Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are all doing well and I trust you are managing as best you can in these challenging times.

I want to start by thanking President Dehousse and the European University Institute of Florence, and of course the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies which is capably directed by my compatriot Professor Brigid Laffan, for facilitating this event.

I was in Florence during my previous mandate as Agriculture Commissioner and I can assure you that I would much rather be giving this speech in person in your beautiful city!

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus has prevented this from happening, but I will say this: even virtually, I can think of no better forum than your renowned institution in which to launch a European policy review.

The contribution you make to European scholarship is crucially important, particularly in the times we live in. Today, more than ever, our democratic discourse needs reliable and informed analysis and research. This is one way to keep our European Union strong.

Background: EU Trade Policy

Of course, a strong European Union also needs a strong trade and investment policy, to help defend our interests and secure our place as the biggest trader in the world.

For a long time, there was something close to a global consensus about market forces and trade. Now, the world is changing and we must change too.

Trade and investment policy is a core European competence. In other words, it is an area of policy where our Member States willingly pool their sovereignty, recognising that their collective power is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Our immense strength as a trading power is evidenced by the number of agreements we have signed in recent years, including comprehensive deals with Japan and Canada. Just last week, the Vietnamese Parliament ratified our agreement, meaning it is on track to enter into force later this year.

This is the largest deal we have ever signed with a developing country, and an important building block towards further cooperation in the strategically important ASEAN region.

Our network of bilateral deals now numbers a grand total of 76. I like to call this the “opportunity of openness”, because these agreements bring many benefits to the European Union:

They provide huge opportunities for our exporters.

They give our consumers a wider choice.

They help us to promote European values and standards around the world, by engaging with our partners.

And they increase our international standing.

Of course, it is our single market that gives us the leverage and economic clout to be arguably the world’s most influential trading partner.

32 years ago, a very prescient European head of state predicted that “the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor, in our competitive position in European and world markets into the twenty-first century”.

Well, how right Margaret Thatcher was! She understood that in trade, size matters – a fact that seems to have escaped some of her successors.

The economic data is resoundingly positive in relation to the benefits of our open trade agenda. Today, one in seven EU jobs is supported either directly or indirectly by exports – this is a full two thirds more than in the year 2000.

But trade policy is not static - it is constantly evolving, it is highly dynamic.

It must be refreshed and revised to stay relevant. We need to re-establish a consensus around the “why” and the “what” of trade policy.

That is why today, I am proud to officially launch a review process of our shared European trade and investment policy.

Why now?

Our last significant EU trade policy communication, a document entitled “Trade for All”, was published in 2015.

So much has changed since then, and many of these changes present us with huge challenges.

Trade and trade rules are increasingly exposed to the volatility of international relations.

China continues to expand its global influence, including within the European Union. It is an important partner for cooperation, but equally, a systemic rival.

The global footprint of the United States has changed radically, with a retreat from its traditional role of global leadership.

The digitalization of our societies and economies continues to accelerate at a staggering pace.

And the European commitment to be a global leader on climate action and sustainable development has grown exponentially, in line with the expectations of our people.

We also need to acknowledge that we must be more assertive in enforcing our rights and defending ourselves against unfair practices by other. These unfair practices have increased in recent years. We need to shore up our protections to prevent competitors taking advantage of our openness.

Finally, the World Trade Organisation is in crisis. It is operating according to a rulebook written in 1995, and requires urgent root and branch reform to become relevant again. Global trade requires proper global rules, and without a functioning WTO, we will all end up worse off.

All these changes need to be fully reflected in our EU trade policy, because of course trade policy is about much more than trade. It is a core European policy that has a significant wider impact across the spectrum of policymaking.

For example, it has an important contribution to make to the European Green Deal, our flagship climate and sustainability agenda, and to our Farm to Fork strategy to build sustainable food systems.

Covid-19 Impact

The Covid-19 pandemic is of course a very powerful factor in all this. It has highlighted vulnerabilities in our supply chains that we must address in order to be better prepared for future crises.

The pandemic has devastated our economies: the EU economy is expected to contract by 7.4% in 2020, while global GDP will fall by 3.5%.

And the coronavirus political environment has seen the escalation of some trends that were already on the rise before the pandemic, including calls for protectionism, economic nationalism and the rejection of global institutions.

There have been prominent voices calling for the WTO to be dismantled and proclaiming the death of globalisation.

In this regard, perhaps some commentators view the European Commission position as out of touch. To them I would simply say: get real.

The globalised nature of our society and economy is a fact, it is here to stay, and pretending otherwise slows down our capacity to make the right changes.

Does climate action require global cooperation? Of course it does.

Does our economic recovery from Covid-19 require well-functioning global supply chains? Of course it does.

Does the digital economy need globally agreed, fit-for-purpose rules? Of course it does.

Maintaining our belief in the “opportunity of openness” does not mean that we are woolly-headed idealists.

We recognise that some things need to change in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Open Strategic Autonomy

We recognise that trade policy can and should be more effective in relation to pursuing European interests in today’s world.

So today we are asking for the views of our citizens and stakeholders to help us develop a bespoke EU trade policy approach for the post-coronavirus global economy. We are calling this approach: “Open Strategic Autonomy”.

Now I know this may not seem like a very sexy title, but I can assure you that those three words encompass many important priorities.

Open Strategic Autonomy means reaffirming our global leadership ambitions across a range of areas, in line with the aims of a more geopolitical European Commission;

It means building stronger alliances with like-minded partners;

It means shaping a better type of globalisation – fairer, and more sustainable;

It reflects our commitment to strong and up-to-date multilateral rules;

It recalls our belief in “the opportunity of openness”.

While at the same time:

It advocates for a tougher, more assertive approach to protect our businesses and consumers, notably through stronger trade defence and enforcement;

And it calls for the diversification of supply chains to assure our strategic independence.

The concept of Open Strategic Autonomy was enshrined as a policy priority in the Commission’s May 2020 Recovery Communication titled “Europe's moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation”.

Our revised proposal for the next EU budget, combined with our €750 billion Recovery Instrument means we have a total amount of €1.85 trillion in financial firepower to drive our recovery from Covid-19.

This means we now have a golden opportunity, backed by huge resources, to emerge quickly from this crisis and build a smart and sustainable “new normal”.

Of course, this will require courageous political leadership, including in the domain of trade policy.

Steps Already Taken

We have already taken important steps in the right direction.

We are strengthening our implementation and enforcement agenda, both inside the EU and across our worldwide relationships. The best proof of this is the fact that we will soon appoint an EU Chief Trade Enforcement Officer (or “CTEO”) for the first time.

The CTEO will help our exporters to gain more value from our partner markets, and will also strengthen the enforcement of sustainable development commitments, notably on the climate action agenda or labour rights.

Above all, the CTEO will be crucially important in relation to ensuring that our SMEs, which are the lifeblood of the European economy, get maximum value from our trade deals.

The CTEO will ensure that any problem is identified early on, and that swift and appropriate action is taken, whether it be non-compliance with trade and sustainable development commitments or barriers to market access.

The CTEO will also make us stronger on the home front, by helping to assess where we are most vulnerable, and determining how to effectively deploy our trade defence instruments to protect our companies and consumers.

This is a “Europe that protects” in action.

We are vigorously pursuing WTO reform, because we believe that with the right leadership, and the right reforms, this organisation can be the beating heart of global economic recovery: our “bouncebackability” depends on keeping trade open, free and fair, with predictable and enforceable rules.

President von der Leyen has said on many occasions that “multilateralism is in our DNA”, and of course she is 100% correct.

The European Union is the ultimate proof that multilateralism, handled correctly, works.

We are making huge efforts to refresh the transatlantic relationship, which remains the central artery of the world economy and our most important strategic alliance.

But we are at the same time putting a much stronger focus on our closest partners in our neighbouring region and Africa. Besides their obvious geographic and geopolitical importance, these countries offer important growth and production markets as well as representing a key source of imports for goods and services.

It is therefore mutually beneficial for both the EU and these partners to strengthen our trade and investment relationships.

As EU Agriculture Commissioner I set up the Taskforce on Rural Africa and it showed how much can be achieved through genuine partnership and cooperation between peoples and businesses on both continents.

Trade Policy Review Process

So we have already taken several important steps on the journey to a revitalised trade policy. Now, we want to hear from our stakeholders and citizens to help us take the next steps.

We have just published a very detailed consultation note with a set of guiding questions. The public consultation is open until September 15th.

Our translation services are working hard to have the consultation documents available in all official EU languages in July.

Between now and September 15th, we will also organise a number of meetings for interested stakeholders, which will be another opportunity to gather feedback.

This follows through on our commitment to being transparent in shaping our trade agenda. The EU is already the world's most transparent public authority when it comes to trade policy, but we want to do even more.

We want our stakeholders and our citizens to make their voices heard and feel ownership of a policy that has a direct impact on their lives. We want to build a new and inclusive consensus around the “what, why and how” of trade policy, at home and abroad.

Once we have gathered and collated all the input, this will feed into a Commission Communication to be published at the end of the year.

Conclusion

So let me conclude, ladies and gentlemen, by once again thanking EUI Florence for providing this platform today.

I encourage you to “have your say” in the public consultation in relation to the many issues I have mentioned.

The European Union is a hugely important player in global trade. We are unique in that we are not a nation-state big power; we are a big power made up of nation-states working together.

By our nature, we understand that modern economies and societies are interconnected. By our nature, we recognise that modern supply chains work across national borders, and will continue to do so.

By our nature, we demonstrate to the world that with a strong common rulebook, countries can have the confidence to maintain openness where that openness brings real, tangible benefits to the lives of our people.

Thank you.