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Breakfast with Maria João Rodrigues: Discussing the Future European Multilateral System.

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

During the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I interviewed Politician and former member of the European Union (EU) Parliament Maria João Rodrigues. Recently the EU introduced a set of new agendas such as the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, The European Pillar of social rights, and matters relating to international trade. During this interview, Ms. Rodrigues shared her opinion regarding the long term effects of these agendas.

Maria sits down for coffee and breakfast in the Hyatt Hotel in Berlin. November 9th, 2019.

Introduction: 30 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall


This past November 9th was one of the busiest weekends in Berlin, as it celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of The Berlin Wall in 1989. Politicians from all around Europe and different parts of the world traveled to the city to celebrate the historical moment of the “peaceful revolution” as the walls dividing East and West Berlin came down. For the first time since 1961, East Berliners were able to freely step into West Berlin, and democracy triumphed.

Tourists gather to take pictures near the Berlin Wall, thirty years after its fall.

“European Union now is the most important pillar of the multilateral system. Let's use this moment of celebrating the fall of the Berlin wall for us to discuss how can we bridge among us, but also with the rest of the world. We need to cooperate to the rest of the world, to tackle the central global challenges.- Maria João at the Berlin Wall Conference, November 9th, 2019.


The European Union, Past and Present


The fall of the Berlin Wall was a remarkable moment in history, a moment many people thought they would never see. People felt free to roam the streets, and many felt it was a dawn of the free world. The political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously named it the “End of History”. Capitalist ideology and democracy had won the Cold War.


These values have since spread toward many other parts of the world, particularly in Europe. One of the greatest experiments of democracy that developed from this was the formation of the modern European Union which was officially established in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty. Today, almost a quarter into the 21st century, the EU remains largely a political success. However, many new challenges it currently faces differ from those at its inception.


New obstacles have gained attention on the political agenda such as environmental sustainability, renewable energy, climate change, and the rapid evolution of our digital society.” - Maria João Rodrigues

Maria João is one of the many politicians who visited Berlin over the weekend to discuss Europes' past conflict and future global challenges. She addressed the political community with a speech titled: “Bridges between Germans, Europeans, and citizens of the world today".

Her talk emphasized the need for bridges not only between EU members but the entire global community for alliance. “European Union now is the most important pillar of the multilateral system,” said Maria. "This is the right moment for us Europeans. Let's use this moment of celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall for us to discuss how can we bridge (gaps) among us, but also with the rest of the world. Because we need to cooperate to the rest of the world to tackle the central global challenges".


Interview with Maria João: A Look Into the Future

Maria poses for a photo outside the Hyatt hotel. November 9th, 2019.

Maria is a political economics expert for Europe with experience serving as an advisor to multiple politicians. The most well known is António Guterres, who she worked with before he was appointed Secretary General of the United Nations. Her professional career was largely devoted to collaborating with others toward the economic growth of the EU. Notably, she co-drafted the Lisbon Strategy and the EU 2020 Agenda. Currently, she is helping develop the EU's framework to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (herein referred to as SDG's) for 2030 with the "EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework". This framework will become accessible to the public in 2020.






EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework


Maria shared her insight into the development of the framework. Tackling global central challenges would mean addressing the system as a whole. In order to do so, there are two main challenges that the EU is addressing. Primarily, the EU must prepare its society to combat and fight climate change by shifting the economy to renewable energy. Secondly, it is expected to start combating the anticipated economic shift due to the major digital revolution of our time.


Two bills are circulating in the EU which may come into effect in the new decade. These include the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, (the topic of this interview) and the most recently proposed “Green Deal” which was drafted in August 2019.


In the EU 2030 framework, the EU is supposed to devise what they call a transparent and dynamic governance processto help integrate the agenda which would include cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (European Union). The framework demonstrates a strong commitment to achieving the SDGs. However, it is unclear how the EU will predict or plan to tackle external factors such as growing populations around the world. Some populations are expected to double by 2050, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa. This population growth will thus impact immigration policies, (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs).


Europe, a traditionally industrial economy, will inevitably have an altered economy due to a higher dependence on renewable energy. The 2030 framework also plans to shift to 32% of renewable energy shares (European Union). Maria believes that to efficiently tackle the problem, we must think of our economy on a broader scale. She thinks there must be a more central focus on, "Agriculture, manufacturing, transports, the way we organize our cities. This is really a big transformation on our way of life, our way of consuming and our way of working.”


The Digital Revolution

One of the main ways the EU will adjust its policies for sustainability is not just in the climate section, but also through the economy. Regarding the discourse of the economy under the 2030 agenda, Maria comments, “Of course we want to have growth in jobs; this remains important. But, we want to have the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past. And jobs also making the best of the skills of the people and their motivation, particularly young people, because young people are particularly much more qualified than in the past. So, this means that the jobs need to be based on innovation, high education, research, knowledge in general, and I would add culture.”


Culture indeed plays a strong role (or some would say “soft power”) for dialogue between nations. In order to have a successful implementation of policy, there must be social acceptance and cultural consensus for change. Maria uses the example of cultural soft power to describe how Europeans will adapt to the new digital revolution, a new job market, and lead to their acceptance towards innovation.


European Pillar of Social Rights


People are more likely to accept policies that benefit them. To cushion future economic shifts, the EU Commission, Parliament, and Council drafted the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar's aim is to provide equal work opportunities, fair working conditions with social protection and inclusion. “There is online work, for online platforms," Maria states. "We think that this work should be based on some fundamental rights such as a proper level contract, or more importantly, access to social protection. We don’t want people working for online platforms to become deprived of these basic rights”.


Ms. Rodrigues explains the digital market will advance into the global economy. The European Pillar of Social Rights will protect and enable the growth of digital market jobs, while maintaining digital borders online. More than ever, younger generations are working increasingly with computer science, artificial intelligence, software engineering, data collection, and web development. It's important to provide fundamental rights and rules for this emerging market, so that civilian data rights are not abused.


The former member of parliament continues saying, “I see a difference on how to drive this evolution. I see a difference between what I call the European way, the Chinese way, and the American way. When it comes to the European way, we value the protection of our privacy. We don’t want to give out our personal data like that for free, just based on an argument like that, that we can have access to free services. We need a way to protect our privacy.”


Her hope is that the European Pillar of Social Rights will aid employment for millennial and X generations, which despite having a higher education level than previous generations are expected to have higher unemployment rates. The ideas developed in the European Pillar of Social Rights falls under the the categories of Goals 8 and 9 of the SDG's. Goal number 8 aims to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all". Goal number 9 supports Goal 8 as “to build a resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation(UNDP).



Cultural Capital Gains for "Sustainability" Achievements


If the EU achieves its goals, it will set a new cultural and ethical bar for other nations to reach. This is important for two reasons. The first is proving the collaborative power of the EU and the commitment of 27 (or 28) countries to achieve goals as ambitious as the SDGs. Second, the recognized quality of life, levels of happiness and health will continue to rank higher in the EU than other nations, making it a more desirable society. Attaining this status will thus support the EU's future interests and "soft power" capital to influence global policy.



Soft Power in Trade


Soft power is important because it inevitably affects business negotiations internationally. Soft power also seeps into the EU's trade agreements. Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the EU has implemented agreements for trade policy that supports the SDGs. Ms. Rodrigues explains, “The recent trade agreements, set in the European Union, for example with Canada, with Japan, with Singapore - all of them include commitment to implement the sustainable development goals, and to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change. This happened because this was one of the conditions set by the EU to set these trade agreements. So, I think this is powerful”.


"Europe, and in particular the European Union, is very active promoting cooperation with all countries in the world who want to tackle common challenges - be it climate change, poverty, peace and security, biodiversity." - Maria João Rodrigues


Future Challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals


Although the EU has demonstrated much ambition to its goals, it will not be without challenges. Implementing SDG commitment in trade agreements will also change the EU's relationship with the United States, who is currently not part of the Paris Agreement. Maria adds "I believe that all trade agreements should push towards the Sustainable Development Goals, but this is not completely clear."



The Multilateral Economic System


Ms. Rodrigues believes the current state of the multilateral system does not serve the SDGs. The EU economic multilateral system refers to the alliance of multiple bodies pursuing a common goal. In global financial terms, this means more pressure should be placed on implementing the SDGs in global investment lenders. For example, bodies such as the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should also be doing more to show commitment to such goals.


As a partner to the United Nations, the IMF has already acknowledged its commitment to the 2030 agenda with a public commitment they published this past June 2019. However, Maria believes that more could be done to demonstrate a higher commitment. "When the IMF supports a country financially," she says, "they should not sacrifice all the investment we need to secure to promote the Sustainable Development Goals. I think the IMF needs to correct the recipe which is being proposed to countries in need".


She also discussed the plans of Secretary General António Guterres to shift the multilateral system, which he will publicly address next year. She says, "I’m very pleased to have worked with António Guterres for many years, as special advisor and minister in the European and national fronts. I see that he’s trying to improve global governance, with a particular focus on some critical issues." She confirms António Guterres will focus on reforming the multilateral system in 2020. "It started with migration, with the global migration combat two years ago. This year, he focused on climate. Next year, he will deal with a reform of the multilateral system.



Conclusion


As we wrap up another decade, we will see how the EU's agenda takes shape, and if its efforts do create a global ripple-effect so the rest of the world will take quicker action. The success of the SDGs is critical for generations to come. Despite high stakes, Ms. Rodrigues hopes the 2030 Climate and Energy framework will reconstruct global market demands. In doing this, the framework can limit redirect the market towards the digital revolution. These frameworks will serve for a better quality of life and new jobs for future generations as we advance in technology. It is the youth, after all, who grew up with technology. Who better to administer the changes in the digital market than the generation that grew up with it.


It may be that the new interconnected platform will raise generations with a new commitment to global inclusion and prosperity. Such international consensus will likely affect future behavior in everyday life actions, politics, and business. Maria closes by saying, "Today, things are different - as in, better - because the younger generation is even more qualified, and has a deep sense of global citizenship. The younger generation feels more naturally that they are citizens of the world. So, they need to take care of the world".

“The things which are possible are much more than the things we can assume at the start. So, never say ‘this is impossible.’ Things are possible if we have a good assessment of the situation. We need to be bold in our decisions and in our political actions, so we can change many things." - Maria João Rodrigues
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