(…) You will have an entire week and you will be hearing from many people – from our President [of the European] Commission [Ursula von der Leyen], [President of the European] Council [Charles Michel], Commissioners, think tankers, journalists. You will discuss about how the European Union should position [itself] in this competitive and fractured world. (…) The new frontiers of diplomacy – it is a big range of issues.
You will talk about how to revitalise multilateralism at this time of power politics. You will talk about … the war in Ukraine, but … there are other security crises, which are looming. We will talk about [the] energy and climate crisis … Both things go together. (…)
We will talk about disinformation, foreign interference in our political processes, the digital revolution, the Global Gateway, gender and diversity. (…)
I want to structure my address along (two questions)
The ‘what’ questions [are]: What is happening? What is coming? What should we do?
And the ‘how’ questions [are]: How do we operate? How do we work? How do you work? How can we get more and better results? (…)
First, about the ‘what’. (…) Well, it is a world of radical uncertainty. The speed and scope of change is exceptional. We should not try to deny it. We should not try to resist it. (…) At this pace, the black swan will be the majority. It will not be white swans – all of them will be black – because one after the other, things have happened that had a very low probability of happening, nevertheless they happened, and they had a strong impact …
Let me try to summarise what is happening to us. … I think that we Europeans are facing a situation in which we suffer the consequences of a process that has been lasting for years in which we have decoupled the sources of our prosperity from the sources of our security. (…)
Our prosperity has been based on cheap energy coming from Russia. Russian gas – cheap and supposedly affordable, secure, and stable. It has been proved not [to be] the case. And the access to the big China market, for exports and imports, for technological transfers, for investments, for having cheap goods. I think that the Chinese workers with their low salaries have done much better and much more to contain inflation than all the Central Banks together.
So, our prosperity was based on China and Russia – energy and market. Clearly, today, we have to find new ways for energy …(and) …we should not change one dependency for another. The best energy is the one that you produce at home. (…)
The access to China is becoming more and more difficult. The adjustment will be tough, and this will create political problems.
On the other hand, we delegated our security to the United States. While the cooperation with the Biden Administration is excellent … who knows what will happen two years from now, or even in November? (…) we need to shoulder more responsibilities ourselves. You – the United States – take care of our security. You – China and Russia – provided the basis of our prosperity. This is a world that is no longer there.
Inside our countries, there is a radical shift, and the radical right is increasing in our democracies, democratically … The radical right is increasing their grasp in European politics. (…)
So, let us look at the past few months in a little bit more detail.
Some things have happened in the past that we knew they could happen, but some of them have been a surprise.
First, how not? Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has persisted. We did not foresee how effectively Ukraine would resist. First, we did not believe that the war was coming. (…)
We had not foreseen either the capacity of Putin to escalate [with regards to] the level of mass mobilisation and open nuclear threats. (…)
Second, the deep US-China competition. That was not a surprise. But the escalation of tension in Taiwan – yes, it was not in the agenda. It was triggered by an individual travel of a personality that brought the Taiwan Strait at the edge of – I would not say a war, but – a lot of war games.
The third issue was the world food and energy crises. It was predictable, it was predicted but not with the severity it has taken. And I am afraid that we are only at the beginning, that the food crisis will only make things worse in many parts of the world where you are deployed … (T)he Horn of Africa is a good example of how the climate change plus the war – both things together – are creating a humanitarian crisis of “dantesque” proportions …
This is a perfect storm. First, the prices increasing. Second, the reaction of the Central Banks raising interest rates in the United States. Everybody has to follow, because otherwise their currency will be devaluated. … This will bring us to a world recession. The world following the Fed [the Federal Reserve], the world implementing the same monetary policy – because there is no other way, otherwise the capital will flow – reminds me of what was happening in Europe before the euro when everybody had to follow the monetary policy dictated by Germany. (…)
Then, the security situation. Do not limit it to Ukraine. We have a lot of security problems in our neighbourhood, and I want to address our colleagues who are in the Sahel. It was not a surprise either what is happening in the Sahel. But certainly, the degree to which Russia is becoming a major factor in African theatres – yes, it is a surprise. … So, do not look only at the Ukrainian crisis.
… Let us have a look now at the mega trends that will shape our world: Ukraine, but not only Ukraine. I want to insist on this.
Last year, everybody was talking about Afghanistan … Where is Afghanistan now (after’21)? … It looks like Afghanistan does not exist. The same problems exist – they are the same ones – but nobody talks about it. So, take care with the issues that appears – a crisis and then a following crisis erases the previous one, it looks like it is being solved but it is not solved …
First, a messy multipolarity. There is the US-China competition. This is the most important “structuring force”. The world is being structured around this competition – like it or not. … And this will coexist with a broader “democracies vs. authoritarians“, a big divide. I would not insist a lot on it because on our side, there are a lot of authoritarian regimes. We cannot say “we are the democracies”, and the ones which follow us are also democracies – that is not true. That is not true. (…)
So, this competition is a structuring force. The fight between democracies and authoritarians is there. But it is much more than that.
The world is not purely bipolar. We have multiple players and poles, each one looking for their interest and values. Look at Turkey, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia. They are middle powers. They are swing states – they vote on one side or the other according to their interests, not only their theoretical values. But these people – I mention them again: Turkey, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia – are players and poles. These people – and there are a lot of people inside – are there, and not always following us. …
The second characteristic is a competitive world where everything is being weaponised. Everything is a weapon: energy, investments, information, migration flows, data, etc. There is a global fight about access to some strategic domains: cyber, maritime, or outer space.
The third characteristic of this world is the rising nationalism, revisionism plus identity politics. Putin does not want to re-store communism. Putin is using a resource … this is radical nationalism and imperialism.
And in the middle of that, we have the Global South. These people do not want to be forced to take sides in this geopolitical competition. More [importantly], they feel that the global system does not deliver, and they are not receiving their part. … And when facing these multiple crises – these multipolar crises – financial, food and energy crises – it is clear that they are not there following us because they blame us, rightly or not. (…)
We see that the war between states is coming back – like in the films, like in the Second World War (tanks, infantry). But, apart from that, there [are] the hybrid wars, there is the disinformation war that continues. I want to stress the importance of the war on information and disinformation …
This is what is coming, this is what we have to face. Let me go back to “how”.
I think that we have to think more politically. I think that we need to be more proactive, more reactive. We have to make a link between all these problems. We still operate in silos – I can tell you. I am supposed to be the one who bridges the [European] Commission and the Council and, inside the Commission, my colleagues from different policy [fields]. But we continue working in silos, and each policy continues having its own logic and its own rhythm – be it climate, be it trade, be [it] whatever.
Commission, College, the communitarisation of policies through the Commission, the nationalisation of policies through the Council. It continues being a difficult task. Certainly, the national policies and the Community policies, we want to bridge them – with Team Europe and the Global Gateway – but we [have] still a lot to do to be one power, someone that acts on behalf of the Union as a whole.
We … try to export our model … but I believe that, more and more … our exportation of model. “This is one model, it is the best one, so you have to follow it”. For cultural, historical and economic reasons, this is no longer accepted.
We have to be much more on “listening mode” to the other side – the other side is the rest of the world … We tend to overestimate the rational arguments. “We are the land of reason”. We think that we know better what is in other people’s interests. We underestimate the role of emotions and the persisting appeal of identity politics.
Remember this sentence: “it is the identity, stupid”. It is no longer the economy, it is the identity. More and more, some identities are raising and willing to be recognised and accepted and not to be fused inside the “West” approach.
I think that we have to be faster and to take risks. …
Having all of you around the world, I should be the best informed person in the world – at least as much as any Foreign Affairs Minister. I am “Foreign Affairs Minister of Europe”. Behave as you would behave if you were an Embassy: send a telegram, a cable, a mail – quickly.
Take more initiative. Be ready to be bold. Whatever we do, there are taboo-breaking decisions. We break taboos on the Ukrainian war, using the European Peace Facility to buy arms – something that at the beginning [was] “oh, that is impossible, we have never done it”. …
I think that, for example, [of] the discussion on the Ukrainian Training mission [EU Training Mission in Ukraine]. We had been discussing about the Ukrainian Training Mission before the war for months. “Do we have to send a training mission to Ukraine?”, “No, come on, Ukraine, training mission, military in Ukraine…”. And then, boom, the war comes and people said: “we should have done it.” Yes, we should have done it. …
We have to define better our goals and prepare for that. You know, here, we work a lot on seven-years scenarios, than one-year plan, and announcing big figures … “We are going to support with X money”. And you plan to spend it in how many years? Tomorrow or in the next seven years? … We have the habit of just mentioning figures, avoiding the time dimension, and it does not mean anything. Please, be prepared for better explanation of what we do with a time schedule.
In general terms, I would say that we need a better balance between crisis-management and long-term [planning]. … We have to be a little bit out of the crisis mode. This will require thinking more about how technology is reshaping the world and the nexus between energy, climate and raw materials.
The other day … Macron said that very clearly: we cannot substitute one dependency by another. We are happy that we are importing a lot of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the United States – at a high price, by the way – and substituting Russian gas by American and Norwegian gas, or Azerbaijani gas – well, from Azerbaijan it’s a small quantity. But what would happen tomorrow if the United States, with a new President, decided not to be so friendly with the Europeans? … Or that, tomorrow we do not have the cobalt, we do not have the rare materials that [come from] the DRC, South America, Afghanistan – they are [as] critical for us as oil and gas. (…)
(The last word about communication.) … This is a battle that we are not winning because we are not fighting enough. We do not understand that it is a fight. Apart from conquering a space, you have to conquer the minds. … I need you to be much more engaged in this battle of narratives. It is not something secondary. It is not just winning the wars by sending tanks, missiles, and troops. It is a big battle: who is going to win the spirits and the souls of people?
When we say that China is our rival, systemic rival, systemic rival means that our systems are in rivalry. And the Chinese are trying to explain to the world that their system is much better. Because, well, maybe you are not going to choose your head of government, but you will have food, and heat, and social services, you will improve your living conditions. Many people in the world, yes, they go and vote and choose their government, but their material conditions are not being improved. And in the end, people want to live a better life.
We have to explain what are the links between political freedom and a better life. We, Europeans, we have this extraordinary chance. We live in the world in this part of the world where political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion are the best, the best combination of all of that. But the rest of the world is not like this. Our fight is to try to explain that democracy, freedom, political freedom is not something that can be exchanged by economic prosperity or social cohesion. Both things have to go together. Otherwise, our model will perish, will not be able to survive in this world.
We are too much Kantians and not enough Hobbesians, as the philosopher says. (…)