“Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history.” So begins the security strategy approved by the Council of the European Union in December 2003. Reread those opening lines, read the international section of a national newspaper, and judge how much of that description is true of Europe in the 21st Century.
Regarding prosperity, the exasperating sluggishness with which Europe has dealt with the economic crisis that began in 2008 is plain for all to see. In relation to security, things don’t look much better: a string of conflicts from Ukraine to Libya through Syria has left a trail of refugees, fanatics, and impotence in its wake. And if we focus on liberty, not only were we unsuspecting witnesses of failed political change in the Arab world (particularly in Syria and Egypt) but we also observed democratic setbacks in both Russia and Turkey. And to make matters worse, that anti-liberal sentiment overlaps with the resurgence of xenophobic nationalism within the EU itself. Criticise Russia all you wish, but don’t forget that a prime minister who sits on the European Council (I’m referring to the Hungarian Victor Orbán) maintains that liberal democracy is not the only possible model of democracy.
The EU urgently needs a strategy that coherently combines its values and interests and that provides the necessary tools to defend them. It is difficult to profess oneself an admirer of the President of the European Commission, who is undoubtedly a faithful representative of that European establishment whose compromises and myopia have lost us a decade in institutional debates and family squabbles. But you have to applaud Juncker in his growing enthusiasm for delivering home truths, from the disaster that has been the troika to the absurdity of Europeans’ continued failure to seriously consider mounting a European army. Of course, many will say that a former Eurogroup president from a country with 900 military personnel, an oversized financial sector and a shameful fiscal policy is not ideally positioned to call a spade a spade.
But someone has to start denouncing all those who have made a way of life out of the administration of European decadence, starting with national armies and diplomacies, whose existence as autonomous entities increasingly make less sense. Jean Monnet once slammed the door in the faces of national diplomats with the argument that he was defending European interests. Our trouble today, more pressing than that of strategy, is finding someone who wants to speak in the name of everyone.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.