Wednesday

13th Dec 2017

Opinion

Setting course for strong and focused EU

  • The EU represents one third of world trade and has negotiated 45 free trade agreements with 75 countries around the world. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Union is the world’s biggest trading block and most advanced economy. We have an extensive internal market based on a liberal free trade policy to thank for that.

Trade within the EU and with the rest of the world is the basis of our prosperity. It creates growth and jobs and allows us to finance welfare states for our citizens. A continued liberal trade policy is essential if Europe is to remain among the world’s most important economic areas.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

To ensure its popular backing and legitimacy, the EU, as a community of values, needs to focus its decision-making, money, and efforts on the big things - on the policies that create real European added value and concrete results for our citizens.

We must ensure a vibrant and modern economy. We need to deal efficiently with the challenge of illegal mass migration. And we must provide answers to Europe’s security challenges.

The EU also needs to focus on implementing and enforcing the decisions we have taken. It is not the time for grand new projects, incomprehensible institutional discussions - nor for new treaty changes.

Strengthening the internal market

We sometimes tend to take the benefits of free trade for granted. Consumers and businesses have gotten used to the benefits of the single market with more than 500 million consumers - rather than 28 separate markets, with 28 sets of national rules and standards.

It is a given that companies trade freely in Europe without technical barriers or customs controls. We sometimes complain about EU bureaucracy, but we tend to forget that a limited bureaucracy in Brussels often replaces much larger bureaucracies at national level.

We need to remind ourselves of these great benefits and develop the internal market further. There are still areas where European markets are badly connected and consumer prices are too high.

The European energy market, for example, needs to be much better integrated to allow for cheaper and cleaner energy.

Along with new technological developments and the digitisation of our societies, we also need to develop a single digital market which allows for efficient and safe e-commerce and e-services within the EU. These are areas in which the EU must make concrete progress over the next years.

The internal market also has a social dimension. We need modern employment and social standards throughout the internal market. The free movement of labour brings huge advantages to our economies across Europe. The right to seek jobs, study and conduct business across Europe is a basic pillar of the internal market.

At the same time, we need to prevent social dumping and unfair access to benefits, and we should not allow exploitation, fraud or abuse of free movement. We need to deal with these issues in a pragmatic manner respecting the diversity of our national social systems and the key role of social partners.

If our citizens experience that the way we administer European legislation is not fair or does not make sense to them, we risk undermining the support for free movement.

Embracing globalisation and free trade

The EU represents one third of world trade and has negotiated 45 free trade agreements with 75 countries around the world.

More than 30 million jobs within the EU are supported by exports to non-EU countries. Lately, we have concluded extensive free trade agreements with South Korea, Canada - and most recently an extensive agreement with Japan. These trade agreements will boost European exports and create new jobs.

It is our firm view that Europe must continue to champion free trade and a rules-based trade order globally, and offer leadership at a time when protectionism is gaining ground.

There is a need to protect ourselves against unfair trade practices. But, at the same time, we should not let this be an excuse for protectionism.

To be able to reap the benefits of globalisation and free trade, Europe needs to remain competitive.

Protecting old uncompetitive industries against foreign competition will only make us poorer. We all need to innovate, adapt our industries, invest heavily in research and development, boost our educational systems and reform our labour markets.

If we do not reform and adapt, our economies will suffer and we will betray both present and future generations of Europeans.

But we also need to make sure that all our citizens reap the benefits of globalisation. Positive trade and growth figures are not enough in themselves. They need to be translated into new jobs and increases in incomes and opportunities for all our citizens.

If not - as we have seen both in Europe and beyond - the anxiety and dissatisfaction from those who feel left out will fuel anger and disenchantment with our political systems. It is the responsibility of governments to design policies to distribute the wealth achieved through globalisation to all segments of our societies.

Clearly reforms are necessary in the EU if we are to adapt to and benefit from globalisation. But we need to be clear about where responsibility lies. Some efforts need to be done at EU level - others are the responsibility of national governments.

Developing a digital internal market and the European energy market can, of course, only be done at European level. There is also obvious added value in common European research and development programmes. But other efforts have to be done at national level.

Member states’ governments need to take responsibility for labour market and educational reforms. European initiatives alone cannot do away with massive youth unemployment if inflexible labour market legislation at national level is to blame.

We must not pretend that the EU can offer solutions to all problems at national level through new regulation or financial transfers.

Let us not create expectations that cannot be met. Let us deliver results to our citizens in areas where the joined efforts make sense and create added European value.

Lars Loekke Rasmussen is the prime minister of Denmark, Mark Rutte is the prime minister of the Netherlands, and Juha Sipila is the prime minister of Finland.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  3. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  5. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  6. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  7. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  9. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  10. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure