The EU has to broaden its alliances to shape the new world order

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

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) walks with China's President Xi Jinping (L) during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Qingdao, 8 June 2018. [EPA-EFE/GREG BAKER / POOL]

Enough tears have been shed, egos and emotions shaken and obituaries written about the transatlantic relationship. It is time to move on. So wipe the tears, stop the whining and turn over a new page. The US has embarked on a new journey, and the EU should do the same, writes Shada Islam.

Shada Islam is director of Europe and geopolitics at Friends of Europe, a think tank that connects people, stimulates debate and triggers change to create a more inclusive, sustainable and forward-looking Europe.

Europe has already started to woo new partners, tackle fresh challenges and explore roads less-travelled. But more can be done.

First, it should be clear by now that America really is not into Europe anymore. For US President Donald Trump, it is America first, dictators second and old friends and allies last.

Second, loud headlines about the demise of the “West” and collapse of the rules-based multilateral order need to be put in perspective.

The US is undoubtedly in retreat from its global commitments while Asia’s rising powers, with China in the lead, are ratcheting up their worldwide influence and clout.

For proof, look no further than the G7 meeting in Canada which ended in insulting tweets and counter-tweets, while the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao at almost the same time appeared to herald a new era of cooperation among the once-warring leaders of Russia, China and India.

Beware of hasty conclusions, however. The old order is certainly unravelling and a new one is emerging. But, Europe – provided it plays its cards right – can still play an important role in crafting the new rules of the game.

With its unique story of peace, reconciliation and integration, Europe is and will always be more than a mere member of an America-led “Western alliance”.

Also, European markets, investments, technology, exports – and smart power – continue to resonate across the world. European values may not sit well with many Asian (or indeed European) governments but they are important to Asia’s ordinary folk.

Significantly, even as they become more self-confident and assertive about voicing their aspirations and concerns, the rising powers are not ready – yet – to completely jettison the old playbook.

China’s President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the SCO summit to underline their readiness to abide by world trade rules.

In addition, while Asia’s ascending and fast-growing nations may be waxing lyrical about the “Shanghai Spirit, their leaders still face an abundance of challenges at home and in relations to each other.

Ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth, tackling illegal immigration, terrorism, inequalities and combatting climate change require international cooperation.

The EU is already shifting gear. The strides made in European defence and security cooperation are important. EU efforts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal and push ahead with the Paris climate agreement and safeguard the multilateral trade system may yet save the day.

It is now time to move from crisis management mode to the much more challenging task of fashioning a modern and up-to-date multilateral order, one which is no longer West-focused but reflects changed dynamics and patterns of global power.

In simple terms: for Europeans, it was all about basking in the glory of a powerful transatlantic alliance. It is now time to talk about Eurasian cooperation instead.

The reflection has already begun – albeit under another heading. In October this year, 53 European and Asian leaders will meet in Brussels for the 12th Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), a platform for Eurasian cooperation which has been under-valued and under-utilised in the past.

That needs to change. The upcoming ASEM meeting which brings together members of the G7, the G20, the SCO (and other bigger and smaller groupings) can help ease current uncertainties by shining the spotlight on three key areas.

First, the summit can start discussions on defining a new 21st Century cooperative rules-based multilateral order which is co-created and co-designed by Europe and leading Asian powers.

ASEM is perfect for such a conversation given the diversity of its membership which includes “like-minded” nations like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea but also China, India and Southeast Asian nations.

Secondly, the ASEM summit should define new norms and standards for sustainable global connectivity projects covering infrastructure as well as trade, institutions and people-to-people ties.

While China’s Belt and Road Initiative captures the most attention and criticism, other ASEM members, including the EU, Japan, India and South Korea are engaged in similar plans to connect and link up through better and quicker rail, plane and maritime routes. Digital connectivity is also on the agenda.

And finally, Europe and Asia have to deepen and expand their conversation on security, including on denuclearisation and disarmament.

A new EU blueprint for enhanced security cooperation “in and with Asia” spotlights Europe as a security partner for Asia, saying the two regions have shared interests which go beyond anti-piracy operations.

ASEM offers a platform for further discussions on hard security but also non-traditional security threats. If agreed by Asian states, the EU’s membership of the East Asia Summit, which is increasingly viewed as Asia’s prime security gathering, would also give additional momentum to Asia-Europe security discussions.

The changed global landscape requires quick EU action to seek new global partnerships and reinforce existing ones. The old global order may be dying but the EU can help to fashion the new one.

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