Face-to-face dialogue Europe and Freedom, the State of the Union

Joaquín Almunia, Luis Garicano and Antonio López-Istúriz

The Rafael del Pino Foundation and the Libertas, Veritas et Legalitas Forum on Foreign Policy organised a dialogue on 3 February 2022 entitled "Europe and Freedom, the State of the Union" with Joaquín Almunia, Luis Garicano, Antonio López-Istúriz and Mira Milosevich (moderator).

Joaquín Almunia holds a degree in Law and Economics from the Commercial University of Deusto, and completed his postgraduate studies at the University of Deusto. l'École Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris. He was Vice-President and European Commissioner for Competition between 2010 and 2014, having previously been European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs between 2004 and 2010. Minister of Labour and Social Affairs (1982-1986) and Minister of Public Administration (1986-1991). In 1997 he became Secretary General of the Party and stood as a candidate for President of the Spanish Government in the 2000 General Elections, but after failing to win he resigned from the post. In his last legislature as a Member of Parliament (2000-2004) he was Chairman of the Budget Committee. In April 2004, he was appointed to the European Commission. As European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs he was confronted with the outbreak of the most serious economic and financial crisis ever experienced by the European Union. In 2010, European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso entrusted him with a Vice-Presidency and the reins of the Competition portfolio, from where he has maintained his institutional commitment to Europe. He is currently engaged in research and reflection in different think tanks and other platforms, as well as lecturing and publishing books and articles for different media. He is, among others, Visiting Professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economic and Political Science and the Paris School of International Affairs of Sciences Po.

Luis Garicano is MEP, Vice-President of Renew Europe and Spokesperson of this group in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs of the European Parliament, member of the Center for Economic Policy Research. He holds a degree in Economics and Law from the University of Valladolid, a Master's degree in European Economic Studies from the College of Europe in Bruges, a Master's degree in Economics and a PhD from the University of Chicago. Luis Garicano has developed his extensive teaching career at the University of Chicago and London School of Economics, where he has been a tenured professor and professor; he has also been Director of the Center for the Digital Economy at IE Business School; he has also been a visiting professor at MIT and London Business School. He has also held positions as an economist at the European Commission and at McKinsey & Company.

Antonio López-Istúriz holds a degree in Law and a degree in Economics from the San Pablo CEU University in Madrid. He worked as an assistant to the People's Party delegation in the European Parliament from 1997 until 1999, when he returned to Spain to work as an assistant to the then Prime Minister José María Aznar for almost four years. In 2002 he returned to Brussels after his election as Secretary General of the European People's Party and, two years later, he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament, holding both positions to date. Since 2008 he has been Secretary-Treasurer of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. He is also Secretary General of the Centrist Democrat International (IDC-CDI). As an MEP, he currently chairs the Delegation for relations with Israel, is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean and the Delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula. He is also a substitute member of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence and the Delegation for relations with the United States. He also chairs the European Union-United Arab Emirates (UAE) Parliamentary Friendship Group. He is Vice-President of the ANAR Foundation, which helps adolescents at risk, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Aequitas Foundation, which provides legal protection for the disabled and disadvantaged groups.

Mira Milosevich-Juaristi is a Senior Research Fellow at the Real Instituto Elcano and Associate Professor of Russia's Foreign Policy at the Instituto de Empresa (IE University). She holds a PhD in European Studies from the Complutense University of Madrid and a Diploma of Advanced Studies in the area of International Public Law and International Relations from the same university. She holds a degree in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Belgrade. She has taught postgraduate courses in Political Science and International Relations in the Doctoral Programmes of the Instituto Universitario de Investigación José Ortega y Gasset. She has been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from MEC (2005) for research on Nationalism and Islam in post-communist Eastern Europeand has participated in numerous research projects, among them Spanish nationhood and nationalism in the contemporary era(2006-2011, Directorate General for Universities and Research). His working languages are Spanish, English, Russian and Serbo-Croatian.


On 3 February 2022, the Rafael del Pino Foundation hosted the dialogue "Spain and freedom. The State of the Union", with the participation of Joaquín Almunia, former Minister, former Vice-President of the European Commission and former Commissioner for Competition; Luis Garicano, MEP and Vice-President of Renew Europe, and Antonio López-Istúriz, Secretary General of the European People's Party and Member of the European Parliament.

Joaquín Almunia: In 1994 there were still those who believed that the theoretician of the end of history, who later took it away from himself, was right about a future of peace, freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. It is true that there are autocrats who were already autocrats in 89, at the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Chinese were there, although they had not yet emerged as much as they are now. Russia could evolve towards democracy, but since Putin came to power that illusion has disappeared. Putin is an autocrat who poses risks to us now, at this moment, particularly in parts of Europe that remember very well not only the risks posed by Putin's Russia or the Soviet Union, but also by the Russian empire for centuries. We have Turkey, a country that is still formally a candidate for EU membership, but is an autocracy under Erdogan. In Latin America we have Bolsonaro. We are surrounded on the outside by many versions of autocracies.

In Europe we have two countries, which joined the EU in 2004 fulfilling all the conditions, the so-called Copenhagen Criteria, both economic and political, of respect for democracy, human rights, which today, unfortunately, neither Poland nor Hungary fulfil. We have had, in our main partner in the West, Trump, who has been an example of an autocrat. He has tried to break the electoral process in the United States and he can come back.

Europe's liberal democracies are in crisis, partly because of populism, the fashionable language of non-argument in debate that it introduces, the polarisation of political debate, the poor quality of political debate that forces other leaders to follow in that area of unrational debate. Europe has the resources, the will and the belief in strong values to overcome this crisis, but we will overcome it if we deal with it. The crisis in democracy in the core countries of Europe is about how the public, whatever they vote, feels about their leaders. They do not feel that their voice, their concerns, that the solutions to their problems will be given to them, and they lose confidence, and voter turnout is falling. There are significant areas of social exclusion in Europe which, if we do not solve the problems arising from Europe's weak demography, including immigrants within social cohesion, we are going to have problems in the coming years and perhaps in the coming decades.

There is also concern about the weakness of Europe's response to global leaders who deny the basic values of democracy, political liberalism, human rights and all that we have understood to be our model, which we want to export to the rest of the world. But, unfortunately, we are at risk of importing, in some sectors, in some countries, the negative values that we thought were going to disappear.

Luis Garicano: When has Europe been better off? In the 1940s we were at war. In the 1950s we had dictatorships. In the 60s we had dictatorships. In the 1970s, apart from dictatorships in the East and in the South, we had economic crises. In the 1980s, we still had dictatorships in the East. Are we in crisis? My great discovery in the European Parliament is the great negotiating machine there, with 27 countries. The reality is that every day there are group meetings in which something is brought forward, that something is voted, for example, the law on digital markets, the law on digital services, which will completely change the regulation of platforms; the Recovery Fund, which has allowed Europe to borrow to give money to the regions. Europe is not facing an existential threat with the internal issue. Hungary and Poland are always there, waging war, but Poland has a border with Ukraine and you can't go around being too brave and boasting too much. In other words, they have to stand together with Europe. Last year, in the face of the challenges from Hungary and Poland, a rule of law mechanism was approved, which can prevent the disbursement of funds to countries that do not comply with the basic rules of democracy. Europe has mechanisms to combat both of these problems.

When you look into the future what you see is that Draghi has just bought a year of time and you have seen that the parties do not feel strong enough to call elections. Macron, with a little bit of luck, wins four or five years. In Germany we have the Scholz coalition with the Greens and the Liberals. We have the three central powers with reformist capacity, with strong governments, which can do very serious things in the second half of this year.

Monet said that Europe is built in crises, that you have to keep pedalling so that the bike doesn't fall off. Europe is always looking like we are falling off, but that is what is needed to give it a forward momentum, because no country is willing to do that if it can avoid it. From an internal point of view, there is more resilience than we might think when we read the press because, at the end of the day, we all emphasise what is not coming out, but the machinery is still running. Poland and Hungary are not a fundamental threat.

Antonio López-Istúriz: The European Union is an incredible, unparalleled construction that brings together countries that, for centuries, have been killing each other. We specialised in it so much that, in the end, we exported war to the whole world. After the industrial revolution, isms, communisms, nationalisms, fascisms appeared in Europe, answers to problems that had been created after the industrial revolution. History repeats itself, but this time we can stop it, we can avoid stumbling over the same stone again. This European construction, this welfare state, they don't have it in the United States. We have to maintain a complicated system. We seem to live in a bubble and we don't value what we have. There are people here who don't like democracy, who don't like freedom, we have authoritarian aspirations. Outside we have a series of totalitarian regimes surrounding us, apart from Latin America. They are surrounding us, and they want to take down our system because they don't want their people to have a democratic system for their country. Most Russians want it, but they have a dictator like Vladimir Putin, who now has low popularity ratings and, like any dictator, decides to start the adventure. He has seen the opportunity because there is a lack of leadership in the European Union. But it will come out, we have always done it. It is a work of consensus, boring, slow.

We are fighting for the survival of our system of values and freedom, let us be aware. In Spain we were not aware. Ukraine has been going on since 2008, Georgia, Moldova. We were not aware. Now, all of a sudden, it is being introduced into the debate. So let us know that we are part of a system that we have to save.

Luis Garicano: Europe's response to the crisis has been spectacular. There has been no unemployment. It has done three things of enormous importance. The first was the European Central Bank, despite Lagardere's initial hesitation, which recognised that European debt spreads were indeed its problem and offered unlimited liquidity to all countries to give them the ability to borrow without rates moving. The ECB has bought all the debt Spain has issued. That is the big bailout. The second thing is that, in addition, the states are going to borrow and finance the ERTEs and direct aid to companies. All the ERTEs across Europe have been paid for by Europe. The ERTEs are what has prevented that big rise in unemployment. The third big measure that Europe took is the recovery funds so that indebted countries could invest and get out of the holes. For this we are going to have a package of Eurobonds, with which we are going to give money to countries. This is a gigantic change because Europe is saying that we are all going to help each other to recover from the economic crisis. In this, Europe deserves a ten because it has taken spectacular measures. All countries have had the same economic policy, all countries have had ERTEs, all countries have had direct aid, all countries have financed the recovery with European funds. Now it is a question of spending that recovery money and spending it well.

With regard to spending it well, in the Spanish Government there are a series of disabilities, a very large gap between what is done in Brussels, which is done very well when it comes to negotiating things there and moving them forward, and the way this money is put into practice when it comes to taking it to the streets, to spending it. Nothing has been spent, there are no calls for proposals, the autonomous regions have not been involved. This money is given to us to carry out reforms, but I am not convinced that this can happen. Europe has done its job very well, now the countries have to do it.

Antonio López-Istúriz: Before, the Germans wanted nothing to do with eurobonds. Now, all this is phenomenal. What did it all take? A crisis. Jean Monet was right when he said that the European Union will only move forward through crises. Suddenly, we all become very supportive. When things are going well, nobody here remembers. When I have a problem, I expect solidarity. Solidarity came with the pandemic. Michel Barnier, who has been a European Commissioner, proposed a few years ago the creation of an agency for the control of pandemics in Europe. It was presented and in the Council there was one vote against it, that of the United Kingdom, so there was no pandemic control agency. But now the stick we had in Europe's wheels is gone, so let's see if we can take decisions more quickly on this issue. However, the UK's exit is bad news for everyone, but it allows us to proceed in this way. When the pandemic started, all the governments closed the borders and to each his own. But suddenly they realise that the supermarkets are empty because they don't have the lorries from the south with the vegetables and fruit. So they all went running to Brussels to complain about what was happening and that there could be a shortage in the EU. Then Brussels put the green corridors in place and the lorries started to circulate, even as far as the UK, which benefited from this measure. These are day-to-day examples of the fact that, in the end, working together helps us to get ahead. Apart from this, Spain would last five minutes in this complex world; Germany, twelve. United, we have a chance. The European Union is one of the fundamental strategic partners. We are on one side because we still have to decide on greater coordination in foreign and defence policy. In the Spanish mentality, solidarity is only reflected in terms of funds. What we need to do is to reflect and move to a level in which Spain really assumes its concept of leadership within the European Union. We must aspire to be part of the decision-making process, from which we are systematically distanced.

Joaquín Almunia: Europe has problems, like everyone else, and we should not only look at our strengths. We have to look at how we solve them in order to have a better future. Around Europe we have problems that we cannot ignore. How has the EU reacted to these problems?
European Union to the crisis? I agree with Luis, but he has forgotten about vaccines. If the EU does not coordinate the purchase of vaccines and get us all on the same page, we would still be in the thick of the pandemic. The funds are great and the Eurobonds to finance them are fantastic. I want to see them repeated for the 2026 budget for the following years, all financed together and addressing needs that are there, such as climate change, digitalisation, social cohesion, and so on.

Spain was the first country, together with Portugal, to present the plan to the European Commission. And when you go to the European Commission and talk to people from different countries and ideas, there was nobody who said that the Spanish plan was bad or mediocre. They said it was fantastic. The president of the European Commission goes around saying it. Spain was the first to receive money because it was the first to meet the fifty-two conditions that had to be met. The money has arrived now, in January, although it was approved in December. The tractor plans, which have to drag many parts of the Spanish productive fabric, are all approved and are starting to be implemented. Half of the resources of the recovery plan will go directly to the autonomous communities and part to the municipalities.

Luis Garicano: The money arrived in August, not in January. Our job is to demand that things are done well.

Antonio López-Istúriz: The existential challenges for Europe are not Russia and China. They are the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin, which is very different. It is understandable that European countries want to trade with China, but then there are the businessmen who come to tell how they have been robbed of their know-how, because the Chinese Communist Party gave them three years and then went away and stole their know-how. Let China abide by the same rules. There is a fundamental factor this summer that has gone unnoticed, the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. What does this have to do with it? The Chinese and Russians see this as the second fall of the Berlin Wall because they clearly see the West's retreat and the opportunity. Moreover, in the chess game, Putin sees that leadership is clearly absent in France, in Germany, in the United States everything that has happened has happened. They have studied it and now they are seizing the opportunity. The Cold War is not over, we are in another episode. With the fall of the Berlin Wall we lived under the illusion that everyone was going to be a democrat and after the fall of the Twin Towers we have been going backwards. Russia is Putin's regime supported by oligarchs and in China there is what there is. My aspiration is that it is not the Chinese Communist Party that dictates the future with its plan to dominate everything.

Joaquín Almunia: Russia and China are two different types of autocracies and threats to Europeans. Russia is on the edge of our external borders, with countries in the European Union that were part of the Soviet Union and others that were part of the common market organised by the Soviet Union, the Comecom. A fixed idea of Putin's for years has been that he has to rebuild the spheres of influence of the tsarist empire. He goes back to the Middle Ages to say that Ukraine is the heart of Russia and, therefore, what do we Western Europeans have to say that he wants not only to be associated with Ukraine, but to rule because Russia has always ruled there. That, in a country that is the second nuclear power in the world, is a complicated relationship. Putin has the ability to divide Europeans. How can we Europeans avoid this? By becoming more integrated in our foreign and security policy. That is an extraordinarily strong resistance to the defence of the idea of national sovereignty on which nation-states have grown up, which still counts. How do we unite to prevent Putin from dividing us and threatening the countries that were in his sphere of influence? China is another dimension. It is the world's second economic superpower, it wants to be the world's second economic superpower also from a military point of view in its spheres of influence. For us, the Chinese threat is economic, not only because they have taken over the intellectual property of European patents. But if we look today at European investments in China and Chinese investments in Europe, we still beat them by a very large margin. So we have time not to let ourselves be overwhelmed. We have important relations, with tensions, but we cannot only be an economic partner. We must also be a political partner, a strategic partner, on security issues. Every time someone in the European Union dares, as the Lithuanian Prime Minister did recently, to question something that the Chinese consider highly sensitive for their security, as is the case with Taiwan, Lithuania is being crushed by sanctions and blockades. An anti-coercion instrument has just been adopted that we Europeans must use as our own, regardless of whether the country or company that is being coerced is in the north, south, east or west. That dimension lags behind many others. This is where we Europeans have to take a very serious step forward and realise that, in the 21st century, sharing sovereignty is an obligation because it is in everyone's interest.

Luis Garicano: There is this Macronian idea of strategic autonomy and what we see with the issue of Russia is that there is no such thing as strategic autonomy. Germany is terrified of the possibility of having its gas cut off and having a serious energy problem. With these hesitations, it is almost inviting. What is missing? One, that common defence policy that we don't have. Two, energy. It is clear that Europe is brutally dependent on energy. Spain has no strategic autonomy as long as Morocco or Algeria can cut off the flow of gas from one day to the next. With Germany depending on Russian gas, it is three quarters of the same. We must move towards a renewable and green transition as quickly as possible, which will eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, but we must also preserve nuclear energy. Finally, information technology. If you take the hundred largest companies in the world, fifteen or twenty are platforms. In fact, of the top thirty, fifteen or twenty are platforms. Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Baidu, Tensent. Of all these, there is not a single European one. There are no European companies in the data world right now. We don't have the technological capacity to move forward in artificial intelligence. If China were to invade Taiwan tomorrow, 80% of the world's semiconductors would be in China's hands and that could bring the world's industry to a halt. There is an effort to be made here. We have neither technology companies nor world-class universities. The strong European universities were Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, Imperial College of London. The United Kingdom has left and the first university in the European Union in the top 50 ranking is the University of Delft. We do not have a top university, and we cannot be leaders in energy, technology and innovation if we are not there. If we want to face Russia and China, we have to have that capacity.

Joaquín Almunia: Democracy needs us to take care of it every day, in the 21st century with special reasons. But we cannot do it individually in each country. We are too small, even Germany. We need more integration, but it does not come by itself. We have to explain to the citizens why so that they do not reject these steps forward. That is a task for all of us outside Brussels.

Luis Garicano: The cause of populism is largely economic. The government has to solve people's problems for the government to have credibility. The European government also has to solve problems. There is a problem that we are not aware of, which is the energy transition and, in particular, the industrial transition. It is a gigantic shock that is coming to the economy and we cannot have a situation like China, where we leave thousands of European workers stranded.

Antonio López-Istúriz: We have two fronts: internal and external. We have to fight for our democracy within our system. There are authoritarian temptations. There are people who seem to like it. We democrats have to work hard and explain it. We have to make people understand where we come from, the spectacular moment we are living and where we can end up. This is defended internally and externally.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.