On November 9, the Center for International Security and Governance (CISG) hosted the second event in its current event series „The future of the liberal world order“. In the debate session „Investing into the future – economic strength as a global power tool?“, Dr. Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank (EIB), and Prof. Dr. Isabel Schnabel, Professor of financial economics at the University of Bonn and member of the German Council of Economic Experts, discussed the future of European and German geoeconomic power in times of global political change and uncertainty.
CISG head Professor James Bindenagel pointed out in his introductory remarks that global power shifts cast doubt on the future of Western international leadership. Economic strength, he argued, plays a central role in the diplomatic strategies of Germany and Europe. Economic interdependence can be a powerful force for maintaining international peace and security, fostering cooperation rather than conflict and competition. What is more, economic and financial actors, from the public and the private sector alike, play a critical role in the development of solutions to many global challenges, such as climate change and sustainable development. The EIB, Professor Bindenagel suggested, can be considered a „hidden treasure“ in this regard. After all, the often-overlooked bank invests some 80 billion dollars a year and is the world’s largest multilateral borrower and lender.
In his opening speech, Dr. Werner Hoyer elaborated on the importance of economic competitiveness for Europe’s influence as a global political actor. Noting that Europe faces a host of risks and threats – economic and political uncertainty, domestic disillusionment with the European project, the unpredictable consequences of Brexit, rising nationalism, the humanitarian crises triggering unprecedented migration towards Europe, a lack of inclusive growth and socioeconomic mobility, and a weakened transatlantic relationship –, Dr. Hoyer argued that Europe requires a strong and resilient economy in order to address these various domestic and global challenges. The continent suffers, however, from a substantial structural investment gap of about 600 billion euro per year, leaving a range of sectors from energy to infrastructure and education chronically underdeveloped and ultimately lowering European competitiveness. As Chinese capital and firms are becoming just as influential as their American and European counterparts, maintaining the economic power to act as a global partner for sustainability, peace, freedom and economic development is crucial.
In the ensuing discussion, Prof. Dr. Isabel Schnabel commented on the recently published report by the German Council of Economic Experts, highlighting the central finding that current growth rates should not be taken as a reason for complacency – on the contrary, political action is needed to prepare the German economy for the future. Professor Schnabel then prompted the EIB President to elaborate on the relevance of his institution in the safeguarding of global order. Dr. Hoyer explained that public investment institutions are critical for the maintenance of public goods, such as a healthy environment, which frequently suffer from under-investment.
Professor Schnabel then introduced demographic change in Germany to the discussion, arguing that a change in the age structure of the population may cause a distortion towards public consumption rather than investment, which could further aggravate the problem of under-investment in Germany and Europe more broadly. Dr. Hoyer agreed that there is a strong temptation to use public finances for social spending, highlighting the risk that long-term investment needs may be overlooked in the process. He pointed to digitalization, digital infrastructure and the fundamental transformation of the automobile industry as sectors in Germany that require significant strategic foresight and investments to retain a competitive edge.
The consequences of Brexit were identified by both participants of the discussion as a grave risk for Europe’s economic power and future. The United Kingdom was a critical market in Europe not only for finance, but also for transport, high-tech, and other sectors. Both the EU and the UK are expected to experience significant economic losses as a result of Brexit. Dr. Hoyer explained that the EIB will also be affected, noting that the reduction of the bank’s leverage capital might reduce lending capacity by as much as 100 billion euro, and further emphasized that the UK has until now conducted most of its public investment projects through the EIB. Public investment both in the UK as well as in developing countries may suffer as a result.
Professor Schnabel pointed out that unlike Germany, the UK is among those countries who have not profited from the decision to open European markets to Eastern Europe and China, and asked how Germany and the EU should respond, to protectionist tendencies. Dr. Hoyer reaffirmed that liberal trade and multilateral cooperation remain of vital importance to global development and welfare, but acknowledged that economic, industrial and financial policies will need to be adjusted in order to address global geoeconomic changes and rising inequality.
In his concluding remarks, Dr. Hoyer argued that in order to retain its influence in the world, Europe simply needs to do one thing – live up to its own values and standards. The best remedy against illiberalism, authoritarianism and populism is a thriving and productive economy and a society with good living standards for all. In order to achieve this, however, policy-makers will have to think in the long term and act more strategically.
We would like to thank the ‘Stiftung Internationale Begegnung’ of the Sparkasse Bonn for supporting this event. The next event of the series is going to take place on the 13th of November with a discussion including Dr. Gregor Gysi, President of the European Left and Stefan Kornelius, head of the foreign policy department, Süddeutsche Zeitung.