Now is the time for Europe to act if it is to defend its security and prosperity. The need is urgent because the geopolitical redistribution of power that’s underway threatens to weaken Europe’s ability to shape developments in a multipolar world of power politics.
Post-modern Europe must adapt, not least through renewed and strengthened defence policies that will lead even to a common European defence. Another priority must be to reduce dependence on resources from emerging powers. China, for example, controls 97% of the world’s rare earth reserves, a strategic requirement for European high-tech industries. More investment is needed in research into substitute materials, and Europe’s trade policies should be much more sharply focused on securing our future mineral and energy supplies through making agricultural market access concessions to resource-rich countries.
Urgent attention is needed to strengthening Europe’s role in the world because much ground has been lost thanks to the financial crisis. The eurozone ministers’ tackling of the sovereign debt crisis has been shackled by populist politics, with key decisions unreasonably delayed. This has imposed severe strains on the European Union’s institutions and also on the principles of shared sovereignty that underpin them.
Solidarity has been in short supply, especially in the treatment meted out to Greece, whose near-bankruptcy has been a traumatising experience for the whole of Europe. Public support for bailing out the Greek economy has been hard to win in triple A-rated countries like Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, where the dominant attitude is that successive Greek governments have irresponsibly brought their economy close to collapse because they were confident that the eurozone would mount a rescue. Little attention has been paid to the importance of the Greek and other southern economies to the triple A-rated countries.
The public debate in the Netherlands has scarcely acknowledged that the southern eurozone is Dutch exporters’ largest market other than Germany. Dutch exports to Italy alone are greater than to the BRIC countries combined. The sharp economic downturn in the peripheral countries explains why the Netherlands went into recession earlier and deeper than other northern EU member states.
The sovereign debt crisis has been transformed from a financial crisis to a political crisis with economic consequences. The fact that a small country like Greece whose economy accounts for no more than 2.5% of the eurozone’s GDP could jeopardise the single currency is in no small measure due to political incompetence. Much responsibility lies with Franco-German leadership, for it was not until June of last year that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy began trying to lead public opinion rather than follow it.
This belated awakening was partly based on self-interest. Most of Germany's exports go to eurozone countries, and German and French banks hold a considerable amount of eurozone sovereign debt. Berlin and Paris were also driven by the fear that a collapsing euro could destroy the Union itself and undermine Germany and France’s global standing.
The world’s financial markets were unimpressed by the bail-out plan for Greece unveiled in late July 2011. Contamination spread to Italy whose 10-year debt was priced at record premia to German bunds. Despite the revival of Franco-German leadership, Europe remains weakened, and its position will deteriorate further because attempts to solve the debt crisis have been too little, too late. The result is that EU member states can no longer effectively defend their security and prosperity in an increasingly multipolar world.
Europe’s political crisis will have four major consequences:
- Europe’s decreased strategic importance to the U.S.
During the last two decades, China has increasingly become the focus of America’s geopolitical attention, and the global financial crisis has also weakened U.S. power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it very clear in an article in Foreign Policy magazine when she wrote: “The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics”. Faced with America’s huge budget deficit, the Pentagon will cut defence spending by nearly $260bn over the next five years. “The focus on the Asia-Pacific region places a renewed emphasis on air and naval forces while sustaining ground force presence,” said America’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in his report to Congress.
The shift of focus, and more selective U.S. engagement, means that the U.S. will be increasingly reluctant to embark on any military adventures in support of Europe. The consequences are already apparent: America wasn’t willing to participate in the Libyan bombing campaign and is extremely reluctant to get involved in other hot spots such as Syria and Iran. Its selective engagement means increasing isolation for a fragmented and weakened Europe.
- The decline of Europe’s “shaping power”
Europe´s shaping power is a combination of military capabilities, a strong economy and the political will to use them to coerce. Europe currently lacks both capacities, and this is the second consequence of Europe’s political crisis.
The problem is partly cultural: European integration has rendered obsolete the use of force as an instrument for resolving disputes. Obsolescence of the use of force within the European political system explains the reluctance of most EU member states to use force outside it. This once served Europe very well, but now it prevents any easy adaptation of post-modern Europe to today’s multipolar world in which power politics has become the norm.
In Washington, in late February 2009, the then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates rightly argued that Europe was turning into a “free rider”. “The demilitarisation of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that goes with it – has gone from a blessing in the twentieth century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the twenty-first century,” he said. During his speech in Brussels for the Security and Defence Agenda in June 2011 he warned that “if current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders– those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost”.
NATO’s Libya intervention clearly demonstrated that without American intelligence, fuelling and targeting capabilities, the Franco-British led operation would not have been possible. Without the support of the U.S., Europe can no longer adequately protect the security and prosperity of its citizens.
- The decline of Europe’s soft power
Europe’s integration process has been widely seen as an unqualified success in economic and security terms and as a model for the rest of the world. But all attempts outside Europe to achieve regional integration have struggled to survive. The most notable examples are the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union (AU), the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), and Latin America’s Mercosur. Only ASEAN sends officials to Brussels to learn from the European experience.
The truth seems to be that the European model has lost much of its attraction. The European Council on Foreign Relations argued in a 2009 paper that “The EU’s China strategy is based on an anachronistic belief that China, under the influence of European engagement, will liberalise its economy, improve the rule of law and democratise its politics. (…) Yet (…) China’s foreign and domestic policy has evolved in a way that has paid little heed to European values, and today Beijing regularly contravenes or even undermines them.”
Europe’s declining appeal means it can no longer set an example for regional development elsewhere, thus further undermining power to shape the international agenda.
- China is seizing opportunities in Europe
In February of this year, European Union officials went to Beijing in search of a Chinese contribution to the $665bn eurozone bail-out fund. With current annual trade flows between China and the EU amounting to more than $600bn, saving the euro is in China’s interest and China also greatly benefits from European R&D, its high-tech industry and its large internal market. These are among factors guiding China’s strategic investments; Beijing has invested in Germany’s Schwerin-Parchim airport to turn it into a transit hub for Chinese freighters in Europe as well as in the Greek capital’s port of Piraeus, the port of Naples and an air terminal just north of Rome for cargo from China. France and China have agreed that the French nuclear power company Areva will provide $3.5bn worth of uranium to the Chinese company CNGPC, and the two countries have also signed an agreement to co-operate on cellular telecommunications. Portugal and China have signed commercial agreements that include the joint construction of optical fibre networks. In Ireland, China plans to create a manufacturing hub in Athlone that would be free of many EU tariffs and quotas on imported Chinese goods.
For the state capitalist Chinese leadership, these lucrative investments are crucial to China’s economic performance. Strategic in nature, they indicate that China is likely to play an increasingly dominant role in Europe, further weakening its own geopolitical role.
As its shaping power weakens, Europe will find it increasingly difficult to protect its interests. The key issue in global politics will be the nexus between rising powers, mankind’s depletion of scarce resources and global climate change. The developed nations already demand unrestricted access to resources, particularly energy supplies and scarce minerals, and as these critical resources become increasingly scarce, access to raw materials will be the main focus of their foreign and defence policies. China is pursuing increasingly assertive policies to gain access to raw materials in Africa, and has now started in South America as well. To defend its interests, China has acquired bases in the Indian Ocean and in resource-rich countries, and is supplying military equipment to those countries that can help satisfy its needs. The world is thus witnessing new forms of power politics and the militarisation of international relations, while Europe’s options are increasingly limited.
Rob de Wijk is Director of the Hague Center for Strategic Studies (HCSS). email@example.com
Find related articles on www.europesworld.org: