Europe’s Last Chance

The moment is ripe for Europe to redefine its narrative in order to better cope with future challenges, writes Giles Merritt, editor of Europe's World and head of Brussels-based think-tank Friends of Europe and the Security & Defence Agenda.

The following contribution is authored by Giles Merritt, editor of Europe's World and head of Brussels-based think-tank Friends of Europe and the 'Security & Defence Agenda'.

"The only clear thing to come out of the recent European Union-China summit was the scale of the EU's fallen reputation.

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From being the world's most widely admired political experiment and enjoying widespread respect and a degree of leadership on policy issues with global impact like climate change and fighting Third World poverty, the Union's standing among the world's emerging powers has been brutally downgraded. Its new image is that of a low-growth zone whose member governments have turned away from cooperation in favour of short-sighted beggar-thy-neighbour tactics that are imperiling the euro.

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that Europe has suddenly become a political backwater. But it is true that Europeans need to take a long, hard look at themselves and at where they'll be in 40 years if current trends continue.

What is needed today is a clear definition of Europe's interests – and its responsibilities. Europe needs a sense of purpose for a century in which many of the odds will be stacked against it, as well as a statement of the moral standards that will guide its actions and, one hopes, its leadership.

The first step towards a narrative capable of replacing earlier rallying cries like 'no more war' and 'a single market and a single currency' is to set out Europe's interests. And because we are living in a world of accelerating change, it is useless to think that our goal must be to fight a rearguard defence of what we have and what we stand for.

For the most part, the EU's strategic interests – and certainly those of its member states – cannot be secured within the Union's borders. Security is an obvious priority, and that means being able to defuse tensions by economic rather than military means. The Arab world and Africa will be Europe's particular problems, with militant Islam matched by runaway urbanization, with Africa's population possibly growing from 800 million today to two billion by mid-century.

Just as important will be Europe's interests in shaping the global rulebook. Climate change and improved banking and financial regulation head the current agenda, but soon global agreement will be needed on access to resources ranging from hydrocarbons to minerals to agriculture. Today, when economies compete for markets, not territories, intellectual property rights, as well as trade and investment, must be governed by global agreements."
Editors Note: Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.