A future in which European power continues to decrease?

Read few comments and check also the European Foreign Policy Scorecard of ECFR.

Timo Behr, Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

First, when it comes to European power/influence in international affairs, it is obvious that European power has been dented somewhat as a resulted of the Euro-crisis, i.e. declining defence budgets, faltering image, etc (we discussed as much last year). However, the much bigger story seems to be America’s reluctance to lead and its withdrawal from the world. Power, in the end, is always relational and Europe is far from the only one in decline these days. In fact America’s withdrawal has created spaces, which to some extent are being filled by Europe (see Libya, Mali, Somalia, etc.). While this is not always happening by choice, Europe is forced to pick up the pieces. This seems to be particular the case in the EU’s neighbourhood, where as a result European power appears in ascendance. Where European power is more obviously receding is where it is in direct competition with a rising China. This seems to be particularly the case in Sub-Saharan Africa where Chinese (and to some extent Indian and others) investments are eating into Europe’s long-standing dominance. But this development clearly precedes the Euro-crisis.

Second, there seem to be little indications that suggest that our friends/competitors are planning for a post-European world. US strategy seems to hinge on Europe taking over greater responsibilities, especially in the neighbourhood, not less (see Anne Applebaums recent piece). Russia’s decline will be much more pronounced than Europe’s in the future (due to declining energy prices). As a result we might see Russia being more, not less, willing to cooperate in the neighbourhood or over energy prices. China (a place I have to admit I know little about) appears to me eager to keep Europe engaged internationally, if only to offset American dominance. The exception are issues where China and the EU are in direct competition (Africa, climate change, etc.) – but this is nothing new. Finally a lot of the other emerging powers, for all of their well-deserved Schadenfreude about European decline, have been notably reluctant to take over the spaces liberated by the US and Europe. Even where they have tried – see for example Turkey’s and the GCC’s response to the Syria crisis – they appear unable to force a solution.

All in all, I would therefore be cautious about forecasting Europe’s impending decline as an international power – especially when using the Euro crisis as the sole explanatory variable. There are other factors – demography, GDP, etc – which might lead to Europe’s decline in the long-run. But in the short-run the picture is much more complex and the Euro-crisis, in its own way, may yet provide the stimulus for a revival of European power. Anyways, that is my point of view…

Hylke Dijkstra, Assistnt Professor, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

European and Western power is indeed on the decline. This is nothing new and is to the large extent related to the ‘rise of the rest’. Europe has a declining population and other powers have higher economic growth. It is thus a logical consequence that relations are shifting and that the various powers take this into account when planning for the future. Since the Second World War, the United States has always had a Pacific and European strategy. While Europe has received the bulk of attention in the last two decades, Washington is now restoring the balance by looking more towards Asia. China and its new leadership is also not overly interested in establishing new relations with Europe. It seems to have other priorities.

These things having said, Europe remains an important economy, home to some of the world’s largest armies, and has perhaps the world’s most professional diplomatic services. Moreover, if European consumption goes down, this has a direct negative effect on exporting economies, such as China, which does not have a sufficient domestic market to stand on its own. While it is thus healthy that great powers care a bit less about Europe, I would not expect a European demise in the foreseeable future.

Jan Gaspers, Gates Scholar, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge

Announcements of the demise of Europe’s influence in international affairs have been in fashion ever since the failed referendum on the European Constitution in 2003. Yet, there seems to be little tangible evidence that would warrant such pessimism. Although Washington seems to have firmly turned towards the Asia-Pacific region, the EU remains a vital partner of the US. Indeed, it seems rather telling that Obama recently sent a strong reminder to London that the US needed a vocal defender of American interests within the EU. Close partners, like Canada, India, or Japan, continue to push eagerly for the conclusion of new economic cooperation and trade agreements with the EU, demonstrating that even in times of crisis European markets remain highly attractive. Catherine Ashton was able to (re-) establish a prominent role for the EU in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme. ECFR’s European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2013 also shows that the EU has been rather effective at promoting and defending its main trade and energy interests in relations with Russia.

Despite strong competition from China, the EU will also remain the most important player in many developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Indeed, one should not forget that the EU as a whole accounted for half of all global aid provided in 2011, with a development aid budget of €53.1bn. The European Commission alone distributed €12.3bn of external aid, which made it the world’s second largest bilateral donor after the US. Moreover, in many developing countries the EU has always been perceived as a role model of good governance, socio-economic stability, and peaceful cooperation among nations. However, it remains to be seen to what extent this image has suffered from recent intra-European developments. In the eyes of the global public, the European economic crisis cast fundamental doubts on the state of social peace in several EU member states. Yet, as the Euro seems to finally recover and Southern European countries find themselves in a much better position to secure loans, the images of violent street protests in Athens and Madrid might eventually vanish from global public memory.

Admittedly, there are also signs of Europe losing influence in the world. The EU’s inward looking nature over the past months has – at least temporarily – undermined some of the EU’s influence in the neighbourhood. Europe has also looked rather weak on Lebanon, and, as the ECFR European Foreign Policy Scorecard rightly points out, the EU continues to lack a coherent Asia strategy, which could provide the basis for a more visible European role in Eastern Asian security.

However, what should arguably be of greatest concern with regard to Europe’s long-term weight in international affairs is its shortcomings as a sponsor of peace and security. While the EU has arguably already eclipsed NATO in the civil security dimension, the Union continues to lack the necessary military capabilities to perform adequately on hard security. Indeed, if they want to be taken seriously as a security actor, EU member states finally need to become serious about pooling and sharing military capabilities. Diverging strategic visions and military traditions, the wish to maintain decision-making powers over questions of self-defence and military deployments abroad, and concerns that close defence cooperation may be seen as a free lunch by poorer EU member states are powerful obstacles to more ambitious forms of pooling and sharing military capabilities in Europe. In order to overcome these obstacles, we will need strong political leadership. Indeed, a crucial lesson learned from existing EU-level and bilateral European defence cooperation projects is that ambitious military pooling and sharing ventures can only emerge and thrive at the initiative and with the solid backing of EU heads of state and government.


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