with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the GLOBSEC 2021 Forum

  • 17 Jun. 2021 -
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  • Last updated 21-Jun-2021 08:30

(As delivered)

PRESENTER: Hello, bonjour and ahoy, on Tuesday evening we hosted the GLOBSEC awards ceremony at the Bratislava Castle, where we awarded the annual Czech and Slovak Transatlantic Award to both General John Allen and Václav Havel (in memoriam). And here are the highlights from day two. We kicked off the day on the main stage, hearing from the foreign affairs minister of Slovakia and Austria, as well as the deputy foreign affairs minister of Italy on how to strengthen Europe’s role on the international stage. Staying on the subject of European diplomacy, we heard from the foreign affairs minister of Croatia, North Macedonia and Slovenia on their respective trajectories towards achieving an ever-greater European integration. This was followed by a lively discussion among foreign affairs ministers of the Visegrád Four, which included Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Mayors from Bratislava and Budapest, as well as a voice from the Czech Republic discussed the reactions of cities to the pandemic and the need to improve communications with government and generate more capacity in times of crisis. With the meeting between Biden and Putin taking place, experts from Russia, the EU and North America speculated on the potential outcomes and what to look for. Finally, we ended the day by hearing from renowned thinker Francis Fukuyama about the need to rebuild the foundations of democracy and trust throughout societies. Our list of international experts and renowned thinkers is far from over, so stay tuned for more video highlights and recaps.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN [Moderator]: Good morning everyone, and welcome to the third day of the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum. And welcome to this session about strategic foresight and strategic foresight for resilience, focusing on the EU and NATO in a post-pandemic world. And we have been discussing the question of resilience, the question of lessons from the pandemic in many formats and in many aspects in the last two days. But this is the time when we have two leaders from the two decisive Euroatlantic institutions in the same debate. One is right next to me here, Maroš Šefčovič, the Vice President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Questions and Foresight. And we have joining us virtually, online, Mircea Geoană the Deputy Secretary General of NATO. So welcome to you, gentlemen. I think we should start with personalised questions to the two speakers, possible follow-up questions. Our time is rather limited. We have about 32 minutes from now and therefore we need to keep it brief, in the beginning. We want to have as much as possible interaction with the audience. And that includes the online audience, of course. So, that . . . without further ado, let me just throw out a couple of . . . a couple of buzzwords. So we are talking about the trends threatening resilience that the pandemic has reinforced. We’re talking about thinking forward about . . . thinking and acting, right now, about the complementarity of both NATO and the European Union; also about addressing capacity gaps and of course, most of all, lessons for the future of both organisations. So, since we just had the NATO Summit a couple of days ago, let me first turn to Mircea Geoană from NATO and ask him the question: what role did democratic resilience, or resilience in a broader sense, play at the last NATO Summit? And what are the takeaways for our debate that you would like to relate with us? The floor is yours.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ [NATO Deputy Secretary General]: Thank you, Roland. It’s always a pleasure to be on the same stage, albeit virtually, with my very good friend from a long period of time, Vice President Šefčovič – Maroš, good to see you. I wanted to be there in Bratislava physically, but, you know, the . . . it’s very, very complicated after our Summit. We’ve been debating on a physical stage, just a few days ago, the topic of resilience, when we visited together, Bucharest, inaugurated a Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre hosted by Romania. Let me tell you a few things about . . . about where we stand in NATO and where I do believe that NATO and the EU could, should and will do more together. The first thing: NATO Summit. And if you look through the long final communique and if you look from the inside on the NATO 2030 decisions by the 30 Allied leaders, you’ll see a big chunk dedicated to resilience. NATO has been embarking on identifying and [inaudible] what we call baseline requirements on resilience, basically resilience indicators. This started at the Warsaw NATO Summit in 2016. These indicators have been presented to NATO Allies, to nations, and every year at the national level, Allies were measuring themselves against these indicators, thus identifying the strong points and also the weaker points. Of course, as you mentioned, Roland, the pandemic has brought even more complex dimensions to the issue of resilience. We are now speaking and acting, and this is what our leaders decided at the NATO Summit, to have a renewed resilience commitment. What does it mean? That we look even more attentively to the existing indicators of NATO, but also we’ll be looking even more attentively to a broader definition of resilience: supply chains, issues related to FDI and screening of FDI, because it’s not irrelevant to our resilience, who is investing in what and where, in our businesses, in our infrastructures, telecommunications and so on and so forth. So this is something that we have decided. Something even more interesting and important I think, politically, is that our leaders agreed to the proposition of Secretary General Stoltenberg that on an annual basis, high-level representatives in national governments across the Alliance will be meeting. And this will also be, I think, a next stage between the national prerogative – because in the end it’s a national and subnational prerogative, resilience. But NATO is a fantastic platform to making sure that we look at these things together. And of course, NATO-EU, I’ve been working with Maroš on this one. Maroš, I think we’ve been doing this for the last one and a half years already, I think? When Jens Stoltenberg was invited for the first time by President von der Leyen to meet the College of Commissioners, I think the first topic chosen by the two organisations, by the leadership of our two organisations, for NATO and the EU, EU and NATO to look even more intimately into . . . the first one is resilience, of course, then it’s new technologies, then we are looking into climate change, into to space. There are lots of things NATO and the EU should and will do more together. Of course, we already do a lot. So this is where we are. A pivotal moment for the Alliance as a whole. A very successful Summit. I understand that there was a very successful high-level meeting between President Biden and the EU leadership, again. A very successful G7 meeting before. And now we can also look, with all the democratic political West reunited in a very positive way, that the meeting between President Biden and President Putin in Geneva, which was, you know, something that was very well prepared by the sequence of high level participations by the US President. So I see a lot of potential in NATO-EU cooperation on resilience. I also know that the toolbox of NATO is not identical – and it shouldn’t be – to the one of the EU. The EU has a number of instruments and Maroš probably will tell you more about that. And foresight, because that’s the topic of our panel, is also part of this, because anticipating change and potential crises is important. You mentioned democratic resilience. I will go back to something that Fukuyama said in the clip you presented before our panel. It’s also about the trust of our citizens, of our public opinions, in the institutions of democracy, in our governments, in what we do in international organisations like NATO and the EU. So I do believe that societal resilience, this is how we approach resilience as a comprehensive concept, also has a very important democratic resilience, if you want. Some friends in the northern part of NATO, in the northern geographical part of NATO are speaking already about citizens’ resilience at the even more micro level, the very fundamental cell of our democratic societies. And you also see here disinformation and fake news and everything, which is now, you know, all over the place. So, in a nutshell, that’s where I believe . . . I believe that NATO and EU on resilience, we are natural strategic partners on this one and we stand ready. And I think this will be discussed again between our two organisations in the next few weeks. And I think resilience will be probably one of the first topics we’ll move further in the strategic partnership between NATO and EU.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: Mircea, thank you so much. Let me now turn to Maroš Šefčovič with . . . I just want to highlight this one point that, indeed, as Mircea said, NATO is an intergovernmental organisation. It brings governments together. But we’re talking about national prerogatives when it comes to all these questions tied to resilience and strategic foresight and so on. Well, the European Union is a different animal. And so . . . so my entry question to you, to which you should then tag on your own points, is: what precisely are these instruments that the European Union and its institutions, the European Commission, have to put into this effort?

MAROŠ ŠEFČOVIČ [Vice President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Questions and Foresight]: I think that also based on that experience of the . . . of the last year, I think it was quite clear that, I would say, such  basic tenets of the Von der Leyen Commission for the . . . for the period was that, of course, we should accelerate the twin green and digital transition. But the Covid-19 crisis and, I would say, clear indication how suddenly you can disrupt the global value chains, how, you know, you can really stop the successful operation of the internal market because of the border closures, clearly demonstrated that to these two very important elements we have to add the third one, and this is resilience. So now we will see in all our documents, in all our policies, in all our strategies, which we are putting on the table, very clear reference to the resilience which we now call Strategic Compass for our policies. And of course, it comes hand-in-hand with the new portfolio, which I’m honoured that Ursula von der Leyen decided to entrust me with, and this is the . . . the foresight. Because we see that this world will not be less complicated in the future. I think we’ll see more disruption. We will see more dynamic changes. We see how the world is becoming less multilateral, more multipolar. We see the geopolitics, geoeconomics play a much more significant role than a couple of years ago. And therefore, we are just looking at the foresight, anticipatory governance as the very important tool for modern governing. And what I’m always kind of telling and underlying to the foresight community, that for foresight to be strategic, it must be politically relevant, it must be practical, and it must lead to the concrete political decisions. And therefore, I’m glad speaking about, I would say, the institutional set-up, that we’ve been working very well with the Portuguese presidency. And just a couple of weeks ago, we set up the group of the Ministers for the Future. Of course, there was a joke said, I mean, in that room that so far if we’ve made only ministers of the past, so now we have Ministers for the Future. And I think it’s very important, because in each government you need to have somebody who would coordinate these anticipatory policies, who would look on this scenario building and see what might be over the horizon, around the corner, so we would be better prepared for that. And come back to Mircea’s point, I think that this is clearly, I would say, the contribution of Central and Eastern Europe, because if I look at . . . at Romania, the fact that we have now EU Cyber Centre located in Bucharest, that Romania decided to go for creation of Euro-Atlantic Resilience Centre. And also the fact that we are discussing these topics here in Bratislava, it just shows that maybe because we are more exposed, you know, to the . . . to the east and to the big neighbour to the east, we kind of, you know, perceive the need to be at the forefront of this discussion. And for not speaking too long, I would just mention one very important tool, which now you will see being, I would say, officially introduced in all Member states across the EU. And this is the 750 billion euros which our President will be announcing. I think we started with Portugal. Now she’s travelling to Spain. Very soon she will also be welcome here in Slovakia, where exactly the green, digital and resilient policies would be those sectors where the 750 billion euros should be . . . should be invested. And that’s, I think, one of the very important tools we have at our disposal, because it comes with the combination of the usual budget - so we are talking about 1.85 trillion euros – and therefore, I think this should be, indeed, such a European Marshall Plan moment when we can prepare our countries and our infrastructure for the economies . . . economies and politics of the 21st Century. And I am sure that resilience will be a big part of it.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: Thank you so much, Maroš. Before I ask a follow up question, let me remind the audience online and here in . . . in the room that you can ask questions via the Slido function of your GLOBSEC app. So please go ahead, ask the first question. And meanwhile, let me . . . let me focus on this, on the foresight aspect. December 2019, I don’t think that the Commission was planning for a pandemic or something. Now we have it. What is the, you know, and this was called . . . this is a so-called Black Swan event, a disruptive . . . disruptive development, which is not foreseen. What’s the Black Swan event that you would envisage right now?

MAROŠ ŠEFČOVIČ: I think that this is always a bit of a . . . it’s a misleading perception that the good foresighters have a crystal ball. Unfortunately, we don’t. But I think what is very important, to work with so-called scenarios. So currently we are monitoring 17 megatrends and see how they can play into the future policies. What the climate change will do with migration waves; how the demography would impact the economic performance in Europe; what would be the new economic power centres’ role in the future; and where we want to be in 2030, in 2050. And then there is a technique which is called ‘backcasting’ – how, from that vision which we want to achieve, should come to these days and really adopt the policies, which would bring us to that preferred . . . preferred scenario. So I think that the best Black Swans are those which never materialise, because we anticipated them and therefore we never heard of them. But the truth is that if we look in the past with financial meltdown, with migratory crisis, or with Covid-19, I think there was writing on the wall that something like this is happening. The problem was that the foresight community was kind of voicing that this might have happened, but it was kind of inconvenient truths and there was no political channel which could bring it to the decision-makers and policymakers like, ‘Please, you leaders be aware that something like this is coming.’ So this is what we are now overcoming and making sure that this horizon-scanning or, you know, the . . . the future possible huge problems would be communicated to the top political level so we can anticipate, we can prevent it, or we can prepare decisions. I think, of course, the obvious dangers in the future are: cybersecurity, climate change, migratory pressure, and therefore we are already, right now, preparing, adopting the policies to minimise the possible negative . . . negative fallout. And that, we do very closely with Mircea, because we are working together on critical infrastructure, on dual use of, let’s say, transport, transport routes across Europe and also on the future technologies, on AI, on screening of the foreign direct investment, we have just adopted a new regulation in Europe, that every foreign direct investment over 500 million euros, will have to be screened, if it’s not some kind of hidden agenda behind it. And we invested a lot in strategic autonomy. My next annual foresight report would be exactly about that. The first one was on resilience, now we are going to focus on open strategic autonomy, just simply to be better prepared for this harsher world of today.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: Excellent. Thank you much, thank you very much. Can we do the Slido, Paul, now? I would like to give you a multiple choice question about who should take the lead in strengthening democratic resilience in Europe? And please choose between four options: NATO, the European Union, national governments, or civil society. And . . . oh, we’re being very politically correct here. So I’ll give this a few more seconds. It’s getting a little bit more even. Yeah, let’s . . . let’s leave this aside for a little bit and come back in a minute or so. But in the meantime, well, turning to Mircea again, just very briefly, with the more classical, hard security-focused question of comparing the threats we face from China and from Russia. What has been the interplay between the two recently? We all know that China has never been mentioned as often in a NATO document as in the last . . . after the last Summit. And so, how do you see these two challenges evolving for Europe and for the West?

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Listen, the . . . coming back just one second to resilience. When we speak at NATO, the same thing the EU, the same thing in national governments, subnational governments or civil society and our citizenry, when we speak about societal resilience, we speak about the indispensable interconnection on a permanent basis between government, public sector, private sector and our civil society and our citizens. There’s no way, in the complex world we are living now, and this will become . . . and any foresight, any potential futures – the plural – are indicating that we are at a moment of fantastic turmoil and global realignment. This means that in NATO, the very definition of security, not only of resilience, is broadening. We have adopted at our Summit an action plan on the security implications of climate change. Maroš, of course, in his foresight capacity for the European Commission is actively looking into that. We are looking to the security implications of climate change – and they are massive. We are looking into cyber. And again, this is something which is happening every day. This was also a dominant part of the Biden-Putin high level meeting yesterday in Geneva. And also our leaders at the NATO Summit adopted a new, even more robust NATO Cyber Defence Policy. We anticipate that global competition – and this is also related to the rise of China and to the disruptive way in which Russia actions in many, many of these multi-domain security conversation – is that outer space, space, is becoming a place of ever-more intense global competition. This is why I was happy to sign, with our Allies from Luxembourg, a new investment we have here in NATO headquarters in Brussels, where I’m speaking to you from, on a strategic oversight of space activities that we are also working into. Speaking of potential issues where also China is already playing a big role, it’s not only about global trade and not only about supply chains and not only about FDI screening, not only about 5G and security, but also to issues that we are witnessing today. And this will be only even more intense competition in the future – which is the competition for rare materials; which is the competition of microchip production; which is the issue of… the European Commission and European Union, are doing a fantastic pivot towards a different kind of economic model with green, with more digital, with more resilience. These means that we’ll also be witnessing tremendous transformations of our economic models. But also we will be witnessing, probably, additional vulnerabilities for the new economic model, not only for the old one or the current one. That’s why the idea of Ministers of the Future, I think, is bright, leaving aside the self-irony that I see in Maroš’s voice on the definition of this. So what I’m just saying, that China’s rise is one of the most important moments in . . . in human history – it’s not only the last decades, I think it’s the last five centuries since the West has been dominating, in various incarnations, the world. This is why for us in NATO keeping our technological edge, investing and adopting technologies, also when it comes to defence and security, is something which is . . . which is critical for maintaining our superiority. And let me tell you something which goes back to democracy. It’s not only about economic competition, or GDP, or how much defence spending you do – they’re all very important, they’re part of hard and soft power – but in the end, this is a struggle between democracies, the need to improve, the need to be more responsive to the criticism of our citizens on the way . . . the state of affairs in our societies, in the political democratic West, but, nonetheless, the competition between democracy and authoritarian regimes, this is something that is the most important and epical fight of our lifetimes. For us in Central and Eastern Europe, because we lived, at my age I lived half of my life in communism, half of my life in freedom and democracy. And for me, there is absolutely no question about the vital interest of us in the political West, in Europe, in North America, with our democratic friends all over the world, that we have to engage and fight and win this fight. There is no way that somebody can convince, I think, people from our part of the world – and I think from all over the political West that living in an authoritarian country is better than living in a free, open society. That having the right to choose and get rid of your leaders through democratic elections is something that is less efficient in . . . in the mid and long term than authoritarian, never-ending, you know, personal, you know, autocratic movements in many other countries. So this is a very complex issue. And if you look to this big, big discussion we have today, you can also anticipate, in terms of foresight, not only the eventual Black Swans, but also the great rhinos, the things that are here. And after the lessons of the pandemic, I don’t think we have the luxury, politically speaking, to ignore the signs of things that we know are coming. And we have no, absolutely no intention and no moral right to stop that.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: I’m really sorry to interrupt at this point, but we’re running short of time, Mircea. I’m so sorry. So, the Slido poll has . . .

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: I become enthusiastic when I speak about democracies, I know, I know . . . I always speak too much about this topic!

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: I so agree. I mean, it hurts me more than it hurts you to interrupt at this point. But, so, this Slido poll has evolved and the . . . the national governments have kind of overtaken the rest. But, you know, I think the most important answer that I didn’t offer you, of course, is that, ‘all of the above’ – obviously, and that’s what this session is really about. It is about how we interact. And one of . . . one of my goals in this was also to emphasise civil society does play a role in democratic resilience. And so, can we just have short, short comments from . . . from the two speakers here on the question of who does what?

MAROŠ ŠEFČOVIČ: Yes, I think that, just to kind of complement Mircea’s response. When, yesterday, we discussed with our President what was her main takeaway from G7, from EU Summit, she said that there was striking consensus that the leaders decided that it’s even more important than ever to stand up for democracy. So despite of all the economic, defence, future-oriented talks, that was the main takeaway. And I think it just reflects the . . . the discussion we have here today: that the future and success of our society is based on democratic performance, on democratic system and, let’s be honest, I mean, democracy and democracies are under pressure. I mean, if you look through the different statistics, actually over the last five years, the number of democratic countries in the world is not growing but it’s . . . coming, you know, to the lower number. So it’s a challenge which we have to work with. But nevertheless, I would say this clearly: stand up for democracy. This, I would say, very united approach. And [inaudible] how this was discussed., it’s, for me, absolute sea change from the discussions we had not so long ago in Munich when Ambassador Ischinger was talking about ‘Westlessness’. The West is back and it’s good for democracy and it’s good for the people who are . . . who are living in a democratic society. And coming back to your questions, who does what? As you, I think as you . . . as the people answered the questions, I mean, that’s a role for all of us. And I think here we never can do enough, because I think that all of us have a role to play. And very often we are discussing the question of, you know, communication of the EU, why it’s so difficult to understand our policies, why the people have a feeling of democratic deficit, why very often the perception of the EU is not so glamorous as it should be. And what I am saying is that it’s very difficult to . . . to talk over the heads of national leaders. So what I want to say is, when we are talking about democratic resilience, there must be the same messages coming from the national level, from the EU level – I know that civic society will do their part – and, of course, the NATO as a hard power institution is offering the solutions how to protect the democratic countries.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: Thank you so much. I take one question from the audience to Mircea Geoană. How would you align the threat assessments and the national resilience commitments in the two strategic documents of the EU and NATO – the Strategic Compass for the European Union, the Strategic Concept for NATO? So can you, just . . . and, really, two minutes? The floor is yours.

MIRCEA GEOANĂ: Listen, the NATO Summit reconfirmed 30 Allies – and many of the leaders are also leaders of EU member states – they reconfirmed NATO as the prime platform for transatlantic dialogue and political convergence on everything relating to security. Everything relating to security, including economic issues, including resilience, including many things that we have discussed. And let me come back to . . . to what I believe is the essence of our conversation. The resources of the political West are finite by definition. We are in an era of great power competition and for the first time we could, God forbid, not continue to be number one in terms of influence and rules and norms we propose to the world. And the rise of China is part of this conversation. So when it comes to the political consequences of this new global reality, the political consequences of the pandemic, the political consequences of the realisation here in the West of the changes in the world, there’s no other way than for NATO and EU to make sure that the NATO new next Strategic Concept that will be ready by the Madrid Summit in 2022 and the Strategic Compass of the EU that will be ready during the French presidency of EU Council, are converging and complementary – not identical, but converging and complementary. If we do this, we are on the safe side of history.

ROLAND FREUDENSTEIN: Thank you so much. I think we could continue this, actually, we should, in talks in the corridors and in the coffee break and . . . and so on. But we have to wrap it up at this point. I think the . . . the decisive takeaway here is that it’s . . . it’s a multipronged effort. NATO and the European Union will both have to . . . will have to closely cooperate, and they will both have to play their respective strengths in a common effort to increase strategic foresight for strengthening resilience. And the last thought that I want to leave you with here, it is about democracy versus authoritarianism. This is the overarching struggle of the upcoming decade – decades, probably, plural – that will shape our era. And the West, indeed, stands a fighting chance in this, if we stick together and we stay confident. So thank you so much for being here, for participating in the debate. Thanks to our two speakers, Mircea Geoană and Maroš Šefčovič. And with that, I thank you very much and wish you fruitful further debates. Thank you.