Candidate for EU president touts free trade
‘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.
Former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb defended free trade in an exclusive interview with China Daily in Brussels in October.