Europe a 'hobbled giant' by 2025, US intelligence report predicts
By 2025, the European Union will be a "hobbled giant" crippled by internal bickering and a eurosceptic citizenry. Eastern European organised crime could dominate one or more member state governments, and the bloc will likely be kowtowing to Moscow after having failed at all attempts to wean itself from Russian energy supplies.
This is the rosy view for Europe's future mapped out by the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC), Washington's main intelligence body. This agency of agencies, formed in 1979, brings together analysis from each of America's multiple intelligence organisations to develop mid- to long-term strategic thinking for the country's security community.
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Every four years, the NIC peers into its crystal ball and produces a global trends review - a prediction of what the world will look like in around 15 years' time.
This year's report, Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed, foresees the EU in 2025 as likely having completed its institutional reforms and consolidated itself as a political entity, but infighting between member states with competing domestic interests and a European public alienated by a perceived democratic deficit will leave it a "hobbled giant", with massive economic heft but little genuine international power.
"Europe by 2025 will have made slow progress toward achieving the vision of current leaders and elites: a cohesive, integrated, and influential global actor," it begins optimistically, while declaring that the EU will at the same time not be a major military player.
However, it goes on to warn: "The European Union would need to resolve a perceived democracy gap dividing Brussels from European voters and move past the protracted debate about its institutional structures."
"Continued failure to convince sceptical publics of the benefits of deeper economic, political, and social integration ... could leave the EU a hobbled giant distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas, and less able to translate its economic clout into global influence," worry the authors of the report.
The trends report also envisages Europe's public services and welfare system threatened by the expense of paying for retiring baby-boomers.
"The drop-off in working-age populations will prove a severe test for Europe's social welfare model, a foundation stone of Western Europe's political cohesion since World War II."
Aging populations will force "more dramatic changes" when Europe hits a crisis point in trying to fix its "demographic deficit", with the report diagnosing cutbacks to healthcare and pensions as the only solution.
The document goes on to say that integrating immigrants, particularly from Muslim backgrounds will become an acute challenge in a difficult economic climate and frets about Europeans "resort[ing] to narrow nationalism ... as happened in the past."
Moreover, the question of Turkey's ultimate EU membership will be "a test of Europe's outward focus between now and 2025. Increasing doubts about Turkey's chances are likely to slow its implementation of political and human rights reforms."
"Any outright rejection risks wider repercussions, reinforcing arguments in the Muslim world - including among Europe's Muslim minorities - about the incompatibility of the West and Islam."
All the bloc's efforts to diversify its sources of energy, away from Russia. will likely amount to little.
"Europe will remain heavily dependent on Russia for energy in 2025, despite efforts to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions."
This continued dependence "will foster constant attentiveness to Moscow's interests by key countries, including Germany and Italy, who see Russia as a reliable supplier" and could endanger the union "if Russian firms are unable to full fill contract commitments because of underinvestment in their natural gas fields or if growing corruption and organised criminal involvement in the Eurasian energy sector spill over to infect Western business interests."
Indeed, organised crime is the dark heart of this European dystopia, with the report describing the already substantial problem as the continent's largest concern.
"Crime could be the gravest threat inside Europe as Eurasian transnational organisations - flush from involvement in energy and mineral concerns - become more powerful and broaden their scope."
Peering into the abyss, the report even foresees the takeover of a member state by such forces.
"One or more governments in eastern or central Europe could fall prey to their domination," the authors believe.