EU debates Globalisation: why now?

I lost the feeling how nice letters are. We normally send emails, SMSs, post comments on blogs….but letters? This is why I was so fascinated when numerous letters started to float around just before the informal EU Summit in Lisbon, all addressed to the Portuguese PM Socrates. First came the Merkel-Sarkozy letter, then Brown‘s, then Merkel-Sarkozy-Brown (can’t find it on-line—)…even the Slovenian PM Janša sent a letter (also impossible to find, but comment here) – to President Barroso. But I’m actually not going to focus on the format, but on the content of most of them: globalisation.

The word “globalisation” has been with us for a while. Few thoughts on the phenomenon here. The interesting bit is that some of the above letters directed the EU towards a discussion on globalisation, which is set to become one of the political priorities of the EU. Not globalisation as such of course, but measures to manage globalisation. This is interesting, since I have had the impression that the EU was more than coping with the globalisation so far (trade volume, financial markets, migration, multiculturalism…). But it seems all started with the new French President that wanted no taboos on the EU’s table and stressed in one of his recent speeches that we should re-debate agreed concepts, referring to, between the lines, trade policy of the EU. Screening carefully the letter he signed together with Merkel and sent to Socrates, you notice that they refer to “fair competition in a spirit of reciprocity”, which basically means protectionism.

This sounded an alarm bell at Downing 10 and Brown wrote on his own to Socrates, stressing the need for the EU to take a lead on global issues, but particularly “Promote free trade and openness, with the EU leading by example in breaking down barriers to create a free and fair multilateral trading system”. True that both letters address other issues besides trade (external dimension of Lisbon, financial markets, development policy, climate change, energy policy…), but this item seems to dominate the debate. Brown’s approach, followed by a longer paper “Global Europe” (actually quite decent reading), takes a wider view of globalisation and EU’s response to it. Sarkozy in particular has another take: the EU has to ensure world trade is fair…for the EU.

Now, this would all pass unnoticed, if the UK would not ask for a “Declaration on Globalisation” to be adopted at the European Council meeting in December. Just after jetting from the Treaty signing in Lisbon, the EU leaders will sit down and work it out. And as seen above, there are two camps already formed: the more “protectionist” and the more “free-tradist”. Together with the debate on the “Wise men persons’ group”, it promises a lot of fun (BTW, names and the mandate are already being faxed around, more on this later…). Let’s see how many battles Sarkozy can win.

So, while we are in 2007 and everything is already globalised, the EU needs to debate it again. True, with the recent financial turmoil, increasing competition (while Mandelson fights with the Chinese…), flows of migration etc., a response is expected. Let’s see what it brings, certainly a welcome change from the far-too-lengthy debates on Treaties.

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