Opening remarks by Commissioner Johannes Hahn at the Salzburg Summit 2023

Ladies and Gentleman,

I am delighted to welcome you to the Salzburg Summit – where we invite you to a double rendezvous: a parallel encounter with reality and vision. As the successful business leaders present know, we need both – an understanding of our present reality and a vision of where we want to go in the future – to take forward-looking decisions. Without innovative ideas, we would soon be stuck in the world of yesterday. And visions without a realistic assessment would remain a dream.

Together, we will thus explore the best “realistic visions” for how Europe can face up to its challenges and its standing in the world. I am very grateful to the Federation of Austrian Industries – and President Knill – for bringing together an outstanding circle of people. We are rarely seeing such a density of high-profile political, economic, and academic minds in one room.

Given the challenges we are facing; it is all the more important that we work hand in hand to find European solutions. This is the only way to preserve our European way of life – our freedom AND prosperity. Let me be very clear: As a solo player Austria and its economy would have very limited power in the global competition and would thus endanger the future of the next generation.

[Rendezvous with reality]

Europe’s rendezvous with reality has been somewhat unpleasant recently as we saw a series of major shifts in the geopolitical landscape.

We have had to realise that we had made ourselves at ease in an all-too-comfortable triple comfort zone – without a real political and economic risk assessment.

1. Energy: We all – political as well as business leaders – had relied on cheap energy and thus a dangerous addiction to Russian fossil fuels.

Now, we need to free ourselves, even though some countries are still very dependent. The way to go is diversifying without replacing cheap dependencies with expensive ones (LNG). At the same time, we need to accelerate our transition to more sustainable energy sources. This is – as many of you know – not always so easy as we have a shortage of qualified workforce. But it is worth the effort: Every solar panel, every wind turbine and every energy-efficient building will contribute to Europeans having access to cheaper, safer, and cleaner energy.

2. Security: Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine has shaken the international security architecture – and revealed what we had ignored too long: Europe’s security depends on the US. Lesson learned: It’s time to strengthen Europe’s defence.

3. Technology: During the pandemic, we Europeans realised how much we had built our lifestyle on cheap technology produced in China. Now, we have to deal with a bitter truth: We are dangerously overexposed in more than 100 product categories – from electronics, chemicals and medical/pharmaceutical products to strategic raw materials, which we urgently needed for the green and digital transition.

The fact that we are now confronted with the harsh reality of these dependencies might have felt for some like expulsion from paradise.

[Rendezvous with vision]

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic because as the Austrian writer Robert Musil rightly said: If there is a sense of reality, there must also be a sense of possibilities.

This is why I consider these realities as something positive: They force us to look forward and redefine Europe’s role in the world – while we can still bring our economic weight to bear.

This summit is about exploring opportunities: geopolitical and geoeconomic solutions, innovation and technologies for the future.

What role can and should Europe play? What used to be a rather academic debate has turned into a vital question – in particular, for our first speaker: It is my honour to welcome the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu. She will set the tone for today’s discussion on the tectonic shifts in the global political landscape. And she can give us first-hand experience: What is it like to be in the centre of a geopolitical power struggle?

In the opening panel, she will discuss global policy with, among others, the Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, whose country is determined to play a crucial role and Singapore’s Senior Minister of State, Sim Ann.

In a more and more multi-polar world, Europe needs to make the case for multilateralism: We are the most international continent, and our prosperity builds on a functioning rule-based trading system. But even more important: Multilateralism is part of our identity.

We believe – and our union itself is the proof – that cooperation creates a framework for everyone to grow and benefit.

Recently some have talked down multilateralism – wrongly so, because given the challenges we are facing, including climate change, we need common solutions more than ever.

Therefore, we will discuss how Europe can advocate for this approach: What can convince other actors – in particular, in the global south – to find back their faith in a multilateral framework?

Europe must not be naïve. Therefore, in parallel, we need to deepen cooperation with other players – to ensure our strategic autonomy and competitiveness. How will we translate this into concrete action? – is one of the key questions for my colleague, the Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton. Europe’s moment to act is now as many countries realise that China’s engagement comes at a price.

Europe also has a lot to offer: The Memoranda with Argentina, Chile and Uruguay last week illustrate that very well: In partnering up for clean and just energy transitions we create value for all. This approach makes our Global Gateway Investment Agenda an attractive tool for sustainable partnerships: it builds credibility and offers options which go beyond traditional cooperation programmes.

We will discuss how this can in return strengthen a workable multilateral system – and ideally a joint value system in the long run.

[We need to make a choice: First mover – Or second follower?]

The other key question Europe is facing is as simple as existential: Do we want to be a first mover or second or third follower on the global stage? In this context, my colleague the European Commissioner for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, will explain why and how Europe needs to be the frontrunner of the green and digital transition – and how we can finance this.

Digitalisation will make a huge difference.

I could witness this when I visited Ukraine and met the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who is also minister for digitalisation and committed to turning Ukraine into a digital pioneer. I am delighted that he will share his strategy, which works impressively well – despite the difficult circumstances.

This can inspire all of us because there is no doubt: digitalisation will change our lives at a breathtaking speed. The trend is inevitable.

That makes it even more important to steer it in accordance with our rules and values.

Therefore, we will also have to ask tough questions: How can Europe explore the full potential of new technologies while containing the democratic and privacy challenges which come, for example, with Artificial Intelligence? Does Europe (still) have the power to tame new technologies? And how do we ensure humankind and democracy benefit from those developments?

[Conclusion: Rendezvous with future]

In this context, I am very much looking forward to learning from our Austrian Nobel Prize Winner Anton Zeilinger, who gets to the heart of all matters:

His experiments pave the way for quantum computers, quantum networks and quantum encrypted communication – technologies that offer sheer unlimited possibilities we can’t even imagine today.

Knowing Professor Zeilinger, I am convinced: he will enchant us with the magic of thinking without borders and limits. In our conversations he often mentions how much he appreciates the openness to fundamental questions he found in Austria – be it in science, literature, or painting. I think we can be proud of this freedom, which is a true European asset.

And it matches the creative atmosphere of Salzburg – the home of Mozart and the famous Salzburger Festspiele. This city proved Friedrich Schiller right, who once said: “Art is the daughter of freedom”. Let us also use this European freedom to enlighten this summit – to develop new ideas and solutions.

I look forward to inspiring discussions with all the distinguished speakers who will turn this summit’s double rendezvous with reality and vision into a rendezvous with the future.

Enjoy the summit!