Could Europe become a geopolitical superpower?
Whenever there is a crisis in Europe, and the EU needs to evolve, the line goes up that Jean Monnet, one of its founding fathers, said “Europe needs a crisis to move forward” , and Europe manages then. However, a different point of view should be noted. Monnet’s father, a Cognac merchant, publicly stated that “any new idea is a bad idea”.
Senior Monnet’s views would not find as much favor in Brussels as before, largely because the world is changing rapidly and European leaders are waking up to the new realities of the end of the globalized world system and the arrival of a multipolar world, thanks in large part to the actions of three “strong” men – Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Trump has sown doubt in the minds of Europeans that the United States may be in political decline and that it may be a less reliable partner, Xi has awakened them to the realization that trade with China involves a double-edged compromise, while Putin reminds them that Europe is once again challenged by uncompromising evil, and must fight it.
I have written many times about the growing momentum towards the notion of Europe as a geopolitical power. What is new is the speed at which this is happening. Europe has taken about five years to get its fiscal and economic policy in order, and it is still half-formed. On the other hand, foreign, security, energy and European politics have been transformed in six months. The importance of this transformation is not yet appreciated in Beijing, Washington and London.
These capitals may feel that they are better placed to deal with individual governments in Europe than with the EU itself. Brexit, where the EU commissioner was the trusted negotiator for the 27 countries, has shown that this is less and less the case, and the response to the energy crisis also shows that EU countries are better off together.
In the coming years, the idea of Europe as a power should prevail. Concretely, this means that it will seek a more distinct and powerful voice (at EU level) on foreign policy and that this will be informed by the social democratic values of the EU.
As a result, Europe will have a more coherent and broader defense and security policy which will spill over into the idea of industrial sovereignty – in effect, Europe will be ‘self-sufficient’ or have autonomy in key areas of defence, industry and technology. To some extent, Europe is just catching up with the US and China here. From an investment perspective, we should expect to see deep secular trends in green energy, environmental technologies, defense and cybersecurity, and the consolidation of fintech and healthcare in Europe.
Skeptics may feel like they’ve seen it all before.
There are clear obstacles. The first is the theoretical aspect of the games of shaping ‘common’ policies and then ensuring that their implementation does not run counter to policy developments in individual member states (e.g. Italy) . Moreover, with Germany still in a state of geopolitical confusion, much depends on the agreement between France and Lithuania and Poland.
The second is implementation – for example, fostering innovation in new technologies and giving tangible meaning to what ‘European values’ mean to people, are best done from the bottom up (a very good example is the recent launch of Democracy Next www.demnext.org ), than top-down as is the case in Brussels.
In this regard, there are some compelling points to come. The first is whether the EC will appoint a high-level foreign affairs commissioner and give him additional policy power and institutional capacity, so that he does not play second fiddle to French foreign ministers. and German. Another test concerns the nature of defense spending and, apart from all the tanks and helicopters that individual armies like Germany need, whether more is spent on “common” defense infrastructure such as heavy lifting aircraft . Along the same lines, another test is whether the EU is prepared to take aggressive action, as opposed to defensive action, against another state. An EU-coordinated cyberattack against one of the many ‘internet research agencies’ would be a significant development.
A looming “test” is in the realm of democracy. European leaders have spoken a lot about its democratic values, and the invasion of Ukraine has highlighted this. What is new is that this debate was at the center of Ursula von der Leyen’s annual address last Wednesday where she criticized “the Trojan horses that attack our democracy from within” and declared in particular that “many of us have taken democracy for granted for too long”. Especially those, like me, who have never experienced what it means to live under the fist of an authoritarian regime”.
In this context, Hungary is the typical case. He is likely to be deprived of billions in European funding (up to 40 billion euros), and there is increasing talk of finding legal ways to exclude him from the European Council, and potentially from the EU. The current mood in Brussels is, given Viktor Orban’s proximity to Russia, to push Hungary very hard. As the war in Ukraine moves away from Russia, European leaders may find the courage to push Orban to his limits.