Tuesday

19th Nov 2019

Opinion

To play big, Europe needs to get bigger

  • Kiev. 'By declaring doors open but denying entrance, the EU restrains its own growth too. The accession of the Western Balkan states is currently put on hold.' (Photo: mariusz kluzniak)

In May this year, French weekly Le Point published a front-page headline: "When Europe dominated the world (and why it has not said its last word yet)".

A largely common but rarely publicly-voiced opinion, this view finally found way into print.

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  • Dmytro Kuleba, deputy PM of Ukraine

Europe as we knew it for the past few decades is not there anymore, it seems.

Europe tries to reinvent itself and seeks its new place in a changing and challenging world.

Alliances which once seemed eternal do not seem such any more. Deeper and deeper cracks run through the monolith of the liberal West and the liberalism itself.

China is seriously challenging the United States. Washington becomes ever more anxious and takes abrupt steps - such as the trade war on Beijing. A spectre of Russia, armed with various weapons, is haunting any country it can.

Everything is growing, including anxiety and a sense of a rising global tension. What does not grow is Europe.

As great powers clash, Europe finds itself looking around in anxiety. It craves to be behind the wheel too, but it is increasingly unclear what should be the basis for its acceleration.

Should this indecisiveness last a little longer, European countries, once the global change-makers, could find themselves switching their driver seat to a passenger one (in an American-produced car with a Chinese-software).

Europe struggles to catch up and cement its position in the leaders' league. French president Emmanuel Macron is not just passionately trying to fulfil his personal ambitions and outdrive Germany. He rather personifies this desire of Europe itself to gain its former might back (or at least win the status of a really major global power).

Shrinking Europe

And here comes a key obstacle. To achieve the goal, all available resources should be mobilised, and this is not what seems to be going on right now. Instead, Europe is shrinking. The United Kingdom gets ready to break away from the Union while enlargement debate is stalled after accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia remained a perspective instead of becoming a reality.

What all the talk of an 'enlargement fatigue' and a need to revise the enlargement process is really about, it seems, is not any objective difficulties or limitations.

The reason lays deeper: a profound lack of courage to be ambitious. The desire itself is there, but the courage is missing.

Instead of rallying like-minded neighbours that strive to develop prosperous European democracies, the EU turns itself into a fortress.

With this in mind, France's initiative to improve relations with Russia looks as if a driver stuck in a traffic jam preferred a shortcut... just through a Russian minefield.

Europe's history has seen some dark times and dark pages. But the European Union is a unique attempt to create a 'Liberal Empire of Good'. It is true that imperial metaphors may seem irrelevant in a democratic world, but there is some truth to them too. An empire, whether a real or metaphorical one cannot survive if it stands still. It needs to expand to its own benefit as well as to the benefit of those relying on its growth.

It is not the enlargement that makes the EU weaker, but its own uncertainty and lack of self-confidence.

The view of the EU as a peace project on a separate portion of the globe is outdated. The EU should become a project of growth, strength and values. It would be in the best interest not only of Europe itself, but of the entire world if such EU existed.

Enlargement has always propelled the EU's growth.

On contrary, every time the European Union closes its doors to potential new members, it chooses a path of decline.

Similarly, by declaring doors open but denying entrance, the EU restrains its own growth too.

The accession of the Western Balkan states is currently put on hold. North Macedonia and Albania are next on the accession line. Then the Eastern Partnership states, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, should follow. They too have made clear their European aspirations and invested a significant effort in achieving their goal.

Instead of shying away from, paradoxically speaking, its imperial liberal ambitions, the European Union should play big, get bigger and emerge as a global power that stands up for what is right in this world. Which is grounded in democratic values and a rule-based international order.

Our modern world badly needs such force in a time when the powerful feel unconstrained by any international law to aggressively impose their will upon the weaker. Europe better collectively built up its muscles: a weakness of one is a vulnerability of all.

It is not only about Europe's economic strength based on large domestic markets and a common regulatory regime.

Even more importantly, the EU owns quite a strength of a soft power. What is Europe's prosperity based on? Above all, high social standards, economic and political liberalism, the rule of law, unabated protection of human rights of minorities and vulnerable groups.

It is this soft power that glues together the liberal empire and holds it together firmer than a metal chain. It is largely this soft power that unites European nations who fought one another some decades ago into one European family of nations.

'Play big'

Today the EU and wider Europe are at a critical turning point.

To secure own piece of the global pie, European countries need to accumulate resources, build up intellectual and military muscles. Europe needs to update its view of itself as a global power, not just a common market.

The European Union will surely be capable of competing with China and the US. As soon as it finds courage to play big.

When in 1940s the EU founding fathers laid out their vision of a united Europe, they were often regarded as dreamers and idealists. They were not. They were simply ambitious realists of their time. They had the courage to look decades ahead and realize that the future always belongs to the bold and ambitious.

This is what Europe had once been. This is what it can still become. And this is what Ukraine aspires to be within a Europe that plays big and gets bigger.

Author bio

Dmytro Kuleba is deputy prime minister of Ukraine, responsible for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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