I see myself as a European citizen. That was my cradle in Belgium. Immediately after my studies, I started working for Heineken in the Netherlands. In order to really get to know your own environment, it makes sense to be in a completely different environment from time to time. Having lived and worked in Africa for a large part of my life and now being able to represent Heineken worldwide, I have come to appreciate more than ever what we have all built up in Europe. Also, the way we do business in Europe.
It’s about more than just performance for the shareholder. We also invest in each other and in the future.
This integrative approach is also necessary to address future challenges in the areas of climate, trade, geopolitics, scarcity of resources, but also socio-economic developments such as digitization, demographic change, health and the increasing focus on the individual. These questions are everywhere, but the answers that world leaders are currently giving you are putting pressure on the way we live and do business. We now have a choice: will we take the lead in the European Union by giving constructive answers, or will we follow the agenda of others? Some politicians want us to believe that we have to hide behind the dikes.
This is precisely where the newly elected European Commission and a new European Parliament have an important role to play. Together with other representatives of European companies, I have recently called for this. More than 50 board members of major European companies organised in the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) are committed to a stronger, open and competitive Europe.
After all, a strong and united Europe can meet these challenges for us. Whether it is the entrepreneur, the worker or the citizen, the EU is good for us.
Some politicians want us to believe that we have to hide behind the dikes with a few old guilders in our hands. But more nationalism is always a worse answer than more cooperation and a stronger Europe. That is why, together with my ERT colleagues, I call for a strong European agenda in which I consider three important principles to be central:
First, let us be good for people and invest in citizens. A strong European economy is directly linked to strong social development and well-being. Our schools and universities must prepare our children today for the skills of the day after tomorrow. Our policies must be based on dialogue, and our company must make a sustainable contribution to socio-economic development.
Let us be good for our environment by investing in it. In this way, we have no time to lose in terms of energy change and the climate agenda. Europe has ambitions, and that has its price. This has consequences for our competitive position, but can be resolved by clarifying markets and rules.
Thirdly, let us invest in fair trade. Global competition requires a level playing field in which fair trade is guaranteed. We must strengthen our competitiveness by adapting European rules accordingly, actively pursuing fair trade within the WTO and updating European competition rules.
The EU and its Member States must do this. But his burden comes to us as citizens who have gathered in our local communities. The danger of globalisation and Europeanisation is that we do not pay enough attention to our local communities. It is precisely these communities that give us a sense of security and in which we live our own culture. This is not a matter for the EU, it is a matter for us to work on.
I am sure that we can all do the work together. After all, Europe has an entrepreneurial and free-thinking population, and we always raise the bar for ourselves. It is now up to the politicians to make the conditions for this success future-proof.
Jean-François van Boxmeer, CEO of Heineken.