Every year on May 9 the European Union celebrates Europe Day, also known as Schuman Day, in commemoration of the 1950 declaration by then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman calling for countries previously at war with each other to pool their resources to avoid future conflict, which eventually led to the founding of what is now the world’s pre-eminent example of transnational cooperation leading to lasting peace and prosperity.
While the EU was born out of the crisis of the devastating aftermath of the Second World War, the EU today faces another major crisis in the form of COVID-19 and its impact on society and the economy, not just in Europe but around the globe.
This year is, unfortunately, the second time we have to celebrate “Europe Day” in the shadow of COVID-19, which has not only created a health crisis, but also pushed the world into the worst global economic crisis since the Second War World. The EU was originally created in order to solve problems among Europeans in a bipolar world, but today we’re in a multipolar world and we have to look outwards because the problem is no longer among us; it’s among us and the rest of the world.
First and foremost is the need to vaccinate, not just Europeans but the whole world. Despite initial setbacks, the EU is working hard to accelerate the internal rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccination campaign is gaining speed across the EU and by July 2021, 70% of the adult population will be vaccinated.
In Europe we say no one is safe until everyone is safe. This is more than a catchphrase: it is a basic truth. As the virus continues to spread, other variants are emerging. It is a race against time, as we must be faster with vaccinations worldwide than the virus with its mutations. We must do so for reasons of basic solidarity, but also out of self-interest.
We are therefore already contributing in a very significant way to the global vaccination drive via exports and the international COVAX facility. “Team Europe” has committed to making the COVID-19 vaccine a global public good. As one of the first and the largest contributors to COVAX, Team Europe contributes US$ 2.1 billion, which is equivalent to 33% of the total COVAX budget. Indeed, Vietnam received the first batch of free vaccines under COVAX on April 1. It is now time to proceed with the vaccination campaign.
Of course, the health crisis is only one part of the story. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our societies and economies in unprecedented ways. The public health emergency rapidly turned into the most drastic economic crisis in the EU's history.
To help repair the economic and social damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU leaders have agreed on an ambitious recovery plan that will lead the way out of the crisis and lay the foundations for a modern and more sustainable Europe. With a total budget of €1.8 trillion, the programme called Next Generation Europe will be the largest stimulus package ever financed in Europe. The focus of this financing will be on the green transition, digital transformation, smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs, social and territorial cohesion, health and resilience, as well as investing in the next generation in areas such as education and skills.
EU’s role in the world
While we are addressing the current major crisis, we continue to work on our global responsibilities.
Today, among the world’s top ten most competitive economies, five are from Europe. The EU is the biggest trader in goods and services: double the volume of China, triple the volume of the US. We are the world's Number 1 foreign investor as well: in ASEAN, India, the US, and China. The euro has quickly become the world's second reserve currency.
The EU and its Member States provide 60% of global development aid, and are the main contributor to the work of the UN. In the digital economy, of the four world companies leading on 5G, two are European and active in Vietnam.
More than ever, the EU is keen to pursue its "Strategic Autonomy" and shape its foreign policy on its own terms. We are serious about stepping up security engagement in and with Asian partners in areas such as maritime security, cyber and peace-keeping. The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, adopted by 27 Foreign Ministers of the EU’s Member States a month ago, demonstrates the EU’s recognition of the growing importance of the region and its commitment to reinforcing its role in cooperation with its partners here.
As the EU, we believe the world economy needs a stable and predictable, rules-based multilateral trade system. Therefore, we need a new consensus to update the WTO rulebook. The EU has been and will remain a champion of openness and global cooperation. It will continue to forge solutions based on a modernised, rules-based global trade framework. We will engage with like-minded countries to pursue a strong environmental agenda in the WTO and work to ensure that trade policy and practice supports decent work and social fairness around the world. We will also continue pushing for the creation of an International Procurement Instrument to level the playing field in public procurement markets.
With Asia and the Pacific, which is where a lot of the world’s economic growth will come from, we will seek to consolidate our partnerships and enhance trade and investment reaffirming our commitment to conclude a series of FTAs with partners in the region, with Vietnam leading the way. Our new strategic partnership with ASEAN should help us to engage more actively in that direction.
Europe and Vietnam
In all this, Vietnam is a key partner. Just as Europe 76 years ago, you had to overcome total destruction by war and accelerate the pace of your development.
Vietnam managed to get through all of this and today you have the second most open economy of ASEAN, after Singapore, and you are the biggest exporter of goods to the EU, thanks in part to the recent EU-Vietnam FTA. The first-ever Framework Participation Agreement on Civil and Military Crisis Management with a developing country was signed by the two sides, allowing Vietnam to contribute forces in EU-led operations.
Among the ASEAN 10, Vietnam sends the largest number of students and scholars to the EU.
Within ASEAN, you are the second only after Indonesia to have signed an Agreement to ban illegal trade in wood, protecting natural forests and gaining sustainable access to the EU market.
We have always done our utmost to be Vietnam’s most relevant partner. This means that with those building blocks in place, and on the path of Vietnam's active engagement on the world stage, the EU and Vietnam can embrace a new chapter in our partnership across many areas.
Let me conclude by saying that the European Union has always been a project for the future. Therefore, amid the challenges and crises with which we are currently coping, today we celebrate Europe Day to remember, but also to look ahead towards an even brighter future.
By EU Ambassador Giorgio Aliberti