A conversation with the Vice-President of the European Commission Jyrki KATAINEN at Bocconi University
“I am here to listen and learn from your opinions”, stated Vice-President of the EC for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen at the very beginning of his introductory speech, during last Friday’s event at Bocconi University. The title of the conference was ‘Jobs and Growth in Tomorrow's Europe’.
The event, which was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States, covered a wide collection of topics, ranging from lessons from the economic crisis, the tradeoff between modernisation and protection of privacy with regards to Artificial Intelligence, education, trade, peace and cohesion. Throughout an intensive Q&A session that directly involved the public, Commissioner Jyrki Katainen had the chance to clarify the EU’s view on the most popular and critical subjects of discussion. Moreover, he highlighted the need to increase reciprocal trust among European countries.
Mutual trust is also at the basis of trade policy, being at the same time a precondition ad a consequence of it. Beyond economic benefits, indeed, trade creates common values. In particular, Commissioner Katainen stressed the EU’s belief in the rule of trade, rather than in the rule of the strongest, currently pursued by the US. Therefore, even when asked to clarify the EU action plan to counter balance protectionism tendencies emerging from the ongoing ‘Trade war’, in a context in which WTO appears to be weak, the Commissioner’s answer was explicit and coherent:
“As far as we replaced the rule of the strongest with the rule of law after WWII, the EU wants to stick to WTO law, even though people might consider it weak”.
However, when moving to trade and fair taxation related issues, the rule of law seems to falter. Product transfers by multinational firms in order to avoid taxation often are not illegal, but certainly unfair. “Trade must be open but must be fair”, recalled Commissioner Katainen when interrogated on EU’s proposals to cope with multinational fair taxation. Nevertheless, he declared himself more optimistic than before about the Member States’ agreement on possible EU’s proposals, being people more aware of this problem nowadays.
Tradeoffs also arise when dealing with Artificial Intelligence, robotisation and privacy. On the one hand, a relevant question from the public raised the issue of tracing a line between privacy and information availability. In this perspective, the EU is thinking of changing current legislation. Data protection remains indeed at the core of EU values, in the sense that people should be in the position to know to whom they give their personal data. On the other hand, the discussion raised concerns from the public about jobs disappearing as well as competition and inequality threats of AI. The debate, occasionally very technical, inspired the Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness to evaluate the need of an EU strategy for Artificial Intelligence, while reminding that job losses in the short run might be counterbalanced by the rise of new professions in the future.
However, even if further cooperation at EU level with respect to some issues (e.g. migration, security, economy) is likely to happen, Commissioner Katainen remains skeptical about what someone refers to as the ‘United States of Europe’. There is still much to do, starting from clearer understanding and mutual trust. His message, to Member states, does not only address economy, but also human dignity and human values. “Europe – he said - is for people”.