing in trade and free market leaving EU… I could go further for quite some time, but the message is clear - we live turbulent times.
In an recent interview celebrating the 25th anniversary of Estonia (and many other countries) regaining independence from the Soviet Occupation, a true liberal hero - Uffe Elleman Jensen said that today’s Europe is facing even more challenges than in the historic times 25 years ago. A man with such experience surely knows his words.
When times are turbulent, there is a need for true values and leadership. There is a need for liberal ideas and solutions to each of the crisis. We as liberals know very well, that populism is not an ideology and empty slogans will not provide real solutions nor is it possible to fool the voters several times in a row.
In this room today we have many true liberal leaders who know what the solutions are. Let me offer very briefly my vision on how to deal with the most pressing issues and on the liberal future of the EU.
First, security in our neighbourhood. It is no secret, that the Cremlin plays a deadly game of creating spheres of influence. Putin himself considers the collapse of Soviet Union as a catastrophe and whenever seeing a neighbouring country choosing the path towards EU or NATO, he feels the urge to intervene. Sometimes using direct military power as in Georgia and Ukraine, sometimes more hybrid tools as in Montenegro, but the message is always the same. And - let me be very clear - the message is fundamentally wrong. We should not - and will not - tolerate the “spheres of influence” way of thinking in the 21st century Europe. We must be rock solid on our message: “every independent country has the right to choose its destiny.” We have the ways and means to support our neighbours in being successful. Many of the EU countries have themselves taken the road of reforming virtually everything to meet the EU quality standards and thus have a lot to share.
Second, the rise of populism. History has shown us, that from time to time there is a demand for simple answers for complicated issues. Our task as liberals is far more difficult, but potentially much more rewarding in longer term - to explain to our electorate what really works. Let me give you an example - the case of free trade. It is always easy to appeal to the people’s conservative mindset and fear of losing today’s jobs. But the reality is - if we keep all the jobs we have today, we will not give room for progress and more, possibly much higher value-add (and thus better paid), jobs. Would we really want back all the jobs of - let’s say - the 19th century? Of course we don’t. In today’s world the wind of change blows much stronger and the transition happens much faster. The emerge of technology and the new opportunities connected to that is just one colourful excample. So - if our goal is economic growth and prosperity, free trade is a must. Agreements like TTIP, CETA, etc. are needed to unify standards and abolish barriers.
When fighting populism we need clear value-based messages (that people actually understand) and inspiring liberal leaders to show the way.
Third, more brave solutions for crises. We have had some success in addressing illegal migration and the agreement with Turkey has been an important part of that. But it would be naive to keep all of our eggs in one basket and not to think further. It is quite clear, that the EU is not able (or willing) to invite all the people on the move to join us here. I am pretty sure, that this would not be the most preferable solution for refugees either. Having been meeting many of them in countries neighbouring Syria, I am sure, that they would prefer a safeheaven near home - in countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Similar applies to many North-African countries. So - if we really want to bring a postive change to this crises, we must invest heavily in those countries to help them build shelter and provide food and education and also jobs. I am not talking about a billion or 3, in order to really make a difference, we should think at least ten times as big.
Fourth, the EU needs real success stories. We all agree, that digital is not only the future but also the present day, but for some reason most of the EU countries are still a bit resistant to introduce real solutions to become truly digital. Furthermore - we still have effective barriers as geoblocking and different standards on the way. Imagine if we had the best practices working across borders? What a rise in comfort for citizens and what an efficiency gain for governments! I believe that it is an absolute must to make free movement of data the fifth freedom of the European Union. Liberals must lead the way obviously.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Staying true to our values plus being open and dynamic as a society is the way forward. We know the path to take, let’s make sure that the EU will take it.
Thank you very much for your attention and may Europe stand free, as a whole and at peace.