The Slovenia Times

Europe is Trying to Stand on its Own Two Feet in a Fragile International Order



According to the Friends of Europe's recent #EuropeMatters survey, 64% of Europeans are not convinced that life would be worse without the EU, while 49% think the EU is irrelevant. The resultsarequite telling.What change and reform does the EU need to make in order to appropriately addressthe needs and concerns of its citizens?

The European public is more aware of the EU than ever before and that is partly because of Brexit, which has shown rather ironically illustrated how important the EU is and how EU regulations impact our lives in so many ways.. I think its very good news that Europeans are more aware of the EU and its benefits.. The problem is that many people feel that EU institutions are detached and disconnected from the reality of European citizens and to change that, we need the voices of citizens to be brought more strongly into the conversation. We have a powerful European Commission, EU Council of Ministers and European Parliament, which has elected representatives of the people but what is missing is the voice of citizens' movements. In many parts of Europe today, political parties are not seen as being representative of the desires and aspirations of people. This is why we see so many citizen movements flourishing across Europe. What we need to do is to channel their voice, their aspirations, into the European conversation. We need to change the institutional structure a little and while waiting for that to happen, we have to find mechanisms to bring the voice of the people into the discussion so that they are heard by the policymakers. It has to be the Europe of the people, who are very much interested in the issues of climate change, better security and a social Europe, and these issues needs to be higher up on the EU agenda. 

What are the communication channels though which citizens can get involved in the abovementioned dialogues?

Citizen dialogues take place in different EU towns and cities, by national governments and EU institutions, but what is missing is a real channel so that all these conversations, proposals and recommendations can be followed by action. There are some ideas out there, including the idea of having a second Chamber in the EU Parliament that represents the peoples' movements, however, at this moment, we have to make sure that the voices of the citizens is given directly to EU policy makers. It can happen in the current circumstances also. I was looking at some opinion polls and only about 40% of European citizens know that there are elections for the EU Parliament in May next year. So, in the coming days and weeks, we need to make sure that we publicise the fact that there will be these elections, which are important for the future of Europe and that more people vote. Traditionally, voter turnout at these elections has been quite low and that needs to change.

TheG20 Leaders' Summit took place in Buenos Aires (Argentina) on 30 November - 1 December. The summit theme was "Building consensus for fair and sustainable development". What are your thoughts on the discussions and conclusions, especially from the European perspective? 

Before I comment, let me first talk about the state of the global multilateral order because meetings such as the G7 and G20 provide a platform for countries to come together and tackle some key challenges facing everyone. The multilateral, rule-based order is under challenge from America at the moment, the 'America First' policy that sees the U.S. retreating from some of its global responsibilities and it actually means the rule-based order that America contributed to after World War II is fragile. Today, the U.S. deliberately tries to undermine multilateral institutions and agreements, as shown by the U.S. not taking part in the climate change negotiations and the U.S.-China trade war. This has weakend the international order established in the aftermath of the Second World War. The G20, for me, was set up as a crisis mechanism after the financial crisis, where countries came together to support certain measures that were needed very urgently. It is a very useful platform for discussion among the world's leading countries. In Buenos Aires, two countries dominated the agenda -America and China. The entire focus at the G20 was not so much the discussions between the 20 countries and the leaders, but the discussion between President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump. This is the kind of world that we live in today. In my opinion, it is very important that the G20 came together and released statements that talk about the global order, fighting protectionism and combating climate change, but nothing can be done in today's world unless some of the biggest powers work actively together, and at the moment you do not really see that. 

Where is Europe placed between the US and China?

Very good question! My view is that all of the challenges that we are facing on the global stage of 'America First', China rising, mean that many people across the world and within Europe are looking to Europe and its leadership. It is time to actually take up the challenge of preserving and maybe reinventing, a multinational order, keeping it alive so that international cooperation continues, so that we do not have national states fighting each other, because the idea of cooperation is very much a part of Europe's DNA. Multilateralism is what the EU is all about, but today there are great divisions and differences such as Brexit, which is something that the EU has come to terms with. In addition, there are deep differences within the EU27 on multilateralism and on the values of the EU. Europe could play a very important role as the promoter and even the saviour of the multilateral order, but it is undermined by differences within the EU. The greatest threat to the EU really comes from this disorder and the differences on values, human rights and democracy within the EU. From the perspective of the international order, the EU cannot do anything alone, it needs other countries such as Canada, but also countries like China, India and possibly also Russia.

Consequently, the global security landscape is in a state of flux - increased tensions between NATO and Russia, the ongoing difficult Brexit negotiations and China's more assertive global stance. The challenges are putting into question global security, while the next financial crisis is approaching. What kind of dialogue and measures are needed to start or strengthen the global security trend? 

It is true there are all the strengths and tensions that you have mentioned, and the EU and the international community need to work out new ways of working with each other. The fact that America is now in retreat, withdrawing from some of its responsibilities, its traditional way of acting on the world stage means that to a large extent, countries in Asia and Europe have to re-think the idea of depending exclusively on America's military alliance and on America's military power. 

In Asia and in Europe there are countries that will need to think what happens when we cannot always rely on the U.S. as a loyal ally. But the challenges: what we do next? In the EU's case, there is a lot of talk about strategic autonomy, which means that the EU is slowly, but surely, trying to build up its own security identity and its own defence identity, and it is doing so through structured cooperation, through discussions which focus on ways in which the Europe can stand on its own two feet, whether from the military and security point of view, on the international stage or on the economic front. We are looking at a world which is changing, a world in transition where power is shifting from the west to the east; where economic and political power are shifting to the emerging economies. We have Russia, which is feeling very uncertain and China, which is a rising power, while for many Russia is more of a declining power. There is also Vladimir Putin, a president who is unpredictable, but one who is determined to make Russia a global player. In all of this geopolitical world order, the European Union can play a stabilising role. 

Looking at the smaller regions - the future of the Western Balkans is an issue that is moving swiftly up the European agenda. Recently, the Friends of Europe addressed the political, economic and social issues that affect the Balkans. What were the main outcomes of the 19thsummit?

The Western Balkans are very important neighbours to the EU, which wants to bring them into the EU club. Just last year, Jean Claude Juncker opened a new 2025 European perspective for Serbia and Montenegro as potential, possible members of the EU, but this is easier said than done. It is still very true that the Western Balkans have so many domestic challenges to overcome before they are ready to join the EU. Looking at it from the EU side: the EU's most recent enlargement brought a number of countries which now, when we look back, were perhaps not ready for EU membership. There is concern about those countries which are already in the EU, having problems with corruption, crime, human rights and values, the rule of law is under threat and the EU has, according to Article 7, procedures against Hungary and Poland. It becomes very difficult for the EU to deal with these problems once these countries are in the EU. In addition, there are some historical disputes within the Western Balkans that are not yet resolved and that is the reason the EU is pushing so hard for a resolution of the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. At our conference, the word transformation came across: economic transformation, political, social and digital transformation and this all requires the countries in the region to work together. Without this transformation taking place, extending membership to those countries would not be beneficial for them or for the European Union.


More from Nekategorizirano