The EU’s survival depends on protecting its citizens from the forces it has created
On ECFR’s 10th anniversary, the think tank’s director, Mark Leonard, maps out an agenda for the next European Union.
Europe has to abandon its hopes of creating the world in its image, says a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations. Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be tactical partners for the EU but they are not allies for the defence of a liberal world order. Moreover, that order has been challenged within the EU by the rise of insurgent parties capitalising on the fears and insecurities created by migration and free trade.
Instead, European leaders must be realistic and focus on preserving the dream of a strong liberal order internally, while accepting a return to a weaker liberal order in the rest of the world. Externally, this means being willing to work with regimes that are in place, rather than going for the empty moral posturing of saying that “Assad must go”. And it means understanding that the EU is not the only pole of attraction in the eastern neighbourhood. Europe can promote stable governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, but it should not see them as member-states-in-waiting.
Internally, the challenge is to take on the lessons of the populist revolt before it is too late – to rethink the European project so that it can regain its legitimacy. Here, Macron’s slogan of a ‘Europe qui protège’ could be a fitting model for a new Europe.
Europe’s leaders must recognise that it is the very interdependence that the EU has sought to achieve – whether through the euro, free movement, or terrorism – that is leading to feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability. Today, the EU’s survival depends on showing that it can protect citizens from the forces it has promoted.
For example, the EU should explore how to protect its citizens from localised negative impacts of migration on public services and wages by introducing migration adjustment funds that give money to regions and cities particularly touched by migration so that they can invest in building more schools and hospitals and provide more social services.
There is also the need to restore trust not just between citizens and governments, but between governments themselves. And with divisions between member states wider than they have been for a generation, the best hope of deeper integration will be through a flexible series of coalitions, grouping different countries together on different topics. A Europe of concentric circles – with Germany and France at the centre – will not end the lack of solidarity because many of the divisions are within the eurozone and Schengen rather than between different circles.
But Germany and France are nonetheless key to rebuilding the European project. Germany has begun to understand its role and take more responsibility for its security, vouching to spend 8 percent more on defence this year. But more important than capabilities is mindset. Germany needs to be more flexible, to be willing to work outside EU institutions, and to show a less rigid approach to economic principles and the interpretation of rules.
Macron, meanwhile, is a figure who could help transcend some of the divisions in Europe – for example through his combination of tough anti-terrorism measures with a more humanitarian approach to refugees. For an EU that has been gridlocked by disagreements, these grand en-même-temps bargains that Macron proposes could offer a desperately needed way forward.
Notes to editors
Read L’Europe qui protège: Conceiving the next European Union online here.
Download the pdf L’Europe qui protège: Conceiving the next European Union here.
This paper is authored by Mark Leonard, co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think-tank. As well as writing and commenting frequently in the media on global affairs, Mark is author of two best-selling books: Why Europe will Run the 21st Century (2005) and What Does China Think? (2008), and the editor of Connectivity Wars (2016). He presents ECFR’s weekly World in 30 Minutes podcast.
Mark Leonard is available for comment. To request an interview please contact ECFR’s Communications Manager, Conor Quinn at [email protected] or +44 7413 636 323.