Shifting Power and the Future of Europe

As someone interested in transatlantic relations and what goes on in Europe, I look forward to the annual Brussels Forum.  I did not not have my blog when it was held last year, but since I have it now, I want to share what I perceived to be a theme on the first day- shifting power and the future of Europe.

(On a side note, I was able to watch some of the sessions live throughout the weekend, and “live-tweeted” about them; however, given the 6-hour time difference and the fact that I have three kids, I was unable to watch all of them live.  My analysis, therefore, is based on the transcripts provided by the Brussels Forum.)

Timothy Garton Ash’s prologue and Herman Van Rompuy’s speech on the future of Europe both addressed the issues of shifting global power and the need for collective action.  Garton Ash emphasized the need for “legitimate effective institutions” as well as the need for “strategic coalitions of willing and able powers.”  In that light, he argued that the West needed to take advantage of its collective power to shape the international order before the power shift is complete.  Van Rompuy echoed those sentiments, calling the US and Europe “the world’s standard setters” and stressed the “responsibility to work together.”  During the first session, Ambassador João Vale de Almeida of the EU Delegation to the US also spoke of the responsibility of the US and Europe, but then reassured the two panelists from Brazil and China that the goal of the transatlantic partnership is “not [to gang] up against anybody else.”

Garton Ash, however, expanded on the concept of the need for legitimacy, proposing that “the West alone is not enough.”  If we are to solve the pressing global issues, then we need to hear from more voices than just the US and Europe, especially the BRICS and other emerging economies.  This would help with issues of legitimacy of proposed solutions.  Tatiana Lacerda Prazeres seemed to support this in the first session, touting the notion that “[emerging economies] want to shape ideas, to shape institutions,” in order to bring about more legitimacy.  Later in the same session, Qin Yaqing proposed that “developing countries…can do a lot in international institutions, but first of all, they should be treated as equal partners.”  Alexander Graf Lambsdorff reminded the audience, however, that “the attitude we deserve to be there…simply will not budge either Americans or Russians to make a place for us.”  In other words, as the moderator, Nina dos Santos, put it, “it doesn’t matter how big you are in the world scale, if you don’t implement [practical] policies, [you] won’t necessarily get a seat at the table.”

As for the future of Europe, both Garton Ash and Van Romouy spoke of the need for European unity.  For Garton Ash, Europe needs a “more coherent voice in the world” if collective action to solve global challenges is to succeed.  Van Rompuy, on the other hand, was more concerned with responsibility and solidarity to solve European problems. Lambsdorff was straight to the point about the future of Europe when he said, “If we get our act together, we will be fine.”  The operative word there of course is “IF.”  Robert Zoellick, towards the end of the the first session, pointed out that while the EU was “designed to bring Europe together, to overcome old animosities…you actually see the animosity starting to extend.  So the work, by any means, is not done.”  An unfortunate example of this animosity occurred in February 2012, when a Greek newspaper portrayed Angela Merkel as a Nazi.  As for the future of Europe, we need to consider whose vision of Europe is going to emerge.  Will it be a top-down construct from Brussels, or will the EU be fixed from the bottom up?  Perhaps it will be a mixture of both?  On top of the that, we also need to take into account the future British referendum.

The final open session of the first day covered the Mediterranean neighborhood (including Africa and the Middle East.)  While the panelists continued the theme of collective action, what seemed to be missing was a discussion of the lack of European unity in Mali.  It’s this same lack of unity in foreign policy that Garton Ash referenced in his speech.  Last week I engaged in a Twitter conversation with Craig Willy about whether or not the European Common Foreign and Security Policy worked and if a European military was a possibility.  The next day, he sent me an article which I think covers this issue quite well, arguing, in the context of Mali, that “the EU’s inability to agree on major global issues will cost it dearly one day.”  If we apply Zoellick’s words here, we can assert that the work on the structure of the European External Action Service is not done.

While the topics covered in the first day may not necessarily have been uplifting in themselves, the ideas proposed by the speakers and panelists give me hope for the future of transatlantic relations.  Van Rompuy was also quite optimistic about the partnership, declaring, “the West still exists.”  Conferences like the Brussels Forum are important for proposing solutions to pressing issues; however, we need to now move from words and ideas and turn them into actions.


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