Rodrigues: New treaty to allow EU to ‘shape globalisation’

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The Treaty of Lisbon will allow the European Union to develop an effective response to the new realities of globalisation, while giving a significant boost to the Growth and Jobs agenda by creating more binding mechanisms for its implementation, Special Advisor to the Portuguese Prime Minister for the EU Presidency Maria Joao Rodrigues told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Maria Joao Rodrigues is Special Advisor to the Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates for the European Union Presidency. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here. 

As one of the architects of the Lisbon Strategy adopted in 2000, what do you think the new EU treaty will bring in terms of helping growth and jobs in Europe? 

I think that this treaty will be important because first of all, we have majority voting in many more areas, so the decision process will be faster. The second reason is that the treaty can be useful for the implementation of the Lisbon agenda. 

We have a stronger mechanism to coordinate the internal policies of the Union, so we have special provisions regarding the coordination of economic policies and employment and social policies. But it will also be stronger because we will have a real General Affairs Council, which will become different from the Foreign Affairs Council. This is very important, because we need stronger coordination of internal policies at European level and at national level. 

As far as I understand, the current system to implement the Lisbon strategy is based on benchmarking, exchange of best practice and guidelines – a relatively complex system which is not legally binding. What will the new system look like? 

The Treaty emphasises the role of the economic guidelines and the employment guidelines as the main coordination mechanisms, and so this means that we are using more binding instruments. 

First point: The guidelines are to be adopted by qualified majority voting. Second point: We can organise a monitoring system whereby the Commission can issue country-specific recommendations, so the Commission can identify weak points in the implementation in each member state and make recommendations. 

…Which wasn’t the case before? 

As a matter of fact, we are already testing that with the new “Lisbon package” presented by the Commission on 13 December. If you look at it, this package includes country-specific recommendations which are supposed to be formally adopted in the European Council next spring. 

This means that step-by-step, we are creating more binding mechanisms to implement the Lisbon Agenda, but the treaty will give a stronger impetus to that, because we will have the General Affairs Council which will be able to permanently follow-up. 

So far, one of the problems we have experienced is that the follow-up is based on an annual European Council – the so-called Spring Council. This is very important, but it is not enough. We need to have a day-by-day follow-up, and that is why a real General Affairs Council as created by the new treaty is so important. 

But the guidelines won’t be legally binding, will they? 

They are legally binding, but they are not as strong as directives. They are guidelines adopted by qualified majority vote, and so member states should comply with them. 

Let me emphasise that the Lisbon agenda also uses directives. For instance, if you want to go deeper into the single market agenda, which also belongs to the Lisbon strategy, we need directives. The same applies to the labour market, the same for education and training too. There, we are also using directives. 

Do you think this is a step towards increased politicisation of the EU, in terms of coordination of economic and social policy? 

Yes, I think so, because what is really at stake is improving the coordination of reforms involving all member states. We need such stronger coordination, notably in the euro zone. 

How will that actually happen within the euro zone? Is there a step in the direction of a system of more economic governance as the French are trying to push for? 

Yes, I think that step by step, we are reaching a consensus for that. That is why the Commission proposed in the Lisbon package improvements to the governance of the euro zone next year, because of the birthday of the euro zone. 

I think it is important to compare our situation today with the situation we had in 2000, because in 2000 it was just not possible to talk about coordinating national policies regarding, for instance, research and innovation, education, social protection reform and the environment, and now this is much more accepted, so this proves that we have been able to make very important progress over the last few years. 

Bit by bit, member states are understanding that it is in their interests to coordinate national responses. 

Concerning the possibility for national parliaments to become more implicated in EU decision-making – clearly this is a step forward in terms of democratisation, but isn’t there a risk that the decision-making process will be much slower? Is there a direct risk that some national parliaments will make too much use of this new possibility? 

I think that in the end, the final outcome will be more democratisation, because we really need to involve national parliaments to increase the ownership of European policies, so I think we have progress in this treaty. 

But of course the risk is there. That’s why we had very fine tuning of the mechanisms to make sure that national parliaments can use an orange card but not a red card. 

So you don’t think that will block decisions too significantly? 

I think this is a risk that needs to be taken, because the overall outcome will be positive. 

Concerning the declaration on globalisation adopted at the summit, it says that Europe will continue to press for increasingly open markets. Is this something that will go down well with the public in countries like France, where the push for a free trade agenda is viewed with scepticism? 

In coordinating this declaration, we could again see that it is possible to bring about a new strategic consensus on globalisation. Let me tell you first of all that there are three different visions regarding globalisation: 

The first is simply trying to protect ourselves from globalisation. The second one is to accept it as it is. But I think we can have a third position, which is to respond to and to shape globalisation. 

This means a much more proactive approach regarding globalisation, and I think the declaration conveys this third approach exactly. It was a long discussion, because we have had a large debate about this in Europe over the last few years. I think that step by step, we are building a new strategic consensus based on the third position, to respond to and to shape globalisation. 

What has happened over the last few years is that we have designed and launched an agenda to respond to globalisation. As a matter of fact, this was the main purpose of the Lisbon agenda when it was launched in 2000. Step-by-step, we are starting to renew the internal policies of the European Union in order to respond to globalisation. 

But now – and this is new – we understand that this is important, but not enough. The world is evolving even faster, and responding to globalisation is not enough – we need to shape globalisation. That is why we also need to renew our external policies to make them more consistent with our internal policies. 

We really are entering a new phase. 

The declaration mentions the principle of reciprocity. Is this increasingly seen as the way forward in the new round of globalisation and the EU’s new attitude towards it? 

We are having a very big discussion about that, and as you can see the language used speaks about reciprocal benefits. This means that we should avoid a short-term approach on reciprocity, meaning a kind of eye-to-eye exchange. 

What is at stake is a longer term, ‘win-win’ game at international level. In this ‘win-win’ game, it is not only trade and opening up markets that is at stake, but also improving environmental and social standards as well as intellectual property rights. 

We need to work with our international partners in order to both open markets and improve standards. When speaking about reciprocal benefits, we are addressing both issues – not only markets, but standards. 

…And fairness is also mentioned. 

Exactly. This is a very good example of the third approach to globalisation. 

Does this also means that the EU is becoming more assertive and is going for policies which benefit its own interests more than used to be the case? 

In this declaration, it is true that Europe is asserting its interests in clearer terms, but in such a way that it also takes the global interest into account, because we believe that the European Union – due to its internal principles and values – can propose solutions which are useful for Europe but also for the other international partners. This is exactly the purpose of this declaration. 

Let me emphasise that we want to address not only a European audience but also an international audience. We want to propose central priorities for a new global agenda. 

Do you have specific areas in mind? 

Yes. This approach should have implications for the various components of the Union’s external action, meaning not only external policy in the strict sense of the word – Common Foreign and Security Policy – but other components, such as trade policy, cooperation policy and something further: the use of our internal policies, such as research, environment or transport, to cooperate with our partners. 

We think that if you want to open markets and improve standards, sometimes we also need to cooperate with our partners in order to support them in building their capacity to comply with the standards. 

Do you mean technology transfers for example? 

Exactly. That is why the ‘win-win’ game is possible – not easy, but possible, in the area of addressing climate change. On the one hand, we recognise the need to have clear and binding targets for developed countries, and on the other, we are also open to improving technology transfer and providing new financial means of assisting developing countries. 

On investment in research, innovation and education – stressed in the declaration as one of the key drivers to help Europe adapt to globalisation – how do you think the EU treaty might help? Is there a breakthrough on these aspects in the treaty? 

The new treaty has made some improvements regarding the concern over solidarity, which has new mechanisms to be taken into account. In research, we have something new regarding space research, but this is not enough. 

Everybody knows that it was not possible to completely update the part of the treaty which deals with policies. But let me tell you that we can go further by enhancing the coordination mechanisms – that’s why the Spring Council I mentioned is so important. 

We can also go further by mobilising new financial resources. That’s why, sooner or later, we must again discuss the Community budget. 

Budget talks are usually gruelling. When do you see that happening? 

Well, the Commission has just launched a general discussion on the priorities for the financial perspectives, and I think this discussion is really important, because it is clear that the financial means are not all we need to have to implement these political priorities. There is a gap. 

How big is this gap, in your view? 

I think that it is quite a big gap, but again I emphasise the need for stronger political commitments. Let me give you an example – in the new cycle of the Lisbon agenda, we will have new targets to train more science and technology staff, because Europe is now lagging behind some of its international partners. 

We are also calling for joint programmes to be developed involving resources from the national level, because as you know, the European framework programme for research and development, based on the Community budget, is less than 10% of the total resources available for research in Europe.

This means that most of these resources are at the national level, and they should be coordinated towards common priorities. This is a step that I hope can be launched at the European Council next spring – to go further with European research efforts. 

Is there already a project in the pipeline that you are aware of? 

This is a proposal included in the Lisbon package presented by the Commission on 13 December. It belongs to the ten priorities to be adopted at the next Spring Council. 

Do you think there is broad enough support among the member states to launch a budget review? Usually, as soon as we start talking about the EU budget, and especially member states’ contributions, it tends to open a Pandora’s Box… 

That’s absolutely true. This is a very difficult area. But it is up to the member states to understand that if they do not pool resources, the gap between Europe and the other international partners in research will increase dramatically. We are trying to move, but the others are moving faster. 

So to summarise, you are generally positive about the new treaty and you think it provides Europe with the right instrument to tackle the challenges of globalisation. Is that right? 

This declaration on globalisation is something which is based on the EU’s very large experience of dealing with international affairs and with its international partners. 

Let me speak about my own personal experience. Over the last few years I have been travelling all over the world and I have been particularly working with Chinese, Brazilian and Latin American cases. More recently, I was at the summits between the EU and China and the EU and Brazil. 

I understand very clearly that when dealing with these partners, Europe must have a much more active and comprehensive approach whereby we can discuss with them all the central global issues – trade, climate change, financial markets and not only the traditional development issues. Of course, they are very important, but we should also involve them in tackling global issues. 

This means that first of all, Europe must have a comprehensive proposal for a global agenda. This declaration tries to sum up this approach. The second point is that Europe must have more effective mechanisms for external action. 

The new treaty creates a new actor with more power and influence over external action – the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The High Representative will be supported by a European diplomatic service, and should be able to improve the coordination of the different components of the Union’s external action, not only the Common Foreign and Security Policy, but also the other components. 

This is very important, because when we go to a summit – I have just mentioned the recent summits with China and Brazil as examples – on the other side of the table, we see one single, central actor – the president or prime minister of these countries. On the European side, we have too many actors. 

This is not a demonstration of strength. This is a demonstration of weakness. We need a central actor with the capacity to represent the European Union in international relationships and be able to coordinate the external action of the Union. This is crucial if we want to shape globalisation. 

There is a third point which is also mentioned in the declaration. If we want to shape globalisation, we need to work with our partners on a bilateral basis, but we also need to have stronger multilateral institutions. 

Europe is giving the important signal that we need to go further in reforming our multilateral institutions to make them more effective and more legitimate. This is a crucial issue because we currently have important reforms going on of the Bretton Woods institutions, to create a more effective and legitimate IMF and World Bank, for instance. 

So these are all processes in which you hope the EU can play a bigger part thanks to this new foreign policy chief? 

Exactly – so to sum up, we need three important things. One is a comprehensive view on a new global agenda. Second, we need stronger strategic cooperation with our partners on a bilateral basis. Third, we need to strengthen multilateral institutions. 

This is a new frontier for the next few years. 

Concerning the new EU foreign policy chief, it still attracts quite a bit of resistance, particularly from the UK, with its opt-out, and Poland… 

That is why we want to state these commitments regarding the need to shape globalisation, and for that, we need a stronger political Europe. That is why we need a treaty. We are then also saying – because our message is also for our international partners – we want a stronger Europe for a better world. 

This is not a Eurocentric approach. We really are committed to improving world order. This is the main message of this declaration, and it is just the start. We will have a very broad and long process for the years to come. 

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