“I believe that all the country’s citizens, aware of what we are risking, demanding a minimum of rigor in the debate on the negotiations for an association agreement between Andorra and the European Union, must be absolutely confused by the atmosphere created by the emergence of denialist sentiment and the plethora of critical messages against everything that those who currently have the responsibility to represent the country’s interests do, whether or not they are related to this matter.
Looking back at our recent past, we will see that we have had to assimilate many changes over the years. There have always been, and always will be, opponents, immobilists, skeptics, and denialists. All are respectable, of course. But despite everything, the changes have been implemented successfully, fortunately. I think that the most critical ones were probably because they were neither informed nor educated as required.
Those were different times, maybe information didn’t flow as it does today, and the reaction to misunderstanding was to put forward a particular ideological conviction rather than what the change was genuinely bringing to the country. Today, with easy access to information, pure or corrupted, this is no longer a problem. The essential thing is the reaction of those who have access to this information and the ability to analyze it and, if necessary, refute it.
It is clear that not everyone voted for the Constitution, just as not everyone understood economic opening, already attempted in 2008 and reduced to almost nothing, scared of the “external invasion”. And when we had no choice but to confront it in 2012 (when the country’s economy was collapsing) alongside an international harmonization process that not everyone liked, we can now state with certainty that it has helped us build a solid reputation as a country, one that we can all be proud of. And today, we face the same issue with negotiations with the EU. Confusion is exacerbated by a variety of messages, apparently ideological, all aimed at criticizing the current negotiators for their approach and conveying to society the feeling that getting closer to Europe is detrimental to us.
I began my presentation talking about “rigor”, a word critics seem to overlook. They are capable of demanding everything from those who are currently in power, but they are not capable of demanding a well-founded opinion from themselves. It is just as important to know why yes as to know why not. But what I would say is that we need to remove our blinders and look objectively, free from prejudice, at what, for example, becoming a member of the European Single Market could mean or learning to defend the Andorra Brand as part of a more potent brand with greater visibility and international projection, like the European Brand.
We can say, without going into details, that since its creation in 1993, the European Single Market has contributed to making daily life easier for individuals and businesses that are part of it. Think about access without legal and bureaucratic obstacles to a market to sell products and services to about 450 million people. Think of the freedom of movement of goods extended to our agricultural products. Think about the new opportunities for all those small businesses, those small entrepreneurial projects dreaming of scalability for their future production. Think of a market of 23 million companies and what it can represent in terms of exchange.
But let’s go further and try to find the real advantage of linking ourselves to the EU’s Internal Market through the strength of the European Brand. Like the Andorra Brand, there’s an internal aspect that has motivated the development of this transnational brand, searching for a sense of belonging much more complex than Andorra’s, given the cultural diversity of such an extensive territory. But there’s also the external aspect, which is truly interesting for us as an associated country benefiting from the European label.
In this regard, we must acknowledge the commercial dimension of the European Brand, of which Andorra can humbly be a part. In fact, the EU is the world’s leading trading bloc, and excluding internal trade, it represents more than 15% of global merchandise trade and over 35% of global service trade. Moreover, it is the leading trading partner for up to 80 countries, while the USA is so for only about 20. In tourism, the EU, with only 3% of the world’s area and 7% of its population, receives 40% of international tourism and 31% of the revenues generated by global tourism. There may be some sacrifices, perhaps even some logistical or bureaucratic efforts, but these figures and the fact of being part of this “EU club” with the “European label” can bring more prosperity than drawbacks.
All of this, returning to “rigor”, needs to be explained to the citizens. It is necessary to illustrate, for instance, the potential improvement in our purchasing power if our economic activity grows and becomes more competitive in this new context. It was scarier getting used to paying taxes, but we have not only accustomed ourselves but are among the most compliant at the international level. We need to open our minds and attentively listen to those who, with total dedication, will “explain it to us again”, because in fact, for a long time, they have been explaining without anyone listening sufficiently. But what if someone explained that this could be combated with better interaction with the EU market? Surely, we would likely change our opinion, even though we are now so negative and it’s trendy to say “no” to the agreement without really knowing why?”.
By Pere Augé, CEO and Founding Partner of Augé Holding Group
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