By Adelina-Stefania Jelescu*
From Brussels to Bucharest, the end of the European Parliament elections, followed by political negotiations, have led to the temporary suspension of the conversation on the future of the European Union as a global actor - a necessary conversation, enabled two years ago by a series of key white papers published by the European Commission.
One of the reflection topics proposed by the European Commission in 2017 placed the spotlight on EU’s future opportunities in the context of globalisation. Yet 2017 was a time when challenges on multilateralism were not in full effect, and the great power competition between global actors was just gaining momentum.
At the level of the European Union, even with the United Kingdom’s exit perspective, later postponed, the debate on globalisation started off as comprehensive and multidimensional, based on well-defined trends - such as intangible flows of services and data, greater participation by emerging economies and megacities, growing role of small enterprises, non-state actors and individuals, rise of open-source and shared content, technology transfer not only from developed to emerging economies, but the other way around as well.
Against this backdrop, the European Union had already started a solid dialogue on its own sources of influence and capacity to preserve the existing global order, on the next steps and the necessary measures to increase its own geopolitical and economic competitiveness.
From the complex exercise two years ago, the latest major debate on the future of the European Union, the recent Sibiu Summit, drove the EU’s vision towards the “responsible actor” logic, which although deeply necessary, may also limit the EU’s past impetus.
Now, the focus on responding to challenges to the detriment of initiative, as one can read between the lines of the Sibiu Declaration, risks EU’s transformation from a main character to a mere functional one on the global scene.
In this context, the role and the main challenge of the EU’s newly-elected leadership, as soon as its edification is completed, will be to push for the EU’s repositioning as a global actor, while consolidating the Union’s membership to international formats and resuming the dialogue on the EU’s proprietary vision.
As political groups in the European Parliament are just forming, their support for a new President of the European Commission should also be based on the candidates’ actual solutions to current challenges and capacity to place long-range topics on the global agenda. In other words, aside from answering the European voters’ main concerns, the Community’s leadership must actively propose new reflection topics concerning the future of cooperation, internalization and implementation of technological innovation and key tendencies regarding people’s mobility and strive for progress.
Together with the strong ownership of its own identity and mission, the European Union has a bright future in a connected world and must channel its force to become a shaper of global tendencies.
To this end, an overview of the ways others see the future, east and west of the EU, is deeply needed. An example to consider comes from Central Asia’s emerging economies: recently, the Astana Economic Forum placed on the global agenda the topic of sustainable development of urban areas, reuniting global political actors and experts for two full days of in-depth discussions in Kazakhstan’s capital city.
The topic of choice and the subsequent ideas shared within the Astana Economic Forum are timely enough to transcend material and immaterial borders: the transition from economies of countries to economies of cities and the action needed in order to connect opportunities arising from the fourth industrial revolution, as well as a clear commitment on the inclusive and sustainable economic transition.
During the Astana Economic Forum’s plenary session, the First President of Kazakhstan, Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev, addressed the digital transformation and the changes arising from this phenomenon, especially as regards the mobility and great role of the human capital, as the main driver of economic growth.
The First President’s forecast for 2030, a little over a decade from now, is that about 375 million people around the world will need to undergo training and change their professions. With a view to 2050, the Kazakh Official stated that 7 out of 10 people will be urban citizens residing in cities and that this development is changing the way for investments, as no longer addressing countries, but cities.
Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, foretold that a reduction in global tensions can be expected in the next six months. On technological development, the IMF Managing Director mentioned that, despite the increasing productivity and economy as a whole, people are encountering difficult changes.
Towards an inclusive economic growth in Central Asia, Christine Lagarde underlined in Kazakhstan a few fundamental basic principles - “the fiscal policy should balance debts concerns with critical initiatives in health, education and infrastructure”, the issue of corruption “needs to be addressed head-on in the region”, “women and other under-represented groups can be empowered by continuing to eliminate legal and economic barriers” and the financial sector “should be sound and its services widely accessible”.
Although the challenges and opportunities addressed during the Astana Economic Forum have a regional dimension, the solutions proposed are based on universal principles. Understanding the great potential of the region, the European Union laid out in January a consistent strategy on future relations with Central Asia, which takes into account the challenges and the issues of common concern, such as regional economic integration, the need for infrastructure connectivity and environmental protection.
But the EU can also discover in Central Asia great opportunities to connect to an up-and-coming space of ideas, while looking for answers to key questions of elevated interest: how does the future of economy and multilateral cooperation look like or how can one build clear competitive advantages by understanding and addressing current tendencies at the highest possible level.
*External Strategy Director of Smartlink Communications