Can­di­date for EU pres­i­dent touts free trade

China Daily European Weekly - - Last Word - By LIU JIA in Brus­sels For China Daily

‘It is time for politi­cians to stop spread­ing hate and fear,’ says Alexan­der Stubb

Alexan­der Stubb, who is run­ning to be the next chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Euro­pean Union, has called on the EU to de­fend the mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem and deepen co­op­er­a­tion with China, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on trade and cli­mate.

“Europe has an im­por­tant role to play in safe­guard­ing mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism at the same time it is pro­mot­ing free trade,” says Stubb, who sees him­self as a solid pro­po­nent of the global rules sys­tem and free trade.

Stubb, a for­mer Fin­nish prime min­is­ter, says one of his pri­or­i­ties will be to deepen the EU’s trade ties with the rest of the world — in par­tic­u­lar with the bloc’s key part­ners — if he be­comes the next com­mis­sion pres­i­dent.

Stubb an­nounced his bid to be­come the lead can­di­date of the cen­ter-right Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party for the com­mis­sion pres­i­dency in early Oc­to­ber. At a congress in Helsinki on Nov 8, the EPP will pick its so-called Spitzenkan­di­dat, the party’s can­di­date for the top EU job.

With the EPP ex­pected to re­main the largest po­lit­i­cal coali­tion in next May’s Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion, the group’s nom­i­nee is likely to suc­ceed the in­cum­bent com­mis­sion pres­i­dent, Jean-Claude Juncker, in 2019. That means ei­ther Stubb or Ger­many’s more con­ser­va­tive can­di­date, Man­fred We­ber.

Stubb is an un­abashed free trader, and a solid sup­porter of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“I am afraid a lot of trade agree­ments that we have, at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment, are bi­lat­eral. I come from the big­gest trad­ing bloc in the world. Com­posed of 500 mil­lion peo­ple and 28 mem­ber states, the EU is the big­gest trader in the world. From the EU per­spec­tive, I think the way forward — to have bi­lat­eral trade agree­ments — was quite nice. But in the mean­time, it’s im­por­tant to have WTO mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism,” Stubb says.

“I am a strong ad­vo­cate of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in gen­eral. When I was trade min­is­ter, I was al­ways fighting for deals in the WTO. I was happy that China joined the WTO in 2001. That was an im­por­tant step.”

“In the ideal world, we have the mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem,” oth­er­wise things get “a lit­tle bit too chaotic in my mind”, he says.

“Para­dox­i­cally, we live in a world where you have the ques­tion: How many trade agree­ments do you need in the fu­ture when we start do­ing 3D print­ing, when we see the data is be­com­ing the new goal af­ter oil. We have to de­velop with the times.”

Stubb’s back­ground is in academia, civil ser­vice and pol­i­tics. As a firm ad­vo­cate of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion, he has writ­ten a num­ber of books and aca­demic ar­ti­cles on Euro­pean af­fairs, in ad­di­tion to teach­ing and writ­ing news­pa­per col­umns.

Do­mes­ti­cally, he has served as prime min­is­ter, fi­nance min­is­ter, for­eign min­is­ter, and trade and Europe min­is­ter for Fin­land over the past decade. The ex­pe­ri­ence across all EU in­sti­tu­tions from the Euro­pean Coun­cil to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, from the com­mis­sion to the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters, gives the pro-Euro­pean rich cre­den­tials as a can­di­date.

Stubb de­scribes him­self as a sports nut, eter­nal op­ti­mist and Nordic prag­ma­tist. He is also an ac­tive speaker and an en­thu­si­as­tic user of so­cial me­dia.

“It is time for politi­cians to stop spread­ing hate and fear. I vote for hope and so­lu­tions based on Euro­pean values,” his cam­paign mes­sage says, high­light­ing the three big Ds for Europe: dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion, diver­sity and de­fend­ing values.

Cam­paign­ing un­der the slo­gan “Next Gen­er­a­tion Europe” in five Euro­pean lan­guages, the 50-yearold iron­man triath­lete has shown he can con­nect ef­fec­tively with young vot­ers in a way that seems to elude other Euro­pean politi­cians.

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing firm pledges about his pro-Euro­pean com­mit­ment, he is also a strong sup­porter of rules-based glob­al­iza­tion.

“I would def­i­nitely like to see China and the EU work to­gether on WTO mod­ern­iza­tion to up­hold mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism jointly,” he says.

Fol­low­ing their an­nounce­ment to set up a work­ing group to re­vamp the WTO in June, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the EU and China met for the first time in mid-Oc­to­ber. At the meet­ing, which was held in Bei­jing, the two part­ners dis­cussed ways to up­date WTO rules, un­block the dis­pute set­tle­ment mech­a­nism and strengthen the global trad­ing sys­tem as a whole.

“The US says we are go­ing to build walls and have trade walls with China. We’re go­ing to pro­tect, we’re go­ing to im­pose tar­iffs, and so on. But I be­lieve in mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, and I be­lieve in free trade,” Stubb says.

“Then the in­ter­est­ing thing is, if you look right af­ter the elec­tion of Trump, who was the per­son in Davos? It was Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. He came there to talk about free trade and glob­al­iza­tion.”

“My ar­gu­ment is that the United States is vol­un­tar­ily marginal­iz­ing it­self in world pol­i­tics,” Stubb says.

“When that hap­pens, you have a power vac­uum. I think this power vac­uum has to be filled by some­one. I think the Euro­pean Union can do quite a lot — it can fill the power vac­uum on trade, and it can fill it on values, fill it on glob­al­iza­tion as well,” he adds.

“In the fu­ture, the pri­or­ity is prob­a­bly on trade. China and the Euro­pean Union should co­op­er­ate on trade, among other things.

“Ac­tu­ally I met Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping twice when he was vice-pres­i­dent. The first time, in 2009, I met him in Bei­jing when I was for­eign min­is­ter, and then I was flat­tered that he wanted to see me when he vis­ited Helsinki in 2010, be­cause it’s com­pletely out of pro­to­col to have the vice-pres­i­dent of China meet the for­eign min­is­ter of Fin­land,” Stubb says. “We had very good con­ver­sa­tions.”

In the spring of 2014, dur­ing Xi’s visit to Brus­sels, the EU com­mit­ted for the first time to open­ing talks on a free trade ac­cord with China, if cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions on a bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment treaty are suc­cess­ful.

So far, China has ne­go­ti­ated 24 free trade agree­ments, and 16 of them have been signed and im­ple­mented al­ready. The EU is in the process of fi­nal­iz­ing trade pacts with Ja­pan, Sin­ga­pore, Viet­nam, Mex­ico, Mer­co­sur (the South Amer­i­can trade bloc), Chile, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Be­sides joint ef­forts on trade, Stubb also vows to strengthen col­lab­o­ra­tion with China in fighting cli­mate change and boost­ing tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion.

“Cli­mate is also very im­por­tant. But trade and cli­mate go hand in hand,” he says.

LIU JIA / FOR CHINA DAILY

For­mer Fin­nish prime min­is­ter Alexan­der Stubb de­fended free trade in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with China Daily in Brus­sels in Oc­to­ber.

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