Now that the European elections are behind us and the top EU positions – the presidencies of the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament – will be filled, the time is here for Europeans to discuss the fundamental issues and challenges that loom ahead for the whole of Europe. Issues that were almost never discussed during campaigns that, in most countries, focused primary on domestic matters. However, the significant increase in voter turnout was clear evidence that Europeans are ready and willing to look to the future and to confront the realities of a profoundly and rapidly changing world.
Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, which was meant to be an overwhelming victory for the European and Western ‘models’ – perhaps even ‘the end of history’, Europeans are increasingly concerned about their role and their economic, geopolitical, and civilisational influence in the new world (dis)order that is currently shaping up. The Western-led world order is crumbing and being replaced by a pluralistic world – a ‘no one’s world’, according to Charles Kupchan. This is a world order in which numerous rising powers and non-governmental actors are requesting a seat at the table.
Europe’s fate will depend very much on the determination of its citizens and its leaders to address and sort out successfully – and rapidly – the following three major challenges.
What alliance(s) for Europe?
The world is going through a profound reshuffling of traditional economic and geopolitical alliances, and the ‘liberal order’ that prevailed following World War II is being seriously challenged – in decline according to some, in collapse according to others. The ability to achieve multilateral agreements is questioned and under threat. Though we are witnessing radical and rapid changes all around the world, Europe doesn’t seem to think and act strategically about how to reposition itself. Among other challenges, the absence of leadership in Brussels and in most capitals across the continent, Brexit, the rise of populist leaders, and the weakness of the Franco-German engine are preventing Europe from looking ahead and developing a shared vision during this critical time.
The significant increase in voter turnout at the elections was clear evidence that Europeans are ready and willing to look to the future and to confront the realities of a profoundly and rapidly changing world
This raises a series of questions that must be addressed: What is the future of the transatlantic alliance and cooperation and how should it evolve? What is the reality of the ‘Eurasian perspective’, its risks, and its opportunities for Europe? How can Europe build – or rebuild – constructive relations with its two immediate neighbors, Turkey and Russia, two countries whose influence is rapidly expanding and who are actively engaged in building alliances to reach their new global ambitions? Can Europe (together with Russia?) play a useful role in preventing what seems to be the inevitable ‘battle of the giants’ between the US and China? How far and how fast will Europe be able to ensure its own security?
None of these vital questions were put on the table during the European elections. And in absence of clear responses to these questions, Europe will be torn in multiple directions and will be unable to play a significant role in the emerging world order. As navigators know, in absence of a clear destination, all winds are bad.
Make Europe prosperous and sustainable again
Today, the EU is still the largest economy in the world, with a GDP per capita of €25,000 for its 500+ million consumers. It is also the largest trading block. However, the lack of a comprehensive European industrial policy and the absence of European industrial champions capable of competing with US and Chinese firms is seriously putting Europe’s economic importance at risk. The post-Brexit EU will account for only 12 companies among the world’s largest, while only 10 years ago it was home to 28. Its incapacity to take an active role in the digital revolution is threatening its economic sovereignty as well. If European countries decide to support policies at the EU level in a few strategic sectors – e.g. batteries for electric cars and Artificial Intelligence – the bloc will be able to find its own path between ‘America First’ and ‘Made in China 2025’. Its competition policy and its trade policy, must be profoundly adapted in order to confront these new challenges.
The world is going through a profound reshuffling of traditional economic and geopolitical alliances
An attractive European model of society
Strengthening its role on the global stage and boosting its economy are indispensable for Europe. However, a third requirement is as, if not more, important. Facing the rise of ‘civilisation states’ – an alternative to the concept of the Westphalian nation-state – Europe must create its own narrative and clearly define its identity and what makes it unique. This is crucial for attracting the best talent and more investment by placing prosperity and sustainability, transparency and equality, peace and stability, pluralism and culture, diversity and inclusion at the heart of the European project.
If Europe wants to remain a leading force in the world, it will have to do so by virtue of exemplarity and innovation: by being a champion against climate change; by protecting personal data as it did with GDPR; and by forging an inclusive model of society where its populations and cultures live peacefully together.
Domination, supremacy, and hegemony are not what empowered, skilled, and educated people around the world are expecting in the 21st century. They want to live in countries inspired by smart leadership and stewardship. These are the qualities that should constitute the new road map for Europe.
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