An open letter to Europe's leaders

Flags fly in front of the European Parliament on the eve of the start of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler - RC1C661272E0

Image: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Miroslav Lajčák
Special Representative of the European Union for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and Western Balkans, European Commission
Beatrice Weder di Mauro
Professor of Economics, University of Mainz
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2019 is a critical year for Europe. The rise of populist, nationalistic agendas has called into question the raison d´être of the European project and core European liberal values. With the new European Commission to be assembled this Autumn, now is the time to focus on a New Manifesto for Europe with fresh policy ideas. This open letter was written by the Global Future Council on Europe's co-chairs, Miroslav Lajčák and Beatrice Weder di Mauro.

Dear European leaders,

Europeans are living in a time of great uncertainty filled with both enormous opportunities and profound risks for the future of the common European project. Many feel uneasy about their economic, social and environmental futures and anxiety about how to keep up with rapid technological change and deepened globalization.

For the first time since the beginning of the European integration process, there is real urgency for Europe to reaffirm its unique raison d’être. A changing geopolitical landscape leaves the region with the responsibility to step up its global leadership role and to stand up for democracy, rule of law and multilateral diplomacy. And Europe requires a new narrative that creates hope and restores trust in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is provoking unprecedented technological change.

That is why we, the members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Europe, representing a multistakeholder group of thought-leaders from governments, businesses, start-ups, academia and media, have come together to reflect on the next strategic agenda for Europe.

This letter outlines five main messages and proposals emerging from our deliberations and our New Manifesto for Europe, as well as the summary and conclusions from our meeting with the European Commission. We hope these ideas will contribute to shaping a more innovative, agile, prosperous and sustainable future for the region.

1. Europe needs to deliver on its original promises and prioritize and create a people-centric agenda

When considering Europe’s future, the first question is whether the region has achieved the original idea of the European project – to guarantee peace and stability, economic prosperity and the rights and freedoms of its people. While Europe has made much progress, several of these fundamental promises remain unfulfilled. Therefore, the first thing leaders should focus on is delivering on these fundamental promises. Yet Europe cannot be everything for everyone, the head of every effort, the champion of every initiative. Leaders should prioritize a set of “European common goods” where the EU as a whole has a better chance at success than individual member states do alone. Finally, the fact that many citizens feel left out of the European project has demonstrated the need to for a truly people-centric agenda that seriously, clearly, coherently and boldly addresses the gap in public trust.

2. Step up Europe’s global leadership role

Europe carries a special responsibility to embody and advocate for a rules-based, values-driven, democratic and collaborative world order. People still look to Europe as a place where their human, social and economic rights are protected and where they can live in freedom. This respect for and faith in European values is a core asset that should be employed more strategically to build Europe’s global leadership role and promote standards and norms that can be of value beyond the region, including in the area of fast-moving technologies. European leaders should build on Europe’s role as a “normative superpower” while taking decisive action to defend the liberal and open democratic model that has created prosperity and stability over the last decades.

3. Promote competitiveness, convergence and stabilization

Do not wait until another crisis arrives to strengthen the euro area; action that combines risk sharing with long-term market discipline is needed now. This includes completing the Banking Union, mitigating the doom loop of banking and sovereign crises and establishing a European deposit insurance scheme. Equip the Eurozone budget with meaningful convergence and stabilization functions. Create a common safe asset that does not require mutualization but prevents destabilizing capital flows across the euro area. Ultimately, rebuilding trust in Europe requires a grand bargain of economic, financial and social measures, much like what was achieved at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. With the current sense of urgency, we call for a European Bretton Woods conference to jumpstart an ambitious agenda for Europe’s economic future.

4. Future-proof Europe for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has already transformed the way citizens, businesses and governments engage with each other. As the global race for investment, knowledge, talent and research intensifies, Europe must stay competitive against global powers while it designs its own human-centred approach to technological development. Leaders should consider a few steps to future-proof Europe for the next era:

- Create a European tech venture fund for mid-cap companies. To boost the region’s competitiveness, European mid-cap companies (between $2 and $10 billion) must be able to reach global scale much more easily. The European tech venture fund should be specifically focused on mid-cap companies and bring together governments with institutional investors to boost funding and remove policy and regulatory barriers.

- Establish a European talent tech pipeline for the next generation of European tech pioneers. A consortium of top European universities, businesses and industry actors should create this initiative, aiming to build a more systematic approach to scouting and cultivating talent.

- Keep Europe growing by seriously stepping up its ambitions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, as well as by boosting efforts to reach the European 2020 target of 3% investment of GDP into research and development (R&D).

- Invest in the right digital and physical infrastructure to support Europe’s digital transformation. This includes physical railway connections and 5G and gold-standard broadband connectivity. Leaders should create centres of excellence focusing on leveraging the comparative advantages of individual member states throughout Europe.

5. Deliver a climate-smart and sustainable Europe

To secure its common future, Europe needs to continue to lead the global transformation to an inclusive, green and climate-neutral economy in line with the Paris Agreement. To deliver this leadership, it is necessary to:

- Develop nationally determined contributions (NDC) that will deliver significantly reduced emissions by 2050 with clear NDC investment plans and supporting policy measures to indicate how this will be achieved across key sectors of the economy.

- Enhance carbon pricing mechanisms to stimulate the market for low-carbon solutions and transition away from carbon-intensive activities. These need to be linked to industrial development plans, regional and city-level development strategies.

- Develop financing mechanisms that enable the scaling up of investments into natural climate solutions.

- Develop clear plans to invest in job creation to support the low-carbon transition.

- Support international partnerships that enable clean technology transfer in key regions that will require investment and capacity building support to stimulate emerging economies as they advance into clean industrial development while ensuring economic growth and social fairness for a just transition.

No single country in Europe can achieve this alone. We call for strong collective European leadership to stand up for our common European values, capture the opportunities of the technological revolution and deliver a sustainable and inclusive future for all.

Signed by the Co-Chairs of the Global Future Council on Europe

- Miroslav Lajčák, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic

- Beatrice Weder di Mauro, President, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), United Kingdom; Professor of Economics, Graduate Institute Geneva, Switzerland

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