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Ursula von der Leyen at Davos: Why the EU must prioritise economic security

Economic governance / EPC FLASH ANALYSIS
Chiara Scalamandrè

Date: 15/01/2024
The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos has just kicked off, bringing together leaders from over 100 governments, international organisations, business and civil society. Against the backdrop of a fractured and shock-prone geopolitical environment, this 54th edition intends to boost dialogue and cooperation on economic growth, environment, energy security and technology under the overarching title ‘Rebuilding Trust’. 
As usual, Europe’s presence is strong at the conference, with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen making the trip again, as in past years, to deliver a special address on Tuesday 16. In her 2023 speech, von der Leyen emphasised the EU’s steadfast support for Ukraine, but also promised a Green Deal Industrial Plan to defend Europe’s industrial capacities from the US-led trade and investment war prompted by the Inflation Reduction Act. 

This year, economic security should be the primary focus of Commission President von der Leyen’s time at Davos. In a world of shocks and increasing fragmentation, the EU is compelled to rethink its international economic agenda and anchor it on resilience and economic security. The EU has learned the hard way in past years what dependency on Russia for energy and on China for critical raw materials and trade, might entail. At the launch of the EPC’s Europe’s Economic Security Project, Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, spoke recently about the “need to rebalance our international relationships” adding that “de-risking our economy is a precondition to any competitiveness agenda.” 

In his speech, Thierry Breton emphasised the need “to continue to promote Europe as a third bloc, a balancing force between the US and China” to weather the risks emerging from increasing geopolitical tensions. This is no easy balancing act. Even though the plan is to have a safety net to help lower external pressures, Europe must stay open and strengthen its cooperation with partners whenever possible. The European Union cannot turn inward and permit the rise of protectionism. But fundamentally, Breton is right: what is needed now is a Europe capable of defining and defending its economic interests.

Chiara Scalamandrè is a Junior Policy Analyst in the Europe’s Political Economy Programme at the European Policy Centre.

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