European Leaders Welcome Stability but Must Seize New Opportunities for Trade

25 Jan 2018

Fon Mathuros, Head of Media, World Economic Forum: Tel.: +41 (0)79 201 0211; Email:

· European leaders debate transfer union, limits of integration

· European Commission Trade Commissioner says US disengagement makes space for Europe to lead in global trade

· The 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is taking place on 23-26 January in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, under the theme Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World

· For more information

Davos, Switzerland, 25 January 2018 – At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, European leaders and a leading intellectual historian of Europe debated the future of the European Union, sharing disparate views on the desirability of closer integration, the implications of an emerging Franco-German axis and its growing relative power within the EU, the impact of the Trump presidency and the challenges posed by US disengagement.

Peter Limbourg, Director-General, Deutsche Welle, Germany, opened the session with an analogy to a rollercoaster: After a frightening downhill run that saw the euro crisis, Russian aggression in Ukraine, an immigration crisis and a surge of populist and nationalist movements culminating in Brexit, the European rollercoaster is heading uphill again with stability and growth. “But we don’t know,” said Limbourg, “where we will land.”

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, noted that the EU makes possible much that cannot be accomplished by individual member states, from negotiating trade deals to ensuring security and controlling migration, but drew the line at transfer unions: “People are talking about risk-sharing, and transfer unions. I don’t like that. We should each do what we should, as nations.”

António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal, echoed and added to Rutte’s litany of benefits, but did not rule out the possibility of transfer unions. “To have stability, we need to have rules and discipline, but also the means for other countries to catch up. This is a pillar of stability of the Eurozone. It doesn’t have to be a transfer union. But it has to have the budget capacity to finance – not to finance waste, but structural expenditure, with quantifiable objectives with the goal to achieve convergence.”

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, noted that his country has benefited significantly from “something of a transfer union around structural funds,” and that after having used it to build up infrastructure, Ireland is now a net contributor. He stressed the need to extend this approach to help the countries of Central Eastern Europe develop their own infrastructure.

Timothy Snyder, Professor of History, Yale University, USA, set the European project against a broader historical context, describing the project of European unity as “the solution to the great European problem, which is the end of imperialism.” The nation state, he contended, “never happened in European history, [so] in general there is no nation state to go back to. There is no historical choice between a nation state and Europe but between empire and Europe.” He said he worries that the younger generation lacks an appreciation for history, never having “encountered Europe as such.”

Snyder urged Western Europeans to ponder why there is such stark division over issues like immigration between Eastern Europe and the rest of the continent, noting that countries like Poland are deeply divided. He expressed concern that Poland “doesn’t understand the stakes of a two-speed Europe – what a disaster a two-speed Europe would be to them.”

On the incipient dominance of a Franco-German axis, Varadkar said, “We can only welcome France and Germany coming together.” However, he added, “Do we want to see just the big countries deciding the fate for all of Europe? What do the small countries think, they must ask. Then it can be a really strong engine.”

Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Trade of the European Commission, noted that the “lack of leadership by the United States,” as she described it, has actually provided space for the European Union to “show that they can make good trade deals,” and described a “circle of friends to stand up for multilateralism” that includes Japan and Canada.

Varadkar argued that the US has been a force for good in the world. “America saved the world from fascism, and then communism,” he said. “When it withdraws, the world becomes a more dangerous and a lesser place.”

The World Economic Forum’s 48th Annual Meeting is taking place on 23-26 January 2018 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. More than 3,000 leaders from around the world are gathering in a collaborative effort to shape the global, regional and industry agendas, with a commitment to improve the state of the world.

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