With China ris­ing and Amer­ica look­ing in­wards, what is Europe’s grand vi­sion?

The National - News - - OPINION - TAREK OS­MAN Tarek Os­man is the au­thor of Is­lamism and Egypt on the Brink, and the writer and pre­sen­ter of sev­eral BBC doc­u­men­tary se­ries

Europe is pre­oc­cu­pied with the rise in im­mi­gra­tion, the threat of mil­i­tant Is­lamism, the lurk­ing per­ils in the bank­ing sys­tems of some of its key coun­tries and the de­tails of the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and Bri­tain on its exit from the EU.

These con­cerns are cru­cial to Europe’s land­scape. But they re­flect Europe’s in­ter­nally fo­cused per­spec­tive, a de­riv­a­tive of the three ob­jec­tives that have pre­oc­cu­pied Euro­pean lead­ers for years. The first was mov­ing the con­ti­nent from the acute hos­til­ity that marked its ex­pe­ri­ences in the first half of the 20th cen­tury, to­wards a har­mo­nious ex­is­tence, in which yes­ter­day’s bit­ter en­e­mies get in­te­grated into an ever closer union. The sec­ond was bridg­ing the gap be­tween the con­ti­nent’s east and west. The third ob­jec­tive has been pre­serv­ing for Euro­pean cit­i­zens the rel­a­tively com­fort­able life­styles they en­joy.

The pur­suit of these ob­jec­tives over the past decades meant pri­ori­tis­ing wel­fare over all other de­mands on re­sources. That was pos­si­ble dur­ing the Cold War years when Euro­pean lead­ers were able to rely on the US to at­tend to the one risk that se­ri­ously chal­lenged the Euro­pean project: that the Soviet Union would dom­i­nate. The con­ti­nent was able to con­tinue pri­ori­tis­ing de­vel­op­ment after the end of the Cold War, be­cause the Soviet risk dis­ap­peared, the Amer­i­can pro­tec­tion guar­an­tee re­mained and the end of the Cold War trig­gered il­lu­sions about the ar­rival of a new or­der of per­pet­ual peace and pros­per­ity.

Europe achieved a stun­ning suc­cess. Yes­ter­day’s en­e­mies in Europe have now be­come the clos­est of al­lies. So­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions in al­most the whole of Europe range from the, ar­guably, best in the world (Scan­di­navia) to the rel­a­tively good (even in coun­tries suf­fer­ing from high un­em­ploy­ment, such as Italy and Spain). The ex­pan­sion of the EU not only en­larged the project to al­most the whole of the con­ti­nent; it also widened the no­tion of the Euro­pean ideal. Europe, ar­guably, has ar­rived at the pin­na­cle of so­cial con­tracts hu­man­ity has ever known un­til now.

But the acute chan­nelling of re­sources to­wards so­cial bet­ter­ment and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment has reached its end. Europe can no longer rely on Amer­i­can pro­tec­tion only. To­day’s Amer­ica sees China ris­ing and the US can­not be sure or com­pla­cent. At this geo-strate­gic mo­ment, Amer­ica does not want to shoul­der many legacy bur­dens, such as pro­tect­ing al­lies that it deems rich enough to carry that bur­den them­selves. Amer­ica also reck­ons that the key con­fronta­tions will be in Asia not Europe.

The de­fault Euro­pean an­swer to the se­cu­rity ques­tion has been an em­pha­sis on the Euro­pean project. The logic goes that the stronger the union, the more en­trenched Euro­pean val­ues are, the more se­cure peace will be in the con­ti­nent, the more pros­per­ous Europe will be­come, the stronger its soft power will be. This soft power, the ar­gu­ment goes, will al­low Europe to draw its neigh­bours to­wards the Euro­pean way of do­ing things.

Se­cu­rity here is also based on greed. A pros­per­ous Europe con­sti­tutes the wealth­i­est mar­ket in the world. All ra­tio­nal neigh­bours, the Euro­pean thinking goes, would want ac­cess to this mar­ket, and so would play by Euro­pean rules.

From this per­spec­tive, many in Europe’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing cir­cles con­tinue to fo­cus re­sources and en­ergy on con­fronting devel­op­ments that dis­turb the con­ti­nent’s so­cio-eco­nomic ar­range­ments. And so, they see Brexit and im­mi­gra­tion as key threats to that vi­sion of a se­cure, pros­per­ous Europe.

Brexit is not such a threat. Trade re­la­tion­ships will set­tle down weighed by in­ter­ests. Euro­pean com­pet­i­tive­ness will suf­fer, but to a limited de­gree, be­cause the in­dus­tries that Bri­tain has al­ways ex­celled in (sci­ence, me­dia, and the cre­ative sec­tors) had tra­di­tion­ally low lev­els of in­te­gra­tion with Europe. Po­lit­i­cally, that a ma­jor coun­try such as Bri­tain chooses to ori­ent its fu­ture away from Europe is a blow to the union. But in re­al­ity Bri­tain’s exit from the union could strengthen it.

With­out Bri­tain in, Europe can un­mis­tak­ably de­fine its union on the foun­da­tions upon which it was built: a com­mon vi­sion of the fu­ture and iden­tity.

Im­mi­gra­tion is also not an un­man­age­able prob­lem for Europe. Be­tween 2013 and 2016, pri­vate sources es­ti­mate that ar­rivals in Europe from the east­ern and south­ern Mediter­ranean to be about two mil­lion. A colos­sal num­ber, but go­ing down rapidly, to less than 150,000 in the first half of 2017.

The real peril fac­ing Europe is in con­tin­u­ing with the mind­set of the pre­vi­ous decades in the face of a world in trans­for­ma­tion. Ris­ing above the so­cio-eco­nom­ics of the here and now and tak­ing own­er­ship of de­fend­ing Europe tran­scends Euro­pean de­fence mech­a­nisms, the fu­ture of Nato, and bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity agree­ments. De­fence here means de­vel­op­ing a uni­fied Euro­pean vi­sion about Europe’s de­sired place in this chang­ing world.

The key ques­tion is: what’s Europe’s vi­sion of its global po­si­tion amid the rise of China and the US’s re­sponses to that rise.

Linked to that vi­sion, Europe must ar­tic­u­late the ob­jec­tives of the re­la­tion­ships with the two giants on its east and south: Rus­sia and Turkey, two coun­tries with ma­jor am­bi­tions, his­tor­i­cal griev­ances, and sig­nif­i­cant re­sources. Europe also needs to see the Arab world with a wider lens than that of the fear of mi­grants. Europe’s old neigh­bour is un­der­go­ing its big­gest trans­for­ma­tion since the fall of the Ot­toman Em­pire, a cen­tury ago. The reper­cus­sions of that trans­for­ma­tion will reach Europe, and no tac­tics of mit­i­ga­tion and iso­la­tion would work. Europe needs to en­gage with that trans­for­ma­tion.

Such vi­sion, ob­jec­tives, and en­gage­ments will be the pil­lars of Europe’s new grand strat­egy. That strat­egy will, cer­tainly, be markedly dif­fer­ent from the cur­rently dom­i­nant pa­ram­e­ters of semi-cooked sanc­tions, ac­ces­sion agree­ments that bridge to noth­ing, and trade schemes of nar­row scopes and po­ten­tial.

This evo­lu­tion of Europe’s ap­proach to de­fence and for­eign pol­icy will prove dif­fi­cult. Seg­ments of Euro­peans will op­pose it be­cause it will mean fewer re­sources avail­able to so­cial sup­port pro­grammes. This evo­lu­tion could even trig­ger more ex­its from the EU.

But this strat­egy and evo­lu­tion of the con­ti­nent’s ap­proach to global po­si­tion­ing and de­fence is now a must.

With­out it Europe will find it­self a re­ceiver, rather than a shaper, of events and re­al­i­ties with ma­jor in­flu­ence on its se­cu­rity and fu­ture.

And here not only will Europe be threat­ened, but also its Union would have missed its true call­ing at a ma­jor his­tor­i­cal mo­ment.

The worst mis­take Europe’s lead­ers could make now is to set­tle in the cur­rent com­fort zone of thinking that pre­serv­ing the con­ti­nent’s wealth and way of life will shield it from the tor­na­does of global change. Stu­dents of the arts of self-de­fence learn early on that gen­er­at­ing mo­men­tum gives you far more ad­van­tages than sus­tain­ing in­er­tia.

The worst mis­take Europe could make is to think that pre­serv­ing the con­ti­nent’s way of life will shield it from global change

AP

Europe has an in­ter­nally fo­cused per­spec­tive but it must seek to change that out­look

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