Globalisation was at the heart of Agoria’s corporate event last Wednesday at BluePoint. Renowned entrepreneurs, experts and politicians shared their vision on three essential themes: free trade agreements, migration flows and climate change. It was a debate that left no one indifferent.

Philippe Lamberts, Member of the European Green Party, Etienne de Callataÿ, Chief Economist of Orcadia, Derk Jan Epping, Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research in New York and Michaël Trabbia, CEO of Orange Belgium (Agoria member), participated in this timed debate. Marc Lambotte, our CEO, moderated this meeting with his well-known talents.

I Free trade agreements

Are free trade agreements such as TTIP, CETA a political instrument that will help the EU shape globalisation or are they tools that damage European society? How should Europe act on this matter?

Derk Jan Eppink, Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research in New York:

Europe must be attentive to the attitude it takes with the UK. The US would be smart to push the EU to remain positive with respect to the UK, as trade negotiations will now be tripartite US-EU-UK negotiations.

Philippe Lamberts, Member of the European Green Party:

Free trade agreements can be very useful, but it’s the way they have been designed until now that can be damaging for citizens. They’re written in such a way that the benefits of globalisation are increasingly going to the people with the most capital, and less and less to workers. Whether it’s with the US or other countries, we have to think about the type of agreement we want.

Is globalisation good or bad for our businesses?

Etienne de Callataÿ, Chief Economist of Orcadia:

Globalisation is a good thing because it encourages competition and enables economies of scale. However, the playing field we’re on today is less and less level: maybe we’ve gone too far? Globalisation could go wrong for our society. And what’s bad for society will eventually be bad for our businesses. Moreover, technological evolution seems to me to be more essential than globalisation.

Michaël Trabbia, CEO of Orange Belgium (Agoria member):

As a Frenchman who hasn’t been in Belgium for very long, I'm impressed by the strengths of your country as regards globalisation: openness, multiculturalism, business sense, etc. However, I think there are two areas of concern for Belgium: administrative complexity and the cost of labour for employers.

II Migrants

What would be your number one recommendation for European businesses and/or governments in terms of economic immigration?

Michaël Trabbia:

Talent shortage is a real problem in businesses. Whether it’s technical, ICT, sales or administration jobs, we’re looking for people… qualified people. Immigration is part of the solution, but education is the key to solving the equation.

Etienne de Callataÿ :

There are few questions that economists agree on, but this is one of them: migrants are good for the economy, and it can be a solution for the talent shortage in businesses. There are many arguments to support this point of view (diversity, openness to new markets, etc.), but I’ll mention just one: migrants are entrepreneurs. They’ve proven it to us by what they’ve done. We now have to think about what we can do to put them to work, and then one day, their children.

What about unfair competition within the EU owing to these population movements? How can we manage this issue?

Philippe Lamberts:

The priority is to establish minimum standards for social justice in Europe. Some European citizens feel ignored and left behind by the system, and that’s why they don’t want to see foreigners arriving on their shores. No wall will ever prevent immigrants from coming, and the prerequisite for their acceptance is social justice.

Derk-Jan Eppink:

First of all, illegal immigration in the US has dropped 70% since Trump’s election, even though there is still no actual wall. Talking about immigration is difficult because it leads to a lot of anxiety and anger. I think that the directions we took years ago were bad ones: we were too optimistic and we compromised our social system. Yes, clear and controlled immigration of workers is essential, but broader immigration is often perceived as a cultural, social and economic threat. That’s what we have to avoid.

III Climate

Will the 2015 Paris Agreement survive with Donald Trump in office? Will the American president's policy create a competitive edge for the US, owing to lower costs and fewer environmental constraints for American industry? How should Europe and Belgium respond to this?

Etienne de Callataÿ:

Even though the Paris Agreement is a good agreement, we shouldn’t rely on it too much since then we’d be dependent on Trump’s decision. Responses to environmental issues shouldn’t be limited to what was decided in Paris. Let’s be pragmatic. Today, in the US, there are more people working in the solar power industry than the coal industry. Even in the US, many people are aware that climate change is a global phenomenon that has a local impact in terms of quality of life, but also jobs.

Derk-Jan Eppink:

Donald Trump has two solutions: withdraw from the Paris Agreement or drastically reduce the American contribution – both would be detrimental. If the Americans pull out of the agreement, the Russians will try to do so as well, and nobody knows what the Chinese would do. And if the US contributes less financially, there will no longer be a real budget. Let’s wait and see what will come out of the battle between the two American schools of thought: on the one side, there’s the Bannon clan, favouring economic nationalism based on fossil fuels, and then there’s the group headed by Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka who’s more favourable to the Paris Agreement.

How can the European Union create this level playing field in terms of energy?

Philippe Lamberts:

The first thing Europe must do is unite its forces with those who also want this agreement, particularly China. The Paris Agreement raises questions about competitiveness: confronted with the American strategy of using cheap fossil fuels, Europe can’t win in terms of cost competitiveness, but it can in terms of value. This will depend on us being leaders in the transition to renewable energy sources. We should be the ones recommending technological solutions, not just buying them. The Paris Agreement and its climate goal offer a strategic opportunity to position ourselves in the 21st century.

Michaël Trabbia

Even though there’s still a lot to be done, businesses are obviously concerned about environmental issues. For us, sustainability is a crucial issue. Digitisation, the collaborative economy and the circular economy are all tools that will help us meet these sustainability goals. And all of this exists thanks to technology! Technology in itself is neither good nor bad: it’s what we make of it.