Joint Observatories Conference - Accelerating transitions to build an open strategic autonomy of Europe

Ladies and gentlemen,
Honoured guests,

            As president of the European Economic and Social Committee, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our Conference on Accelerating transitions to build open strategic autonomy for Europe. The three Committee Observatories, the Digital Transition and Single Market Observatory (DSMO), the Labour Market Observatory (LMO) and the Sustainable Development Observatory (SDO) have organised the conference together to look at Europe's open strategic autonomy from various perspectives.

What does open strategic autonomy for Europe mean in practice? The concept of strategic autonomy is not new. It was initially developed in EU policymaking on matters of security and defence. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and then with the war in Ukraine, we have become aware of Europe's dependencies on energy, critical raw materials, medicine and food from foreign countries. Building open strategic autonomy for Europe means increasing our capabilities and self-sufficiency in critical sectors to ensure our societies' welfare and our economies' competitiveness and to reduce our vulnerabilities. We have seen that open strategic autonomy cannot be limited to foreign and security dimensions but needs to be pursued in many other essential areas. That includes financial services, the digital economy, energy and critical raw materials, as well as healthcare, to make our economies and societies truly resilient for future generations.

Moreover, I strongly believe we can only effectively protect our democratic values if open strategic autonomy becomes a living concept for Europe. We also must be very careful that we do not replace our dependencies on Russia with dependencies on other third countries in the transition phase. They may currently look like like-minded partners, but we all know how quickly things can change. Yet, let me be clear: Europe must not become a fortress or an island closed in on itself. We live in an interrelated world, not just a globalised economy. Openness, be it in trade or in values, is part of our DNA and is also a contributor to global resilience. Openness must therefore go hand in hand with autonomy. Collaboration, be it in diplomacy, development aid or multilateralism, is the only way to address common, cross-cutting challenges, such as climate change, migration or environmental degradation.

For instance, in 2022 the EU was responsible only for 7.6% of global CO2 emissions. Europe can and must play a leading role. However, the world's climate can only be saved if other parts of the world step up their efforts too. The whole planet and our future are at stake.

Thus far, Member States have yet to agree on what levels of ambition should be pursued for strategic autonomy or how open strategic autonomy should be implemented in practice. Today's event will contribute to this reflection by focusing on accelerating transitions to build an open strategic autonomy for Europe. The way forward is clear: EU needs to develop more capabilities and move from one-sided dependencies to collaboration and mutual development. To be successful, organised civil society must be actively involved in this endeavour. The EESC has been shouting this to the rooftops for a long time. A few weeks ago, in October, the EESC presented a comprehensive vision for achieving strategic autonomy in energy. The current energy crisis has hit many citizens and businesses very hard. And the winter is still to come. Investments in diversifying energy supply, renewables, energy efficiency and comprehensive building renovations must be accelerated.

Building capabilities in Europe can also create new business opportunities. Thanks to a record increase in wind and solar capacity, the European Union saved EUR 11 billion between March and September 2022. At the same time, it avoided the need to import an additional 8 billion cubic metres of fossil fuel gas. Businesses and citizens must be part of the solutions if we are to achieve open strategic autonomy. A successful transition requires a proactive, inclusive approach.

Europe's industry is at the heart of our economies and societies: it generates wealth, creates jobs and is a key contributor to our welfare systems. Swift, effective action is required to tackle the disruptions to the global supply chain and the shortages of certain critical products in Europe. We also need to reduce our dependency on non-EU tech giants by strengthening, if not doubling, our efforts to develop a secure, inclusive, values-based and competitive digital economy. In this context, we should focus on reliable connectivity, data security and, most notably, artificial intelligence.

In addition, the EU must significantly increase and diversify supply of critical raw materials, probably one of the most challenging areas, as well as strengthen its circularity and support research and innovation. Therefore, we welcome the upcoming proposal for a European Critical Raw Materials Act. EESC has been very active, calling for investment in recycling critical and strategic raw materials. For this reason, the export of waste containing valuable materials should be carefully assessed.

Our three observatories have put forward an ambitious programme. Today, we bring together specialist speakers and provide a space for open reflection and discussion on the various interconnected aspects of an open strategic autonomy. Let us break out of silos and take Europe forward in building open strategic autonomy!  

I wish you fruitful and enriching discussions.


Joint Observatories Conference - Accelerating transitions to build an open strategic autonomy of Europe

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