European Union member states will lose their technology-led supremacy unless they are prepared to invest more in innovation and development, the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell has told Euronews.
“If you intend to be autonomous, you have to pay your own expenses,” the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs told Euronews Brussels Correspondent Ana Lazaro Bosch in The Global Conversation.
And he said that meant more spending on both defence and technology.
“If you want to live under the protective umbrella of the United States from the military point of view, it's certainly cheaper. But it's also certain that you're dependent.
“And this is true in terms of technological development, because we are certainly not doing enough to maintain our own capacity for action. That's what autonomy means. China has the historical experience of having lost the industrial revolution and having suffered a century of humiliations. And it knows perfectly that technological supremacy is fundamental in the world. It always has been, but now more than ever. And they are doing everything they can to get it. And we, who’ve had it until now, run the risk of losing it, if we don't invest enough in innovation, in development.”
Borrell also said Europe needs to switch to qualified voting on foreign affairs if it is to punch its weight on the global stage.
“I am aware no one is going to declare war if they don’t agree to do so,” he said. “Fortunately, though, we’re not declaring wars: fundamentally we decide on missions to help peace, or on imposing sanctions on those who are violating international laws. Therefore, it shouldn’t be so difficult to do so - not necessarily unanimously. And in this way we’d avoid months of discussions that sometimes come to nothing.”
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ON QUALIFIED VOTING
ANA LÁZARO BOSCH, EURONEWS, BRUSSELS: I imagine that speaking with one voice hasn't been easy at all: to begin with, because there are 27 Member States with very often divergent points of view, and above all because one country alone can veto a decision. Do you think that at some point the European Union will be able to avoid this cacophony of the 27?
JOSEP BORRELL, HIGH REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNION FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, speaking with one voice seems too ambitious to me. I would be satisfied if we were a well-tuned choir, because the important thing isn't so much that there is a single voice, but that all the voices are following the same score, although each has its own tonality.
ALB: And when you talk about this small choir, does it mean you would be in favour of moving to a qualified majority vote and, in this case, in which areas? In all, or only some?
JB: Well, for me, in all, but not only in foreign policy, also in fiscal policy. The fiscal harmonization in the budgets now also has to be approved unanimously. As a consequence, you can imagine the shifts and balances that have to be done to keep everyone happy.
ALB: But what about in terms of foreign policy?
JB: In terms of foreign policy, I am aware no one is going to declare war if they don’t agree to do so. Fortunately, though, we’re not declaring wars: fundamentally we decide on missions to help peace, or on imposing sanctions on those who are violating international laws. Therefore, it shouldn’t be so difficult to do so - not necessarily unanimously. And in this way we’d avoid months of discussions that sometimes come to nothing.
ON STRATEGIC AUTONOMY
ALB: You’ve been in this position for exactly one year, and you’ve often talked about strategic autonomy. You say it’s important for Europe. What should this strategic autonomy consist of?
JB: Well, it's an ability to act alone when necessary. What's the opposite of autonomy? Dependence, isn’t it? One is either autonomous or dependent. Does anyone want to be dependent? I don’t think so. A political entity such as Europe should aim not to be dependent, but autonomous.
ALB: Let's talk about a specific thing, because this strategic autonomy has many possible aspects in defence. But to get closer to citizens: technological autonomy, for example, the development of 5G networks. Is this something which Europe can catch up on, or are we going to have to continue to rely on other powers?
JB: It will depend on what we do. Being autonomous has its cost. The young man who leaves home to be autonomous has to face paying rent because he no longer lives with mum and dad. But autonomy has a cost. Reaching adulthood requires taking responsibility and with Europe, it’s the same. Autonomy doesn’t come for free. If you want to live under the protective umbrella of the United States from the military point of view, it's certainly cheaper. But it's also certain that you're dependent. If you intend to be autonomous, you have to pay your own expenses. And this is true in terms of technological development, because we are certainly not doing enough to maintain our own capacity for action. That's what autonomy means. China has the historical experience of having lost the industrial revolution and having suffered a century of humiliations. And it knows perfectly that technological supremacy is fundamental in the world. It always has been, but now more than ever. And they are doing everything they can to get it. And we, who’ve had it until now, run the risk of losing it, if we don't invest enough in innovation, in development. Or if we rely on the technologies that others are going to provide us.
ON THE UNITED STATES
ALB: Let's talk about the relations between the European Union and the United States. Now Brussels has high hopes after the election of Joe Biden following four years of turmoil under Donald Trump. And on precisely this subject, you’ve been preparing a document you want to present to the United States on working in a coordinated manner. What's the essential point of this document?
JB: The line is that we want to make multilateralism the instrument that guides international politics once again.
ALB: I imagine with the United States there will be some issues on which it will be easier to agree, such as climate change. But there are others that are more difficult, such as trade, given the tariff war we’ve been experiencing. Do you think protectionism is here to stay?
JB: It hasn't completely arrived yet. At the moment what we’ve got isn't protectionism. No, God, protectionism can go much further.
ALB: But in the US, we’ve seen the signals...
JB: But without much success. because the entire trade war which Trump started with China didn’t get to reduce their trade deficit with China, which has increased. If the goal was to reduce the trade deficit, it’s not succeeded. Which means things aren't as simple as some might believe, those who say: ‘I’ve got a trade deficit. Well, I’ll raise tariffs’. Well, no, because that provokes reactions and the reactions of the different parties can end up backfiring.
ALB: But the US has changed, at any rate...
JB: It would be a mistake to think profound, structural changes have not occurred in American society, of which Trump may have been the exponent or the accelerator or the catalyst or the consequence, not necessarily the cause. But going back to strategic autonomy. I don't think we have to base ourselves around Trump. We’ve already said it before Trump and we’ll have to continue saying it afterwards.
ALB: And with regards to China, Donald Trump wanted to lead Europe towards confrontation. Do you think things will now be different with Joe Biden?
JB: For sure. For sure the tone will be different. But it's true the attitude of the United States towards China goes beyond the party lines of Republicans and Democrats. Democrats also have a protectionist streak.
ALB: I wanted to come on to that...
JB: They also have it. I don't believe the feeling that economic and trade relations with China must be balanced is substantively exclusive to the Republicans, or to Trump, or to Americans. I think there's a feeling in the Western world that a certain level of equality must be restored in our relations with a nation that still presents itself as a developing country.
ALB: And that's now a systemic rival for the European Union...
JB: Yes, which doesn't mean we have to be systematically in rivalry. They’re two different things. A systemic rival means there are rival systems. And a systematic rivalry is when every day you're always fighting over things. The latter, no.
ALB: What can the European Union do to enable European companies to invest effectively on a level playing field in China?
JB: Get an agreement that allows it. This is what we're negotiating, an investment agreement. It's true that in order to invest in China, we're subject to many conditions, while for China to do so in Europe, none or almost none. Well, so far this situation hasn’t seemed bad to us. But now it does, because we perceive the consequences. And we're negotiating agreements, as I was saying, that will restore, no will establish, because there never was one, a certain balance. But this depends on China seeing its interest in maintaining with us that relationship, from which it also benefits. It's clear China is interested in our companies investing there.
ALB: And for the sake of these trade agreements, can human rights issues be ignored? We have seen the situation in Hong Kong, we have seen the situation of the Uighur minority…
JB: We don't forget them. We are systematically and permanently recalling them every time we speak to China, at all levels: whether at my level with my counterpart the minister, or the President of the Council, or the President of the Commission. Those issues are on the agenda.
ALB: But are they brought to the negotiating table? Do they carry weight?
JB: They are put on the table for consideration. In other words, I want to say there are things that one doesn't negotiate if the other side doesn't want to. But we do want the issues of human rights and freedoms to be an important part of our agenda. They always are.
ON IRAN AND THE MIDDLE EAST
ALB: Let's move to another part of the world. We're going to Iran, if you don’t mind. Do you think it's possible to get the United States of Joe Biden to rejoin the nuclear deal on which the European Union worked so hard?
JB: Well, I think I remember in the electoral campaign, the then-candidate and today elected president expressing his intention to resume: to return to the nuclear agreement with Iran.
ALB: But are you worried that the dialogue could be derailed by the assassination of a high-level scientist working on this nuclear program, that we just saw a few days ago in Iran?
JB: Well, whoever did it certainly didn’t do it to facilitate dialogue. Certainly there are people who have an interest in this agreement not surviving, many people have an interest in this agreement not surviving. Europe has been very interested in its survival. I have had to keep it alive, hibernating a little, but it hasn't died. And now we also have to see what the Iranians think, because the Iranians can rightly feel cheated. And maybe they are the ones who won’t want to play with the same cards again. But we’ll have to wait.
ALB: Iran has pointed at its usual suspect: Israel. Are you looking in the same direction?
JB: I have no other information than what I can comment on in public.
ALB: Globally, it seems the European Union has lost influence in the Middle East. We have seen the United States promoting an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, with Bahrain. The European Union has welcomed it. But where are the Palestinians left in all this?
JB: We think the normalization of Israel's relations with the Arab countries is part of the normalization of relations amongst the entire complex world of the Middle East. Therefore, we welcome it. That doesn't mean we think that's the solution. But we think it helps. That doesn't mean we’ve forgotten the situation of the Palestinians. On the contrary, perhaps in the world today, the European Union, is the one that helps the Palestinian Authority the most.
ALB: It certainly has been, but is it still? Does the European Union still have cards to play?
JB: From a financial point of view, without us the Palestinian Authority would have ceased to exist. But it’s not only from the point of view of the contribution of funds, which are very substantial - €600 million a year. It’s also from the point of view of political support. The Palestinian issue can only be fixed by going back to the negotiation table. That hasn't been possible with the Trump administration because its approach was, and we said it, excessively unbalanced towards one side. It didn’t work, it wouldn’t have been the basis for a negotiation that deserves the name. And we, from Europe, have only one objective, which is to restart negotiations on the basis of respect for international law and United Nations resolutions.
ALB: Speaking of the influence of the European Union in the World, in Africa there are also, dare I say it, gaps. Let's take an example: the conflict in Libya. Russia is very present. Turkey is very present. Where's Europe?
JB: Russia and Turkey are present with troops in the territory. Not their regular troops, but with an acknowledged military intervention via proxies. They don't have soldiers there in uniform, that's no longer common. But it's clear there's an intervention that goes beyond the realm of diplomacy. It's not our case. We don't have and we don't want to have a military presence on the ground. Simply - and it's a lot - we do everything possible to conduct a political process that is, by the way, bearing fruit. I don't want to wear medals that I don't deserve. But we have contributed something to the political dialogue between the parties in the conflict in Libya. The United Nations has also done so. The only solution in Libya is for the Libyans to reach agreement among themselves. Because one party won’t defeat the other. And, in what has become a battlefield for other powers, each has their pawns in the territory. Russia and Turkey today have an influence in the central Mediterranean that didn't exist five years ago. A bit of the same thing that happened in Syria and is happening in the Caucasus, with the creation of “the Astana process”, you could call it the Astanaisation of Astana, in which Russia and Turkey reached agreement on how to share their influence.
ALB: And the European Union is absent from all these issues you're mentioning, in all these places. What’s happening?
JB: I have been on the phone with both countries, the two ministers, throughout the conflict and we will continue to be. But Europe is not a... it's not a military union. Europe isn't a European NATO. Europe doesn't have the vocation to intervene militarily in conflicts that aren't its own. It wants to... it tries to help stop conflicts spreading, get them contained and resolved peacefully.
ALB: An agreement facilitator
JB: That's no small thing. An agreement facilitator. Peace-keeping. We have 5000 men and women deployed around the world who are keeping the peace or doing their best to keep it from Mali to Somalia and from Yugoslavia to the Central African Republic. We have 17 military and civilian missions that are there to help keep the peace. It’s clear we're not going to send these people into the middle of an open war like the one in the Caucasus, because they have no place there.
ALB: Let's talk about Turkey, which is a country we were mentioning. Not only is it present in many parts of the world, it’s also posed serious challenges to the European Union in the eastern Mediterranean. The European Union has given itself until December the 10th to decide whether to adopt sanctions or not...
JB: Let's say to review its relationship with Turkey...
ALB: Alright, but there are countries that are pushing for sanctions. Can they succeed?
JB: And others that are more reluctant. Everything will depend on the assessment made of what’s happened since the previous review.
ALB: But from your perspective, in which direction are relations evolving? Improving or not improving?
JB: There have been no major improvements, but that has to be decided by the Heads of State and Government. I will limit myself to expressing my assessment of events.
ALB: In any event, I suppose the European Union is also hostage to the migration agreement it has with Turkey. Is that something that makes this kind of dialogue difficult?
JB: Hostage, no. Look, that agreement, which has given rise to many differing assessments, it put an end to the deaths that came from an uncontrolled flow of migrants. And we’ve all seen dramatic images of the consequences of an uncontrolled flow of people trying to cross a sea in a dangerous way. But there are three million Syrian refugees in Turkey, three or three and a half million. We, from the European Union, give help for education, health and food for these refugees. The money goes almost entirely, directly to them.
ALB: I know the situation but...
JB: I say this because people think we're giving it to the Turkish government. Almost all of the money goes into the pockets of the poor.
ALB: But it's also true the money is for these refugees, so that these people don't enter the European Union. It's like a service, right?
JB: Well, Turkey keeps them on its territory. That comes at a huge cost. Imagine if in Spain we had to welcome and care for three million people. Don't you think it would be a problem for society?
ALB: Spain has similar agreements, though perhaps not as open, with Morocco...
JB: But we don't have three million refugees at home.
ALB: But in a certain sense we have them in Morocco...
JB: But we don't have three million, far from it. And it's not the same to have them in your neighbour’s house as to have them at home, I assure you. If it were the same, what happens wouldn't happen. What we're helping is for these people to have the basic services they need. Why should Turkey be the one that bears the cost of looking after these refugees who have arrived there because it was the neighbouring country? We have to help them. Do we do it so they don't come here? The question is very clear: does European society want to host three and a half million Syrian exiles on its territory? Do you really want it?
ALB: So is there a price to pay? Economic and also political...
JB: I have the feeling Europeans don’t want to. Therefore we have to find an alternative solution.
ALB: We have to finish here. High Representative, Josep Borrell, thank you very much for being with us.