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Can the EU develop strategic partnerships with emerging powers?

Anförande i Bryssel, Belgien

These are indeed interesting times, and the issue we are going to discuss today is highly topical. The world is rapidly changing, and Europe is struggling to define itself.

In a sense it already has.

We went through a lengthy and complicated process that resulted in the Lisbon Treaty.

One of the purposes of this Treaty was of course to give us a clear international identity and the instruments and institutions necessary in support of it.

Immediately after work with that Treaty had been concluded, the European Council set up a so called Reflection Group under former Spanish PM Felipe Gonzales to reflect on the challenges of the coming two decades.

It was somewhat unfortunate, but perhaps symbolic of the times, that its report was published during the very weekend in May of last year when the Greek financial crisis really burst on the scene.

Not only did the report not receive any attention at the time. Since then, it has, as other issues have pressed themselves upon us, been virtually forgotten.

But its conclusions are highly relevant:

"After 50 years of consolidation, through both deepening and widening, the EU faces a fundamental choice."

"2010 could mark the beginning of a new phase for the EU and the next 50 years could be about Europe's role as an assertive global actor or, alternatively, the Union and its Member States could slide into marginalisation, becoming an increasingly irrelevant western peninsula of the Asian continent."

Looking at the situation today - a year later - it is not immediately obvious that we are heading towards the first alternative, and there would certainly be those believing that we are heading towards the second.

For the European Union to be an "assertive global actor" with the credibility on the international stage that is a precondition for this, I believe there are two conditons that must be fulfilled.

The first is that we have got our economic house in order.

There was a time when global power was measured to a large extent in numbers of nuclear warheads. Those days are distinctly gone.

Globalisation is the megatrend of our age, and power is perceived to be with those that can demonstrate strong and rapidly advancing economic performance.

They have the soft power of attractiveness, and they also have the foundation for the hard powers that still are necessary. There is obviously some work to be done for Europe in these respects.

We are the largest integrated economy in the world, and the by far largest trading entity. We are the by far largest giver of ODA, and Europe is not only the largest origin of FDI in the global economy, but also the largest destination of FDI. The European Commission is in certain respects a regulatory global superpower.

These are facts.

But perceptions are also power.

And having spent more than a week in the rapidly rising economies of Turkey and India I can only note that the perception of Europe and its economy these days is somewhat faded, and our power seen to be developing accordingly.

The second precondition - I believe - has to do with our responsibilities and possibilities in our own part of the world.

The soft power of Europe comes from the fact that we have managed to overcome centuries of distrust and divisions between nations to build that "ever-closer union" that also attracts a larger and larger part of our region.

But this work is by no means completed.

We might have sorted our long-standing geopolitical rivalries between France and Germany, brought democratic stability to the countries on the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere on the northern shores of the Mediterranean and assured the remarkable transition to stable democracy and evolving prosperity for the 100 million peoples of Central Europe and the Baltic states - but there are a further 100 million people knocking on our door in South Eastern Europe, we are trying to reach out to the nations of the Eastern Partnership, and we are facing new and momentous challenges in North Africa and the Levant.

I do believe that it makes a difference to the position of the EU on the global stage whether we are seen as a self-confident, open and expanding union, ready to continue to bridge the different divisions of the past, or as a defensive, uncertain and closed grouping more interested in erecting barriers to the outside world.

Here, the issue of Turkey presents us with a profound strategic choice of great importance also for the future global presence of the European Union. Indeed, it is a choice which can be said to define what sort of Union we will have in the decades to come.

Clearly, there is a need for us as Europeans to restore the luster of our growth model - to use the phrase recently used by the World Bank - as well as the magnetism of our model in our own part of the world.

Success at home make for success in the world. This applies to us as well as to others.

These very days are of course somewhat difficult when it comes to the different global relationships and partnerships.

This week will see the planned summit with China being postponed. A couple of weeks ago the planned summit with India was similarly postponed, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

Indeed, from the view of the outside world there seems to be a big sign saying "Under Repair" hanging on all the institutions of Brussels.

And I am stating the obvious when I say that the outcome of this period of repair will have vast ramifications for our possibility to go along the first of the routes indicated by the report of the Reflection Group.

There is a risk of the European Union being divided in a higher-growth non-Euro zone and a lower-growth and higher-debt Euro-zone - with the profound risk that we might start to see a deterioration in the commitment to that single market, which in economic terms is the crowning achievement of our integration efforts.

Instead, I profoundly believe that in parallel with the resolution of the issues on the table now, we should direct our efforts at a substantial both deepening and widening of the single market. You might argue that as the service sector and the digital economy is becoming more and more important, the present single market focused primarily on goods is loosing some of its transformative powers.

A truly competitive European economy needs a single market that is both deeper and wider than at present.

And we must be alert in the extreme of the risk that the present crisis and the solutions to it being discussed takes us in the opposite direction.

The short period since the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty has seen us trying to bring a certain vitality to the relationships with the different powers of the emerging multi-polar world.

But I think it is fair to say that we have only made a start.

In my opinion, we have two relationships that could properly be described as strategic partnerships - the obvious and old one with the United States, and the new and emerging one with the accession country of Turkey.

Both have their difficulties.

Summits with the institutions of the European Union are obviously not too high on the agenda of the White House, and I noted that prior to the European Council yesterday President Obama talked to leaders of some of the large member states, while Chinese PM Wen Jiabao talked to the President of the European Council.

And it is also obvious that we have to find more appropriate and effective forms for the strategic partnership with Turkey in view of the importance of the common agenda we are facing in adjacent parts of the world.

In addition, we have important strategic relationships that are expressed in our different summits with Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and others. And it should be our ambitions to develop them all into what in the future could be described as true strategic partnerships.

Russia has a special place since it is the only country with which we are committed to having two summits every year, although there is sometimes a struggle to give them enough of substance. Our wish is naturally for a Russia truly committed to both modernisation and integration.

But the important task is of course to develop a deeper dialogue with the emerging economies and powers of Asia, Africa and Latin America. For a long time our relationships with these emerging powers was dominated primarily by trade-related issues.

These are still of great significance.

We are and must remain the premier force for an open world economy and an open trading system, and we must not forget the lessen that the more open an economy is to the rest of the world the more likely is it to develop well in both economic and political terms.

But increasingly other issues are coming to the fore.

There was a time when the European Union was also seen as the premier force for tackling the challenge of global climate change, and while the issue has receded somewhat from public attention it is still there and will require a more active and assertive European role in the years to come.

But the debacle of Copenhagen clearly illustrated not only the new global realities of power, but also the limited depth of the dialogues we had had on all the aspects of this challenge.

Europe as well as the emerging economies share a profound interest in a globalisation that is sustainable, and we should make our efforts to achieve a sustainable globalisation a cornerstone of our relations with them.

To reduce our dependence on carbon, and increase our dependence on open trade, should go hand in hand in order to achieve a sustainable globalisation.

And there are other issues of increasing importance.

Friday saw the launch of the first two of the satellites of the European Galileo global navigation system. We must not neglect the importance of space when it comes to developments on the ground. A Europe without a presence in space will be a weaker power also down on Earth - we need a proper space policy.

No one can ignore the rapidly growing importance of all the different issues relating to cyberspace.

Some stress primarily the security and stability aspects of the rapid emergence of a world of hyperconnectivity, while others - my country in the forefront - see these issues as the new frontline in the fight for freedom and open societies around the world.

I believe it would be highly relevant for the European Union to follow the United States and developing an international strategy for cyberspace. We must not be overtaken by others when it comes to issues that will grow exponentially in importance also in the global dialogue.

Although we are in a period when the competition in soft power - economic vitality, political attractiveness, cultural creativity - is more important than the competition in the hard powers of kinetic destruction capabilities, it is obvious that the European Union must seriously develop its capabilities also in the realm of security.

We have set up an External Action Service that over time will be of importance.

And there is certainly room for coordinating and streamlining our different diplomatic efforts around the world.

EU countries today maintain more than 3.100 diplomatic missions around the world staffed by more than 55.000 of their own nationals and close to 40.000 of other nationalities. The number of man hours they spend attending each others receptions is probably staggering.

Over time the EAS must find its form and developed into the hub of an increasingly coordinated EU diplomatic presence around the world. There is no doubt that we would be a far more formidable diplomatic force abroad if we were able to work more effectively together.

The pooling of the diplomatic talent of Europe would supercharge our global presence. Europe is a western peninsula on the Asian continent.

Our heritage - ancient as well as recent - is truly great.

The finest of the values of the world often have their origin in the ferment that over millennia and centuries produced our Europe.

And in our modern times we have produced a model for overcoming the conflicts of the past that has given the half a billion people within the present boundaries peace and hopes for a new prosperity, as well as inspired countless others beyond those present boundaries.

But now we are in a new situation.

The reflections of the Reflection Group are more relevant today than when they were published more than a year ago.

We must get our house in order, demonstrate its relevance to us and others, and then place it right in the centre of the global village of tomorrow.

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