Europe facing a ‘Sputnik moment’, says EU Commissioner Moedas

Written by Henry Goodwin on . Posted in Current features, Features

Almost sixty years ago to the day Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, was launched into space. It was a watershed moment, seemingly signaling an eastwards shift in global leadership, away from the United States and towards the Soviet Union. America’s response? To double-down on their commitment to science and technology. The result? NASA, and the first man on the moon.

For Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner on Research, Science and Innovation, Europe is currently ‘living in a kind of Sputnik moment.’ Although different in context, Moedas believes that Europe has reached a ‘moment of action’ similar to that experienced by the US in 1957. Now, he thinks, is ‘a time when change is needed, and complacency must give way to action.’

Speaking at the opening of the EUI’s School of Transnational Governance at Villa Salviati on the sixtieth anniversary of the Sputnik launch, Moedas said the string of shocks that Europe has endured in the past ten years – from the refugee crisis to Brexit – ‘were like someone punching you repeatedly in the stomach’. The crises, he told a packed crowd, have served as a reminder that ‘Europe is fragile’.

Citing California’s recent surge past France to become the world’s sixth largest economy, Moedas argued that Europe was ‘losing in the global game’, suggesting that it risked losing its ‘seat at the table’ as a result. ‘20 years ago, Europe represented 30% of global GDP,’ Moedas explained. Today it accounts for just 20%. ‘Back then,’ he added, ‘China represented 2%. Today it is 16%.’ In twenty years, he continued, Germany is forecast to be the world’s ninth-largest economy. ‘That means there might not be a single European leader sitting around the table of the G7,’ he warned.

Such forecasts, the Commissioner argued, make the need to reform the EU increasingly urgent. Making reference to proposed institutional changes set forward in recent speeches by Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Moedas outlined several key areas where Europe’s need to reform is most pressing.

Commissioner Moedas outlines his vision for the future of Europe at the opening of the School of Transnational Governance at Villa Salviati on October 4th 2017, alongside Miguel Maduro, the Director of the School of Transnational Governance (L).

As well as espousing the need to ‘simplify’ the EU’s institutional architecture, Moedas strongly made the case for a common EU budget. Brussels, he said, ‘needs a stabilization mechanism’ to help countries in economic crisis. ‘We need to have the capacity to transfer resources to a country quickly,’ he explained, in the form of a Eurozone budget, a proposal which has drawn criticism from some commentators. A fundamental part of that, Moedas suggested, would be giving the EU ‘some borrowing capacity’.

According to Moedas, now is the time to ‘future-proof Europe’. Projects like the School of Transnational Governance, whose doors are now open, will be central to this effort. ‘Schools like the one we are symbolically launching today can be fundamental pieces of a brighter Europe,’ he said.

‘We need more transnational schools, because our problems are transnational,’ Moedas argued. From climate change to cyber-security, ‘there is no problem that can be solved purely at a local or a national level.’ Therefore, he concluded, ‘we need the European University Institute and we need the new School of Transnational Governance. Your job, at the end of the day, will be to help politicians grasp those Sputnik moments.’

In delivering a speech outlining long-term view for Europe, Commissioner Moedas ‘made us aware of the realities in which Europe, and the School of Transnational Governance, will operate in the years to come,’ said Fabrizio Tassinari, the School’s Executive Coordinator.

‘One thing will be for the School to help Europe grasp and understand any ‘Sputnik moment’ that may occur,’ Tassinari told EUI Times, ‘quite another is to facilitate and foresee the emergence of such moments.  From where I stand, that is just about the tallest order we can set for an institution with the ambition to train future generations of leaders beyond the state.’

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