Last Updated on Thursday, 21 September, 2023 at 11:16 am by Andre Camilleri
Last week, the President of the European Commission delivered the State of the Union speech. President von der Leyen commenced her address by reminding everyone in the room that in less than 300 days Europeans will go to the polls to vote for the European elections. The president recounted the history of a few countries coming together to form what we know today as the European Union. Indeed, they came together to foster peace. However, the recent Eurobarometer depicts mistrust in the EU, and the way the economy is being handled. President von der Leyen tried to water down some of the decisions that she pushed for in the past years, including the hasty idea of a geopolitical EU Commission. Surely, it did not go as planned. President von der Leyen focused on what the EU Commission pressed for in the past years, including cleaner energy, microchips and raw materials which are clearly all geopolitical themes. However, the numbers that emerged in the last Eurobarometer survey cannot be ignored. People are sending a clear message. We need a fairer and a better EU beyond geopolitics.
Let’s be fair and acknowledge that President von der Leyen took some bold decisions during her tenure. Indeed, when it comes to the proposal of combating violence against women the decisions taken are commendable. Clearly, there cannot be equality without freedom, and certainly, I fully agree on submitting a new proposal. We cannot have a situation, where women are dependent on men. And this was reinforced during the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the president focused on climate change. She stated that the planet is boiling. Certainly, the Green Deal push was on the agenda.
President von der Leyen was clear in her message, that the clean tech industry must be made in Europe. There it came. This year it was not Russia but China. The script was written to appease President Joe Biden on the other side of the Atlantic. Well, President von der Leyen is also German. Likewise, the narrative might have irritated President Macron on his approach towards China, when back in April he said that the EU cannot become a vassal of other superpowers. Surely, President von der Leyen tried to pave the way to her eventual EU Commission transition, lest she does not secure a second term. Additionally, President von der Leyen promised to create what is to be known as the Critical Raw Materials Club. Indeed, it sounded more like an elitist retirement club for those who are in control of precious minerals and materials.
President von der Leyen said that bottlenecks on the global supply chain are hampering competitiveness, including the policies of other countries when it comes to, for instance, the restriction of germanium and gallium, which are crucially needed for the manufacturing of solar panels and microchips. Apparently, the Chinese are restricting such rare earths, and in response, likeminded partners, like Australia and Japan, want to work together to avoid dependence on a single supplier for CRMs. Notwithstanding that I agree with her on the message that we need a fair and just green transition, and that competition is healthy, the political discourse was, once again, a bit divisive.
Unquestionably, competition is healthy, only, if it is fair competition. President von der Leyen stated that some companies in the EU are facing unprecedented bankruptcies because of heavy subsidies by external governments, including the solar panels industry. The president explicitly said that China is flooding the global market with cheap Chinese electric vehicles and this is attributed to heavy state subsidies. The president explained that such decisions are distorting EU markets and this kind of modus operandi by the Chinese government will not be tolerated any longer. Hence, the EU Commission pledged to launch an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China. President von der Leyen reiterated that Europe is open to competition but not for a race to the bottom and with unfair practices.
Let us leave the migration pact aside, as Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied, already chewed Europeans and spat them, in a way that they cannot go back to renegotiate. From a geopolitical point of view we have someone in the Southern Mediterranean who is playing the same geopolitical chess moves of the other character on the Eastern side of the EU. President Kais Saied allowed for the provision of the infrastructure of the EU’s clean energy push, agreed on the way migrants will be processed in Tunisia and accepted a financial rescue package. However, he is setting the rules and is clearly in charge of the political game. President Saied already told the EU Parliament that they are not welcomed in Tunisia. Perhaps, he is realising that in essence the European a la carte values are being stretched to a point of buffet menu sets.
Obviously, I must admit that the most interesting parts of the president’s speech linked to Europe’s culture, natural capital, and diversity, as well as Artificial intelligence. Whoever wrote her speech, clearly got the part of the environment right. Indeed, the loss of nature, does not only destroy the foundations of our life but the feeling of what people consider is their home. Conversely, on AI, if used in the most ethical way possible, it can improve health care and boost productivity. Indeed, Generative AI, or as is known Gen AI, is a complex and advanced AI tool that can create a wide variety of data. It learns patterns from existing data, which mimics human creativity, making it a valuable tool for many industries, including civilian and military.
In the past months, hundreds of leading Gen AI academic experts warned about mitigating the risk of human and mass extinction, attributed to Gen AI, which must become a global priority alongside other societal problems like pandemics and nuclear war. The industry is moving quite faster than developers are thinking. And this is where the EU can step in with likeminded partners. We need a global regulatory framework on Generative AI that guard ways, governance and guiding innovation. Surely, AI must develop and become human centric, foster transparency and responsible inventions. A global legislative framework that fosters governance and assessing the impact of AI on societies and humans is crucial.
The President of the EU Commission suggested that an international body, like the IPCC on climate change at a UN level, is required on AI to document the risks and benefits to societies and humanity. And we must have scientists, academics, tech companies and independent experts from all over the world to coordinate and develop a global coordinate response. Reading between the lines, the message was quite clear. Undoubtedly, the winner of an eventual war is not the one who is extremely militarily equipped, but what type of advanced lethal and military equipment is guiding conflict. If left unregulated, countries that are testing Gen AI without any regulatory frameworks in place akin to the EU’s GDPR, surely, control a competitive military advantage. And those who are able to equip themselves militarily through Gen AI, ought to be able to win a war of attrition, thanks to artificial intelligence rather than military trainings and battalion groups. It sounds like fiction. Plainly, it is not!
Lastly, good luck to the new EU SMEs envoy reporting directly to President von der Leyen.