Why Europe? On European Purpose and Power

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Stakeholder Opinion

The world is fragmented and the future is uncertain. New paradigms and narratives are emerging. Why should Europe then be the answer? And what makes Europe “European”? Europa can best be understood by its history, its sufferings and revolutions, the ideas of liberty and humanity, the enlightenment, and its power of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the aftermath of WWII, the European nations, standing on ruins, decided to forgive without forgetting for the sake of a brighter common future.

Henning Vöpel is the Director of the Centre for European Policy.

Thinking of being born to a continent as a lottery, there still wouldn’t be any better lot than “Europe” in terms of wealth, justice and freedom. Europe of today is no longer just a project for peace and freedom, but making European integration an irreversible process, preventing a recurrence of nationalism and war, remains as important as ever at a time where the enemies of an open society seem to be increasing in strength and are posing a threat to liberal democracy and the rule of law.

What do we owe to each other? – from this Kantian question the ethical foundation of Europe can be derived: Listening to each other, because the other might be right, respecting each other, because the other might have a different perspective, giving people a voice and a choice – that can be regarded as the common ground of Europe. It is the belief that freedom and responsibility, truth and tolerance, dignity and solidarity, progress and justice are inseparable. Those values continue to inspire us in creating the future but at the same time, liberal democracy and the rule of law are under threat.

The geopolitical shift has caused a crisis of multilateralism and a battle of political systems and ideas between the US, China, and Europe. This will be accompanied by a reallocation of power during the transition to a multipolar global order. According to Charles Kindleberger, who has described the manifold transitions from an old to a new global order throughout history, the so-called “Thucydides trap” suggests that military conflicts will become more likely during such a transition. The Ukraine and the Taiwan conflicts are the elephants in the room.

Meanwhile, Europe is weakened to the West by a brittle transatlantic alliance with the US and threatened to the East by the increasing influence of Russia and China over the Eastern European region. Internal threats come from neo-nationalist and populist movements that are still powerful in Poland, Hungary, but also in France, Italy, and even Germany. Somehow caught between these two sides, Europe increasingly suffers from a lack of leadership (sovereignty) and governance (legitimacy) which might require a trilateral initiative as an open “club of the willing” (France, Italy, Germany).

Moreover, the pandemic, climate change, and new technologies are going to bring about radical changes to the world we live in. Protecting people and the planet, using artificial intelligence and data in a responsible way, ensuring access to resources, securing global supply chains – all these issues have shown that Europe is vulnerable to shocks and significantly exposed to a broader variety of risks.

On the other hand, Europa has got all the prerequisites to create a better world out of this. The European Commission has initiated much important legislation, such as the data governance act and the green deal program. But cyber-attacks, extraterritorial threats, regional conflicts and global crises are going to make security and resilience systemically more important. Europe’s capacity and freedom to act is key for its sovereignty.

In a world of uncertainty and complexity, creating trust in institutions and credibility of politics is important to enable liberal democracy to withstand the allure of authoritarianism. At the same time, the future offers great new opportunities. There couldn’t be any better time to bring up European ideas and values to shape the future.

An innovative European Entrepreneurship, excellence in science, and leadership in research and development will be decisive. Psychologist Joseph Henrich has shown that over the course of history non-conformity and cooperation have been key to cultural progress. Europe’s most valuable resources are its diversity and creativity. With purpose and power Europe can unlock its huge potential and embrace the future. If then the question is, how we want to live in the future, the answer should be Europe.

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