Keynote speech by HR/VP Josep Borrell at the University of Chile

'We Europeans have embarked on the construction of a growing autonomy, pushed by necessity, pushed by the crisis and pushed by a war that we did not want.' During his visit in Chile, the HR/VP Josep Borrell conveyed an inspiring speech at the old and prestigious University of Chile on 'The European Union and Chile in the face of international crises', about the role of Europe in the current geopolitical turmoil, and how to join forces with key partners like Chile.

Dear Chancellor of the University of Chile, Dear Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dear friend, Valdez, Ambassadors, lecturers and above all, students, Thank you very much for this invitation. When I had the pleasure of talking with you in Brussels, we mentioned the possibility that, should I be able to visit Chile, I might have the opportunity and the honour of speaking at an academic event at this university. And it is indeed an honour for me since, as the presenter said, I have also been the Chancellor of a university - a much smaller one than this - as well as a university lecturer, and I have always been a teacher at heart. I believe that, when one is in politics, as I have been for many years and still am today, there is an educational dimension, which is perhaps the most noble aspect of political activity. It is true that this educational aspect, the ability to explain, to analyse alternatives and make them intelligible to citizens who have to back them - or reject them - with their votes, forms part of an activity to which I have devoted most of my life, after I'd left the university classrooms behind me. But I try to visit them whenever I can. Because I believe that universities are a vital part of society. And Europe is a land of universities. Since the Middle Ages, universities have helped to build the Europe of today. Salamanca, the Sorbonne - so many places that have shaped human knowledge and driven humanity forward.

So, thank you, Chancellor, for inviting me to this University, in a land that is so far away and yet so close. Far away, because we are 12 000 kilometres from Brussels, and close, in terms of language, culture and history, and the many things that unite us. I feel very close to this country because, as Minister of Public Works, I was fortunate enough to host my Chilean counterpart at the time and later President, Ricardo Lagos, and I remember showing him the works we were carrying out in Madrid. It was the 1990s - I’m talking about more than a quarter of a century ago - and, during a helicopter ride, my good friend Ricardo Lagos asked me: ‘Where do you get all this cash from?’ Because the works we were doing in Madrid were indeed impressive. And I replied: ‘From the European Union’. Because it was in fact the European Union that allowed us to build a country, and Spain’s membership of the EU has been a decisive part of our history. We have never had so many years of peace and prosperity as we have had since joining this club of countries that have forged an alliance which, although it is not military in nature, today faces military challenges with war once again looming at its borders. Ricardo invited me to visit Chile and since then I have had the opportunity to do so several times, to admire its beautiful geography. However, as Tocqueville said, in order to know a country, its laws are more important than its geography. Because while geography is a fact — something people can have little impact on — they can and do affect its laws, and to a great extent. And even more important than laws, Tocqueville said, are the habits of the heart. This concept is unclear. What are the habits of the heart? They are a way of being. And Chile’s way of being is very much like ours, because throughout history, from the time of the Conquest - which, like all conquests, was brutal - we have forged a very close relationship. I have travelled all over the country, from the Torres del Paine to the salt flats of the North, and have learned about its history through the books of Isabel Allende, which recount the stories that have shaped Chile.

It is a pleasure and an honour for me to be here with you. Allow me to share some thoughts about the times we live in. I would start by recognising that Chile is now entering a new phase, one which is filled with hope, as well as challenges and uncertainties, with the aim of building a fairer and more democratic society. Engraved in my mind are the images of the events of recent years that have shaken Chilean society, undermined by growing inequality. Today, it is trying to find a constitutional framework more suited to this new era. The aim of my visit, representing the European Union, is to listen to a new government, share a message of support and deepen our cooperation, because our relationship has a long history. Chile was the first country in which the EU had a delegation before the dictatorship. The dictatorship closed it, and we reopened it afterwards. We have an association agreement with Chile which is nearly 20 years old, and which is about more than just trade. We go a long way back, but above all, I believe we will share a great future.

And I would like to remark on some aspects of that future. But first, allow me to take a trip back in history and time and talk a little about what is happening in Europe. When I attended the assessment at the European Parliament to take up my current post — because, as you may know, in some countries public officials have to pass a stringent skills assessment or ‘hearing’ — I used a phrase that will probably mark my mandate, or at least one I will regularly be reminded of, which was that the European Union must learn how to use the language of power. The language of power? What did I mean by this? I meant that it is not enough to be a ‘soft’ power. A power based on trade relations and the defence of the rule of law. Obviously, it is crucial to defend the rule of law and human rights, which are part of the DNA of the Europe that emerged after the Second World War. However, in today’s turbulent times, with major powers prepared to ignore all moral concerns, it is not enough to defend the law, nor is it enough to strengthen trade relations hoping that trade - ‘le doux commerce’, as the French say - will galvanise people’s minds, prompting a middle class to emerge demanding political freedoms, and leading to peaceful coexistence. Clearly, it is not enough. There has to be a certain ability to call the shots, to make others do what you believe they must do. And this takes us into dangerous territory, because the use of power is always dangerous. But right now, after the pandemic and on the brink of a war on our border with the brutal invasion of Ukraine, it is increasingly necessary to understand what ‘using the language of power’ means, and what its instruments and limits are.

Europe has coped with crises before. Its founder, Jean Monnet, said as much — that Europe will be the sum of the solutions adopted by Europeans to deal with the crises that affect them. He was absolutely right. As they say in Old Castilian, ‘a la fuerza ahorcan’, or ‘hay que hacer de la necesidad, virtud’ — meaning like it or not, we must grin and bear it, and make a virtue of necessity. And indeed, with the war, Europe is now taking another step forward in its integration and is prepared to use this language which I called for. It is the language of the capacity to call the shots. The pandemic has demonstrated our weaknesses and made us understand that we needed more unity, more European solidarity and also greater autonomy in order to deal with crises. With the pandemic, we suddenly discovered that not a single gram of paracetamol was produced in Europe; that our wealthy, developed continent, with the most powerful chemical industry in the world, did not produce a single gram of tranquilliser. We were importing everything, and when a crisis occurs and exporters cannot export, you suddenly realise that it was a mistake to hand over all your capacity, your needs, to them. And while paracetamol can be made quickly, gas cannot. And now we learn that we get 40% of our gas from a hostile neighbour - Russia - and that it is not easy to seek alternatives.

This is why we are now building independent capacity that ties in with one of the major issues of our time: the fight against climate change. We have been saying for a long time that we must dispense with fossil fuels, carbon-based energy, oil, gas and coal. Yet we have not gone fast enough in this area. While we are saying we have to dispense with them, we are increasing our dependence on them. Since Russia invaded and seized Crimea in 2018, we have kept reciting the litany that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and especially on an unreliable supplier, yet in practice we have been increasing it until, all of a sudden, war has forced us to face a reality to which we have to respond quickly.

This response must involve not only saving energy, not only seeking alternative sources, but also — and above all — seeking different kinds of energy. This is where Chile can play a crucial role, because it is a country that can and must, in the fight against climate change, make the contribution that its geography, its comparative advantages, its climate, wind, sunshine, deserts and coastline all make possible. You have an incredibly important future as major producers of hydrogen. When I was little, my town’s marketplace had billboards saying ‘Nitrate from Chile’, because that was where fertilisers came from. Soon, they will no doubt say ‘Hydrogen from Chile’, because you will be major producers of green energy, and we can contribute to this.

So, we have started to develop greater autonomy, driven by need, by the crisis and by a war we did not want. Ukraine did not want it either, and we are thrust into the position of helping and defending a country that feels - that is - being thwarted by another, without reason. This is why we Europeans now realise that our unity makes us stronger, because just imagine what would happen to any of us, even Germany — the largest, most powerful European country, with 80 million inhabitants — if we had to deal with the process of globalisation, facing continent-sized countries with 1 billion inhabitants or more in a new struggle for natural resources, a new clash of powers.

This new geopolitical context — completely new in fact, because the war in Ukraine will change global geopolitics and international relations, and provoke a new confrontation between authoritarian and liberal democratic regimes — is where relations with Latin America are especially important. To Latin Americans, and especially Chileans, it probably seems that Ukraine is a war between Europeans and that it’s all happening very far away. I’ve heard many people say ‘another European war’, or ‘you haven’t had one for a while’. This is true. We haven't had one for a while. And this is one of the best things about the EU: the fact that it built peace between us. More than 70 years have passed since we were eagerly killing each other. And now suddenly, there’s another war between Europeans? This is not another war between Europeans. Nor is it a war between the West and the rest of the World, or between West and East. It is, in fact, a conflict that imperils international law, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, and the use of negotiation instead of force to resolve conflicts. The United Nations has already condemned the invasion on three occasions. To be frank, I do not think anyone should turn a blind eye to the situation we are in, and Latin America has not done that. All Latin American and Caribbean countries have, I believe, been on the right side of history. But the right side of history is not the side of Europe. It is not the European side. This is not a war between Europeans. The right side of history means defending international law and rejecting the use of force. And the Latin America and Caribbean region has taken this side, the side of the Charter of the United Nations and of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to discuss the war with your president, and once again to acknowledge his clear message condemning this aggression, here in Santiago and in New York. Our world will be much more fragmented, more multipolar, but I doubt that it will be more multilateral. We will take a step backwards in terms of economic globalisation, and certainly also in terms of the emergence of a bloc involving China and Russia, which opposes what they call the Western world. From an economic point of view, Russia’s GDP is comparatively small - it’s total GDP is more or less the same as Spain’s or Italy’s. GDP measured on a per capita basis is much smaller still. But it has large natural reserves and, above all, nuclear weapons. And this places the war on a completely different footing. We are striving to ensure that the war does not spread and affect more countries - although unfortunately Moldova is now also being attacked - and that it does not escalate to include the use of more powerful weapons of destruction, such as chemical or - heaven forbid - tactical nuclear weapons. But what happened in Syria makes us fear what may happen near our capitals. Mariupol is the European Aleppo. A city utterly destroyed, suffering massive bombardment, with thousands of civilian victims. The world looks likely to go down the path of the kind of confrontation of blocs that we used to call the Cold War. But we do not want this. We will do all we can to avoid a new global confrontation, because we believe this would come at a very high cost, in political and economic terms. We will do what we can to make sure that this war ends as soon as possible, but that it ends in the right way. Because obviously, if we were to stop arming Ukraine, the war would end quickly. But how would it end? It would end with Ukraine in the hands of the invader, with no option but to accept whatever terms are imposed on it. We do not want it to end like that, because if it does, all of the destruction and all of the victims will have been for nothing. And the world would be launched on a course in which the sword is mightier than the pen. And by this I do not mean that Western countries have not, in the past, also acted in reprehensible ways. Obviously they have. But two wrongs do not make a right, and the errors of yesterday are no excuse for those of today. Today, we face today's problem, and the response must focus on this, with its own merits, values and circumstances.

We need an agenda that is both pragmatic and positive to address these challenges, bearing in mind that the world will revolve around three main themes: climate change, the digital revolution and social cohesion. These are the three major challenges that you — the generation of young people, students and workers — will face. Climate change is an existential threat to humanity which we are not taking seriously enough, and which we can no longer reverse. Because when I see that Spain has started subsidising petrol — when we are saying every day that we have to consume less, while subsidising it to deal with shortages — I am afraid that we are moving backwards in a process in which we were already lagging behind. The digital transformation will change — is changing — our lives, the information we consume and how economies and societies work, and we will have to see who administers this new power: will it be nations, as with the Chinese model? Will it be major corporations, the large conglomerates that control digital information flows, which is, broadly speaking, the North American model? Or will society be organised around democratically elected and accountable powers? We don’t know, and it is not certain that the answer is the one we would all want. And finally, the third challenge is undoubtedly the cohesion of societies. Inequality is a growing cancer on democracy. Increasingly, economic growth does not help to make societies stronger, because the benefits of growth do not reach all sections of the population. I know that inequality is a serious problem in Chile and that you have experienced years of economic growth which did not translate into greater social cohesion. But we are also experiencing the same thing, in more developed societies such as those in Europe. No, economic growth per se is not an antidote to the breakdown of social bonds. Something more is needed, something the market cannot provide. Public action is required, because the market is a driver of inequality. Obviously, the market is efficient as an instrument for the production of goods (market = goods). The market produces goods, but it does not satisfy needs. It only satisfies demand that can be met. If demand cannot be met, do not expect the market to satisfy it. If demand is not backed by purchasing power, do not expect anyone to produce the goods required. And there are things in life that are not goods; they are rights, and we cannot allow rights to be administered by an instrument that is not designed to do so. The market produces goods but does not guarantee rights. Rights have to be guaranteed by public action. And public action has instruments, the first of which is taxation. In societies with very low tax burdens — the term ‘tax burden’ sounds horrible, but what it basically means is simply that part of the wealth is collectivised (a word which also sounds bad to some ears — perhaps ‘communitised’ sounds better), in order to collectively meet these needs, which the market will not meet because they are not goods but rights. Education is one of them, as is health. I believe that the most developed societies are those that draw a dividing line between that which production efficiency can satisfy and that which must be satisfied by organised political action, via collective effort.

Digitalisation, social cohesion and the fight against climate change will be the reference points of your generation, of your world, of the world of tomorrow, which has already begun to emerge. And this battle will be decided sooner rather than later. As was once said by a President of Chile, whose memory will always live on, sooner or later decisions will be made on the basis of the political responses that all of us are able to provide. And in this ‘all of us’, Chile must play a key role in Latin America. You have all the assets to be able to do so. Yesterday, President Boric and I talked about how to deepen relations with Europe, because Latin America, which is a product of European civilisation — nowhere in the world are there countries more similar to those in Europe than in Latin America — is not present enough on our political radar. I am fighting a constant battle in Brussels. I spoke with Minister (and soon Ambassador) Valdés about bringing Latin America into the collective consciousness, into the priorities of a Union that is very much focused on the East, the Far East and China; and on what happens on its southern flank, on the Mediterranean, Africa, the Sahel, countries with extremely high population growth, which are sources of instability for us, with migratory pressure on our borders, which sometimes makes us forget what is on the other side of the Atlantic. Not the North Atlantic — the South Atlantic. Because the transatlantic relationship plays a fundamental role for Europe, in our alliance with the United States in NATO, and is the guarantee of our collective defence. But the other transatlantic relationship, the one with the South Atlantic, with Latin America, is one we need to develop. We need to get to know each other better, not the Spanish and Chilean people — obviously we know each other very well — but Europe is more than just Spain. Europe extends to the Arctic and to the borders of the Middle East. We need to make an effort to educate, as I said at the beginning, to create mental frameworks that will allow us to deepen our relationship. And the first step must be to find an accord to modernise the Association Agreement, which is already 20 years old and is starting to sprout some grey hairs. It is not just a trade agreement, and I am not here to ask for a trade agreement that favours European economies, but also because I believe that the ‘win-win’ principle should be a guiding element of any freely established agreement between economies, one which also binds our societies and serves to defend human rights in the world. You have a Minister of Foreign Affairs who can make a very important contribution because she is one of the leading experts in this field, in both theory and practice. Dear Antonia, who has risen to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

I believe that you have embarked on the process of drafting a new constitution, a new legal framework for coexistence. We have some experience in this.
We tried to make a Constitution for Europe, but Europeans did not want it. They rejected it in a referendum. Probably because the words that those of us involved in politics believe to have magic powers - like ‘constitution’ - did not have such powers in the minds of citizens. Because ‘constitution’ chimes with ‘state’. States are what have constitutions, and Europe is not a state. And simply saying that we were going to have a constitution for Europe seemed to many people as though we wanted to create a European state and wipe out the old nation states. I learned a lot from that experience - that you shouldn't put the cart before the horse, or get up early expecting the sun to rise any earlier, because everything happens in its own time. And the European people did not want to be hurried. Yet, now I think that the moment has arrived to move forward with the integration of a small part of the world, with or without a constitution. Europe accounts for 5% of the global population. All of Latin American accounts for 8%. We are neither much bigger nor much smaller than you. But, and I’ll finish here, I wish you the best of luck and success in the drafting of your new Constitution. Any constitution-making process is an opportunity to define a new framework for coexistence that must be able to reflect the aspirations of multiple generations and accommodate different political approaches.

It is a playing field where different teams can play, which must build a very broad consensus to allow for the political alternation of governments with different leanings. In Spain in the tragic 19th century, with a constitution every weekend, we were not able to make much progress in building a fair and prosperous society. Today, in Europe, we have more political experience to build frameworks that allow us to remove borders and construct a common identity that will overcome fractious confrontations. Without the massacres and destruction of two world wars, we would probably not have embarked on the path of coming together. And the tragic consequences of the last war are probably what led us to decide to rise above the confrontations of the past in order to build a common future. In Spain, we did something similar with our 1978 Constitution, which had a broad social foundation because it was a shared collective response. It was just after the dictator died. And now you have the opportunity to progress along this path. I really want relations between Europe and Chile, which have so much history, also to have a great future. Chile has one foot in the Atlantic and sits along the Pacific. It an essential part of relations between Europe and Latin America. It is a key partner in building the world of tomorrow and tackling the crises of the 21th century.

Believe me, that world will be much more dangerous than we could have imagined ten years ago. It will face critical choices, some of which will have enormous social consequences. I have mentioned three of these, and I want to repeat them in order to get the message across, as good teachers do. Remember, climate change means major constructive destruction. Schumpeter spoke of ‘constructive destruction’ — whenever the system of production had to shed its skin. A lot of capital will no longer have any value. Many natural resources, very precious today, will no longer have any value. And new natural resources which have no value today, will be very valuable. The Andes are home to many of these new natural resources. For example lithium, which will produce the energy of tomorrow. The construction of a digital society and a fairer society. It will be fairer, because it will be better able to share the fruits of growth. And I would like to end by saying that the politicians of tomorrow must learn — more than those of yesterday — to combine political freedom with economic growth and social distribution. These three things. Political freedom. I would not want to live in a country without political freedom. I used to. I spent part of my life under a military dictatorship. I would not want to live in a country that cannot improve the material living conditions of its citizens. Because I have seen too many countries mired in chronic misery, unable to provide their people with the basic elements that give life purpose. Nor would I want to live in a country where goods are confused with rights, where the provision of basic assets, which are the cornerstone of human dignity, is left to the market. They include the right to education, health — which is also a right — protection in old age, against illness and major life crises. And believe me, I know of no other part of the world that combines these three things — freedom, prosperity and solidarity — better than in old Europe. Without trying to be a model or example for anyone, I believe we can help the rest of the world to come together better to avoid crises and conflicts. May our relationship, the relationship between Europe and Chile, contribute to this. Thank you, Chancellor, for the opportunity to share my thoughts about the world of today and our common future. Thank you very much.


Camila Fernández, student at the Institute of International Studies of the University of Chile

Hello. The question is: What is your view on possible cooperation between the EU and Latin America? Considering that, to date, there has been no clearly defined integration project in our region, but rather one-off and isolated projects such as Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance.

HR/VP Borrell's reply:

Well, you are absolutely right. Latin America has a regional integration deficit, and the reasons for that can be found in history. But in Latin America you have tested various formulas for regional integration and hardly any of them have been successful. And when one sees how little Latin American countries trade with each other, how closed they are to exchanges with their neighbours, this probably partly explains the continent’s weak economic growth. If you compare per capita income in Latin America as a whole, from the border of the Rio Grande to the Torres del Paine, to the per capita income of the United States, you will see that it has barely improved. Asia has managed this - its per capita income has grown enormously, largely because of internationalisation and regional integration processes. One major handicap of Latin America is that there are no regional representatives who we can contact. Europe is a highly integrated region yet when we want to talk to Latin Americans, we are not entirely sure which organisations to contact. The last time we were at a summit with you, we had four or five different regional bodies to talk to. Therefore, if I have any advice to give you, it would be to integrate more. We did it after a war. Spare yourselves that. Do it purely in your own interests. Because I believe that Latin America’s problem is that Latin Americans do not know each other well enough.