Gunnar Hökmark: A strong Europe needs to be global

Last week Free Market Road Show Kyiv took place, hosted by The Warsaw Enterprise Institute. Long-time contributor to Svensk Tidskrift Gunnar Hökmark, chairman of the Stockholm Free World Forum and former MEP, held a speech reminding us of the value of the one thing Vladimir Putin and his cohorts fear the most: Freedom.

Russia’s war against Ukraine is a war against Europe and European values. It is the result of a dictatorships’ fear for democracies, freedom and free nations. Just as Vladimir Putin needs to suppress his own people out of fear for democracy, he has a need to suppress and command neighbors according to the same logic. So once again, the cause of freedom, democracy and peace defines the role of the European Union. Because these are the fundamental values of the European Union, and they define our common task.

We are in the midst of a conflict between the authoritarian regimes of the world on the one hand and the ideas of human rights and free societies on the other. This is not only about Russia. It is also about China, as well as regional powers who challenge stability in the world in their mission to undermine democratic values and in order to defend their own power.

Standing up to those aggressors, that’s what we are for! That’s the challenge to Europe and that’s the task of the European Union. And it will require a lot.

First of all, we need to understand how Europe’s challenge has shifted. While it was once to bring peace between European nations by making them cooperate and integrate, it is now about securing peace for Europe in a world of rivalry with despots and dictatorships, who are united in a cartel of authoritarians by their fear and despise for democracy.

Second, this means that we need to have an external perspective, not an internal. If we want to play a global role we need to be outward-looking, not inward-looking. If we want to have an impact with our values, standards, economic development and emissions in order to fight climate change, we need to be leaders of technological change, innovations and scientific research. We need to reach out to the world through trade, with a process of trade agreements and acting for an international order for multilateral and free global trade. If the US gets smaller, we need to get taller.

Third, geopolitical strength requires geoeconomic strength. We need to invest, we need to open up for new entrepreneurs and for old as well. We must make European industry globally competitive by ensuring that it is competition, not political decisions, that shapes our business life.

We need to make Europe into an attractive economy for global investments, coming from all over the world but also mobilizing European capital. All this requires market reforms, the deepening of the internal market, the expansion of free and open markets to all the sectors of the European economy.

We need vibrant energy markets allowing for investments in new and existing technologies that can reduce CO2 emissions as well as provide us with cheap electrical power. We are in the beginning of a new wave of electrification as a precondition for new technologies and further digitalization.

This can’t be done and should never have been planned with dependence on Russia. Leaving Nordstream II behind us makes it possible to develop the new streams of Europe.

 Fourth, if we are to be global, we can’t be hijacked by the eagerness to regulate on a European level what should be regulated locally and nationally. A strong emphasis on our common and unified actions in the world must not be hindered by a political idea about regulatory uniformity locally and in all details. 

Labour markets and social affairs belong to the competence of the member states and are best dealt with at the local levels. European diversity is a strength, European uniformity would be a weakness. All our member states have their preconditions, traditions and popular demands. Social issues, criminal laws, labour markets, education and health care must be local and national, while our societies should also be open for every European wherever he or she comes from. If the European Union is to be global, we can’t be captured with local issues.

Fifth, we need to develop a common foreign, security and defense policy that is not an alternative to NATO, but a way of strengthening Europe and make the European leg of NATO stronger. We need to make decisions on complicated foreign issues even if one or two countries are against. We need to create economies of scale in European defense industry, and we must act together against all the threats we can see in the grey zone that authoritarian regimes are trying to use in order to undermine our open societies.

Sixth, we will need the US in order to deal with Russia, as we have seen, but Europe will also be needed by the US in order to deal with China. We don’t know where the US will go after Biden, but we should have ideas about how we should develop a deeper understanding and closer cooperation between the US and the EU for the years to come. It is not strategic autonomy or strategic sovereignty we must achieve, but strategic capacity and capability through strategic alliances.

Seventh, the European Union is a union for Europe. We have a plight to support  Ukraine with all means possible in the war against Russia, because it is war against us all. Enlargement is a part of the European development to secure peace and global impact. Ukraine must be clear about the fact that they, as other European nations, are welcome as members of our Union. Ukraine is European, and we need to act accordingly.

We need to establish ourselves as a global center of the Free World, not be a center for ourselves. 

We need to develop our excellencies through free market economy and competitiveness, by our own competition and free trade, and our global strength by unity and openness. So let’s make Europe strong in the world, but not as a regulator in the local life and of citizens and companies’ daily decisions.

The European Union will never achieve global standing by dirigisme and protectionism, and we will never be able to defend European values globally if we regulate for uniformity instead of acting for unity.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated the challenges we all face. The actions we have managed to take demonstrates what we can achieve. We see the threats, and together we can face the opportunities.

Gunnar Hökmark is the chairman of the Stockholm Free World Forum and fromer MEP