The Malta Independent 21 May 2024, Tuesday
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‘We want to nurture and build positive relations’ with the UK – EU Commissioner

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 12 May 2024, 09:30 Last update: about 9 days ago


The UK is an important member of the European family, European Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Urpilainen, who is the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, was responding to a question regarding how important of a partner the UK is for the EU following Brexit, and how she views this partnership growing in the years to come. Urpilainen was in Malta a few days ago to attend activities related to Europe Day.


“The UK is an important member of the European family. From the EU side, we want to nurture and build positive relations, while continuing to ensure that the agreements we have made – notably the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – will be fully implemented,” she said.

How can the outcome of the elections in the United States impact the EU’s relationship with the US?

The EU and the US are close, values-based allies. During this European Commission’s mandate and under the Biden Administration the transatlantic bond has grown tight. I would say the transatlantic relationship is historically strong.

We have been very successful in coordinating support to Ukraine and sanctions against the aggressor, Russia, within the G7 framework. The cooperation has been frequent and constructive also in my field of responsibility. To give you just one example, the EU is working alongside the US to develop the Lobito Corridor, a significant transportation and trade route that benefits Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Of course, we will respect the American democracy and decision taken by the American voters. We need to cooperate and get along with the future US Administration, no matter what the name of the president will be. From my own portfolio perspective, I hope the next Administration will stay engaged in the multilateral fora and continue to uphold international commitments. It is fair to say that we need the US to be involved in solving global challenges; climate change is a case in point.

I think there is broad mutual understanding now that whatever is the outcome of the elections, we in Europe need to invest more in our own security and defence, and we cannot have overreliance on the US in these sectors. Moreover, the EU is involved in the global tech and innovation race, and we have to ensure our competitiveness also vis-à-vis the US.

The world is seemingly becoming more divided. The war in Ukraine has created a barrier with Russia, the situation in Israel is causing turmoil in the Middle East. In light of all this, what partnerships with third countries should the EU focus on building and how do you view the union’s role?

The EU is a staunch defender of multilateralism and rules-based international order with the United Nations at its core. We certainly do not want to see the world divided in blocks, despite the heightened geopolitical tensions and competition. The challenges we face today do not respect borders, and the recent global crises, the pandemic and ramifications of Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, have really revealed our interconnectedness. The EU also has its own interests and values, which we should safeguard, defend and promote.

We need more cooperation, deeper partnerships, and we have to be very strategic about our international role. We cannot risk losing influence to hostile actors like Russia. During my term, I have been advocating for Team Europe approach. This means the European Commission, EU member states and European development finance institutions, including the European Investment Bank, working together, pooling resources and expertise. Together, we can be more impactful and come up with transformational projects.

We use the Team Europe approach to deliver on Global Gateway. It is the EU’s positive cooperation offer to the partner countries. With this investment strategy, which aims to mobilise €300bn by 2027 in public and private investments, we are advancing sustainable development, while building reliable infrastructure. Our focus is not solely on hard infrastructure, we seek to improve the whole ecosystem – local jobs, growth – and to invest in enabling business environment, good governance, regulatory strengthening and human development, including education and research.

The strategy is geared towards local value addition and mutual benefits. Think of critical raw materials for example: we need them in Europe for our green and digital twin transition, and our partner countries want to use their natural resources in a sustainable way that benefits their citizens. Under Global Gateway, we have already signed several Memoranda of Understanding with partners on cooperation on critical raw materials.

Global Gateway is values-based, and our projects adhere to the highest environmental and social standards. From my experience, it is an offer well-received by our partner countries who have frustrations towards for example China’s approach to infrastructure development, which has been deepening their dependencies and indebtedness.

The EU elections are round the corner, are you concerned about voter turnout in the member states?

I am concerned, but I am also committed to do my part to spread the word and encourage people to use their voice. This is particularly important regarding young voters. As politicians, it's our responsibility to clarify the decisions we make to our citizens in an understandable way and tell them about the impact the EU legislation has on their daily lives.

The crises we have faced in recent years have shown how important it is to have a strong and united European Union. Without the EU, small countries like Malta and my home country Finland would have struggled to access Covid-19 vaccines and recover economically from the pandemic. Without the EU, we would have been very alone tackling issues like rising energy prices, illegal migration and impacts of Russia’s illegal war of aggression. For some things, we simply need broader shoulders to rely on.

Where would you like to see the EU in five years’ time?

My biggest wish is peace in Europe. I also wish that we have managed to invest in making the EU safe, competitive and socially just.

I hope the EU will be a strong international actor, and that we are on track to become the first climate neutral continent in the world. I hope to see that we have prospered together, our economy is strong and our single market well-functioning.


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