Be strong or die: Why Europe must become a superpower

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

"Hard power": Polish troops on exercise in Germany. Grafenwoehr Training Area, May 2016. [7th Army Command/Flickr]

The European Union desperately needs power. Not only to push forward but to survive, write Piotr Arak and Greg Lewicki.

Piotor Arak and Greg Lewicki are analysts associated the Warsaw-based think-tank InEuropa.

A State Power Index we have created suggests that after investing in cohesive defence, security, energy and foreign policy, the EU may become a superpower. Such a turn of events would be beneficial for both the US and the EU. An alternative course of events is to disintegrate under the pressure of Euroscepticism.

This Euroscepticism is partly fueled by history. Since generations in Europe do not remember the war, why should they put effort into integrating Europe?

Indeed, over the last 70 years, we have been living in one of the most peaceful periods of history, at least in Europe. We ceased to remember why controlling coal and the production of steel was such a great idea in 1952. Many take this peace for granted. But the world becomes – again – gradually more dangerous. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, incidents of state-based violence are now comparable to the end of the Cold War and the conflicts between non-state actors (like terrorist groups) are occurring with unprecedented frequency.

Some of these conflicts take place at the very doorstep of Europe: a relatively new model of war is being tested in Eastern Europe. This so-called hybrid warfare by Russia against Ukraine takes advantage of the structural weakness of the democratic system, information society and international law. Whoever masters its tools can achieve strategic goals without proportional reaction by the democratic international community.

Meanwhile, Europe’s other neighbor, Turkey, has contested a hundred years of evolution towards democracy to elect a president that openly threatens Europe via international news agencies. Serious journalists would swear Turkey – an American ally – also played its part in sustaining a refugee crisis in Europe.

Such a return of hard power to Europe is indeed a hard nut to crack. For it is the EU that has historically been one of the most staunch supporters of soft power in international relations. It is Europe that constructed a sphere of peace German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk called “a greenhouse” due to friendly conditions inside. Today, the prevalence of soft power must be reconsidered. Although Europe certainly is a superpower as to lifestyle, when it comes to other components of power, it is astonishingly weak and uncoordinated.

This certainly stays in sharp contrast with Europe’s potential. Our State Power Index ranked countries globally according to the seven measures related to both hard and soft power (economic, military, cultural, geographic, demographic, resource-related and diplomatic factors). If the power of EU countries were counted together, the EU would emerge as the greatest power in the world. Although it would lose against the United States in some aspects (such as military power), it would receive the greatest overall score – 18.16 pts compared to 16.22 for the US. This means a strong Europe could have a global international impact, an impact it does not currently have.

Certainly, so far the EU’s power exists only on paper. In reality, the EU will soon become weaker, especially after the forthcoming departure of the United Kingdom. If it wasn’t enough, a wave of scepticism towards European integration floods the western part of the continent (the east remains Euro-enthusiastic, though: according to a recent poll the most pro-EU country in Europe is Poland, which may sound paradoxical considering Poland’s current role as a whipping boy for the European elites).

This Euroscepticism hinders further integration. But frankly speaking, European elites are partially responsible for this worrisome condition, as they do not listen to the public opinion. Recently, the deepening of the eurozone has emerged as an allegedly best project for advancing European integration today. Unfortunately, this is not what the people in Europe want.

According to the most recent Eurobarometer 86 poll, 75% of EU citizens welcome further integration as to defense and security, including energy security. The only other issue that has more support is the free movement.

A pan-European eurozone, however, has much less support (58%), which is even less than common foreign policy (66%). In turn, data from Pew Research show that vast majority of Europeans reject current EU policy related to refugees and migration.

These are important clues as to what should matter in the era of international instability and return of hard power to Europe.

Certainly, the eurozone has historically been an instrument of European integration. However, the power of the eurozone alone (12.74 pts), although comparable to China (12.49), cannot be compared to the power of US. This is yet another argument for rethinking the idea of two-speed Europe and concentrating on EU-wide defense, security and energy policy first.

Failure to recognise the public mood and its driving factors could lead to European collapse, especially that a two-speed Europe focusing on the eurozone would bolster Euroscepticism. In turn, the public’s willingness to strengthen defense and security could mean a big leap towards EU becoming a real global power.

What is more, the strengthening of the EU would benefit not only the Old Continent but also the United States, no matter which political option is in power. A strong EU would be a key to stability in Eurasia.

According to President Donald Trump Europe – to be treated as an equal player –should pay for its security. Indeed, Europeans should pay for their own security. What is more, Europeans do want to pay for their security. At least those Europeans who are not oblivious to the rhythms of history that lean towards hard power again.

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