The mega-trends that are reshaping Europe’s world
The European Union is built on a simple idea: that binding nations and peoples together creates peace and makes war unthinkable. By building a community around the coal and steel that were used to build weapons, the EU managed to turn enemies into friends. After the end of the Cold War, Europeans hoped that by opening borders, promoting trade, travel and the internet they could spread these lessons to the world – and promote global harmony. But the world of today is defined by a shift away from that dream.
On the one hand, we are seeing a turn away from multilateralism toward great power competition. The struggle for primacy between the US and China is not just transforming the EU’s relations with its closest ally and its biggest economic partner, it is also changing the power dynamics in every region of the world. As the US shifts its attention from Europe and the Middle East to Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, it is less interested in working with Europeans, less willing to get involved in expensive commitments, and leaving more and more room for regional actors including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. China, on the other hand, has not simply become increasingly assertive but is also using its vast, closed home market and the connections of its Belt and Road initiative to challenge the West in making global rules and developing cutting-edge technologies. It is even spreading its influence within the EU and European neighbourhood.
The second big shift is that geopolitics is waged not through small wars and military interventions but rather through the weaponisation of globalisation. Even as we face global challenges that would require concerted response, countries are waging conflicts by manipulating the very things that link them together. At a time when nuclear war is too dangerous to contemplate, today´s battlefields are all the facets of globalisation which were meant to bring citizens together. Many countries use sanctions, boycotts, export controls or import bans for political goals. But the weaponization of interdependence goes well beyond trade to infrastructure, migration, the internet, technology and even collective problems like the Covid pandemic and climate change.
The future of Europe and ECFR’s response
The faith Europeans had in interdependence as a source of harmony blinded us to that fact that it also gives people a motive for conflict, provides opportunities to hurt one another, and offers a new arsenal of weapons. Brexit showed that (European) connectivity can be beneficial to the overall country, but that membership can still be voted down, due to the very fact that not all were winners to the same extent – and the toxic role of social media.
Rising resentment against globalization and connectivity makes it impossible to pursue foreign policy solutions without an understanding of the political dynamics within and between EU member states. We may be on the cusp of a new period of European politics driven by this awakening. After two decades of integration and expansion driven by internal needs, and fifteen years of disintegration and crisis management to cope with the design flaws of integration, there is now a new rationale for European co-operation. The quest for European sovereignty is driven by external forces rather than internal ones. And the integration it promotes is not designed to remove barriers between countries or liberalise our economies, but to restore control to European states and citizens in a dangerous world turning against liberal values and international law. The ultimate goal has become de-risking interdependence.
ECFR was set up to help promote an open, value-based, outward-looking Europe that acts as a global player and norm setter. Our mission is still vital today and increasingly requires showing how building coalitions and pooling resources can allow European governments to regain their capability to act and promote their interests, to preserve the European Union as a political space where the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights can thrive.
Our organisational goals for the coming years will therefore include:
- Strengthening our focus on the US-China global competition by exploring its far -reaching implications for Europe, understanding the effect of domestic polarisation on US foreign policy, and mapping the effect of this competition on the global order and key regions in the world.
- Ensuring that our programmes on Africa, Asia, Middle East and Wider Europe continue developing cutting edge analysis on foreign policy and national political dynamics while developing better understanding of the impact of great power competition and increasing activism of middle powers, and the challenges of interdependence in their respective regions.
- Growing our expertise on how Europeans can prevent and contain the weaponisation of globalisation by developing ambitious policy prescriptions on geo-economics, geo-technology, geopolitics of climate change and the geopolitics of migration.
- Leveraging our exceptional pan-European network of Council Members and staff and the data from our polling work to build new political coalitions of like-minded Europeans and counter a more fragmented landscape. The goals should be to channel the activism of ambitious European governments in support of shared objectives.
- Mobilising our pan European Council to advance our mission and seed new ideas in key European capitals, by continuously bringing in new and diverse voices and growing the community of experts and practitioners in the fields of great powers competition and geopolitical conflict.
Equipping ECFR for the future
In order to face up to these challenges and implement our strategy, we will need to develop:
1. An ambitious fund-raising plan to consolidate our base and support our growth by:
- Strengthening the funding base of programmes with at least one major funder providing foundational support supplemented by project grants and a corporate partnership program.
- Raising substantial fundsfor a new initiative on the United States aimed at building a more balanced alliance with a polarised America focused on the Indo-Pacific and a new initiative on China, designed to understand how its internal debates could challenge our world.
- Raise fresh resources to develop new work strands on geo-economics, geo- technology, geopolitics of climate and demography
- Grow flexible, unrestricted funding from individual donors by expanding the circle of ECFR Ambassadors and creating a vehicle that “makes small gifts count”.
2. A vision for ECFR as a first-in-class organisation that utilises innovative in-person and virtual programming formats, allows flexible working patterns that nurture our community and promote organisational resilience by:
- Staying true to our core values of Durschschlagskraft, Insieme Europa and Solidarnosc while preserving the efficiency gains of the Corona era.
- Embedding new working patterns combining office time with homeworking to provide greater flexibility, in order to retain our brilliant team and attract new talent.
- Reducing business travel for greater efficiency and staff well-being, coupled with regular in-person retreats to strengthen organisational cohesion.
- Promoting innovation through the ECFR Academy and by experimenting with new formats for researching, influencing and convening at pan European level.
- Improving our audio-visual output and deliver high quality hybrid/ virtual events across our network.
- Further investing in our polling, data crunching and infographics capabilities.