State of the European Union Address 2023 – What’s in there for the Philippines?

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

On 13 September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave the annual State of the European Union address to the European Parliament. As with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President of the Philippines, this speech is the occasion to evaluate the achievements of the European Union of the past year and to lay out the plans and initiatives for the years to come. This is not only important for Europeans: Europe is solidly integrated in the global and multilateral structures and European policies often have global significance.

Let me provide you with a recent, important example: The latest version of the iPhone will no longer use the Apple-specific Lightning charging port but will join all other brands in using the more universal USB-C port. This decision by Apple, a US company, follows the issuance of EU legislation that all phones and other small devices must be compatible with the USB-C charging cables from the end of next year. The EU had introduced this measure to reduce waste and save money for consumers, as you can use the same cable for various devices. While the legal rule applies for electronic devices sold in the European Union, due to the sheer size of the European market, Apple has decided to adapt its product globally, thereby also making a little part of the lives of Filipinos easier.

As I am trying to show with this very specific example, many policies of the European Union have a positive impact on other countries like the Philippines as well. President von der Leyen specifically referred to the Philippines in her speech as an example where the partnership framework of the European Union, Global Gateway, will contribute to the country’s ambition to enhance its digital economy. She was referring to the digital economy package being prepared for the Philippines, through which Europe will invest in the establishment of fast and reliable internal and external connectivity so as to facilitate the ongoing cooperation on earth observation, cyber security training and the deployment and development of 5G. The EU is also contemplating a possible extension of a submarine cable that it plans to build between the European Union via the Arctic to Japan to connect directly to Southeast Asia via the Philippines.

The EU President did, however, also refer to the need to manage the risks of the digital world. She said: “The internet was born as an instrument for sharing knowledge, opening minds and connecting people. But it has also given rise to serious challenges. Disinformation, spread of harmful content and the risks to the privacy of our data.” The Philippines is facing these challenges in a very significant manner. Europe intends to become the global pioneer of citizen’s rights in the digital world and has in this context launched two flagship pieces of legislation. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act will create a safer digital space where fundamental rights are protected. Both acts will ensure fairness for citizens with clear responsibilities for big tech digital companies. Furthermore, Europe is working on policies to mitigate the very real threats posed by the rapid rise of Artificial Intelligence technology, while supporting innovation and better condition for its development. With these policies, Europe hopes to inspire other countries that face the same risks.

President von der Leyen also mentioned in her speech that Europe would like to step up on its economic security by de-risking the European economy. Concretely, this means that the European Union would like to ensure that it has a sufficiently diverse and sustainable supply chain for products used in the European market. In this context, the EU President announced that the EU would convene the first meeting of the new Critical Raw Materials Club later this year. The idea of the Club is to bring together resource-rich and consumer countries to address together the challenge of long-term global access to a secure and sustainable supply of CRMs, and to assist resource-rich developing countries in their ambition to industrialize on the basis of their CRM assets. The Philippines, which has a significant amount of raw material resources in its territory, has also been invited to participate in this initiative. Localizing the capacity of the Philippines to process its resources in a sustainable manner has the potential to provide a significant boost to the Philippine economy.

Another element of the speech I would like to highlight is the acknowledgment by the Commission President of the concerns of emerging economies about the threats against the rules-based international order. I quote:“[…] there is a deeper unease by many emerging economies about the way institutions and globalization work for them. Those concerns are legitimate. These emerging economies – with their people and natural assets – are essential allies in building a cleaner, safer and more prosperous world. Europe will always work with them to reform and improve the international system. We want to lead efforts to make the rules-based order fairer and make distribution more equal.”

Last, but not least, I want to highlight President Von der Leyen’s reference to Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine, in which she describes the destructive nature of the invasion through the moving story of a young Ukrainian writer. The message of my President cannot be clearer: “We will be at Ukraine’s side every step of the way. For as long as it takes.”

I would like to invite readers who are interested to watch the entire speech on the dedicated website https://state-of-the-union.ec.europa.eu. The State of the European Union 2023 confirms that the European Union remains more than ever invested in a safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous world. Our world!

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