A skilled workforce, world-class educational institutions, cutting-edge ecosystems for start-ups: Europe has many competitive advantages, says former Swedish minister Aida Hadžialić. This is also true when it comes to the continent's digital transformation.
Why is the European Union an ideal worth fighting for?
Aida Hadžialić: The EU has brought Europe peace and prosperity. Through trade, free movement, and economic integration, European countries have come together like never before—and that is worth fighting for.
What is the most relevant European value to you?
Aida Hadžialić: Freedom. Especially if one takes into consideration how many of today's EU members used to belong to autocratic regimes but fought strongly to liberate themselves and belong to the European Union.
Aida Hadžialić is a Swedish politician and a member of the Social Democrats. She served as Minister for Upper Secondary School, Adult Education and Training until August 2016. Elected at age 27, Aida was Sweden's youngest-ever and first Muslim minister. Originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina, her family moved to Sweden when she was five to escape the civil war. Currently Aida is a partner and director at Nordic West Office, which helps businesses succeed in the United States and the UK. Aida Hadžialić is a member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.
Do you think EU citizens in wealthy Sweden and struggling Spain have a lot in common?
Aida Hadžialić: Our common ground is that we are Europeans and belong to the EU because we believe in the idea of unity rather than division. History has proven that cooperation favors economic and social development. However, I also do believe that the countries of Southern Europe need economic reform and should try to reflect the structural reforms already adopted by Northern Europe in order to sharpen economic performance. In the beginning of the 1990s, the Swedish economy crashed, but through tough decisions, financial austerity, but also investments in vital segments such as IT infrastructure, our economy bounced back and is now globally at the top.
Some critics say that the failures of the EU institutions are inherent in the system. Do you think this bureaucratic system is able to shift into the next gear?
Aida Hadžialić: The EU is not flawless. The answer to those imperfections is not to kill the union but rather to reform it. Many EU citizens consider the EU bureaucracy as too large and too foreign. The EU has succeeded economically but perhaps not as much socially. For instance, the streets of Stockholm are full of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens begging for money while the EU designates money to both these countries so they can help suppressed groups. Still little is happening. Why? These are some of the issues we will have to work with in the future to improve the EU's credibility.
The EU has succeeded economically but perhaps not as much socially.
How can disconnected EU citizens be brought back in? What went wrong in the first place?
Aida Hadžialić: I believe that the discontent with the EU to a large extent reflects national issues. Taking Sweden as an example, greater Swedish prosperity has brought about greater support for the EU. Few are questioning Sweden's role in the EU. However, the opposite was true when Sweden was going through financial hardship. Consequently, if EU members states going through economic difficulties could emerge more prosperous thanks to reform and restructuring, that would probably also strengthen their support for the EU.
Did you ever personally experience a lack of trust towards politicians?
Aida Hadžialić: I have experienced distrust when I come across politicians who cling on to power for the wrong reasons, such as money or the failure to find professional alternatives to politics.
What are the direct implications of digitization for the European labor market?
Aida Hadžialić: Digitization and automation will change our labor markets in the sense that jobs will "disappear to machines.” For that reason it is very important to enable reskilling, life-long learning, and social security to bridge the gap between jobs. Otherwise social unrest will follow, and normally when that happens, radical political powers emerge. We must avoid this.
BMW Foundation European Table
The European Table offers a framework for leaders from EU member states and neighboring societies to reflect on concrete ways to strengthen the European Union. Aida Hadžialić is a member of the European Table's Advisory Board. The first European Table took place in Tallinn, Estonia. Participants discussed whether digitization can serve as a growth and job engine for Europe. For global digitization is leading to far-reaching changes in many areas of social life and work.
What is the European competitive advantage, if there is one at all?
Aida Hadžialić: Europe has many competitive advantages! Our workforce is very skilled thanks to our world-class educational and R&D institutions, we have advanced ecosystems for start-ups paving the way to a "new economy," and our infrastructure is solid and well-connected. Having said that, the EU must, of course, even out the economic differences between the north and the south of the union; as things stand now, it is the north that is the economic powerhouse of the union.
Research has shown that the young generations of today will have to change jobs at least ten times during their lifetimes.
What needs to be done to make the digital transformation a win-win situation?
Aida Hadžialić: Our educational systems must be transformed as to reflect a digitized and global economy. Jobs will come and go—which is nothing new, really. However, this trend will be intensified in the future to come. Research has shown that the young generations of today will have to change jobs at least ten times during their lifetimes. This will require reskilling in order for people to stay relevant for the labor market. Therefore, the EU also needs educational and social security systems that reflect this.
What role should civil society play in this?
Aida Hadžialić: Civil society could most certainly stand as an alternative to the public institutions, for instance when it comes to education and reskilling. Civil society will most probably also be an important voice and driving force reflecting popular opinion, impacting on politics and business.
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