By George Markopouliotis
Globalisation is a formidable force bringing benefits to Europe and the rest of the world.
As overseas markets have grown, European exports have grown, supporting higher-paid jobs. People travel, work, learn and live freely in different countries. They interact with each other on the web, sharing their ideas, cultures and experiences. Students have online access to courses run by leading universities across the world. International competition and scientific cooperation have accelerated innovation. Around the world, globalisation has helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and enabled poorer countries to catch up.
But globalisation also brings challenges. Many Europeans are concerned that globalisation leads to inequality, job losses, social injustice, or lowering environmental, health or privacy standards. They sometimes also feel threatened in their identities, traditions and ways of living. These concerns must be recognised and addressed.
Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the Commission, said: “Globalisation is good for the European economy overall, but this means little to our citizens if the benefits are not shared fairly and more evenly”.
Harnessing globalisation, shaping the world for the better, promoting high standards and values outside Europe, protecting our citizens from unfair practices, and making our societies resilient and our economies more competitive are all key priorities for the Juncker Commission.
This is why the European Commission has put forward a reflection paper on harnessing globalisation. It follows up on the White Paper on the Future of Europe presented on March 1, which set out the main challenges and opportunities for Europe in the coming decade. The White Paper marked the beginning of a process for the EU27 to decide on the future of their Union.
This reflection paper opens a vital debate on how the EU can best harness globalisation and respond to its opportunities and challenges, by taking an honest look at what globalisation has brought to the EU. The fact is that, even if the EU has greatly benefitted from globalisation, it has also brought many challenges. For the EU, global trade has boosted EU economic growth, with every €1 billion of additional exports supporting 14,000 jobs. Cheaper imports also benefit poorer households in particular. But these benefits are not automatic, nor are they evenly distributed among our citizens.
Europe is also affected by the fact that other countries do not all share the same standards in areas such as employment, environmental or safety standards, meaning that European companies are less able to compete on price alone with their foreign counterparts; this can lead to factory closures, job losses or downward pressure on workers’ pay and conditions.
However, the solution lies neither in protectionism nor in laissez-faire economics. The evidence presented in the Reflection Paper shows clearly that globalisation can be beneficial where it is properly harnessed. The EU must ensure a better distribution of the benefits of globalisation by working together with Member States and regions, as well as with international partners and other stakeholders. We should seize together the opportunity to shape globalisation in line with our own values and interests.
George Markopouliotis is head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus