What Future for Europe at Its Anniversary?
The take from France, Germany, Poland, China, and the United States
As the Treaty of Rome anniversary approaches, European leaders and thinkers have been brainstorming on how to deliver a positive and forward-looking vision for the future of Europe while politically paralysed by Euroscepticism, Brexit, and incomplete attempts to solve ongoing crises. The original aims of European integration – peace, prosperity, and democracy – are still relevant today, but would need to dress in contemporary clothes to make Europe fit for the world we are in.
The proposals circulating are summed up in a Commission’s white paper outlining five options going forward. The spectrum of less-more integration remains, and the idea that some may move further forward than others is gaining ground. If pursued inclusively, this could help the EU manage pragmatically its continuing crisis. Its proponents see it as way to get commitment on unity and solidarity without imposing the EU-level decisions on all. But it risks disclosing existing cleavages, spurring further disunity.
What Europe needs is a bold rethink of how to manage complexity through interdependence while strengthening democratic linkages at local, national, and supranational level. The future of Europe is tied to the future of its credibility as a democratic project.
For France, “Unity Does Not Equal Uniformity”
With presidential elections coming up this April and May, France feels time is running as the populist and nationalist National Front rises. The mini-summit in Versailles was a preview of France’s vision for a post-Brexit EU: Warning against the risk of further European disintegration, France, along with Germany, is pushing for a multi-speed Europe, even if it means deepening divisions among EU member states as Central and Eastern European countries fear they could be frozen out of decision-making processes.
Eager to share the burden of the fight against terrorism in Africa and the Sahel, France sees a multi-speed Europe as particularly relevant in the defense and security sector, where Paris has been taking the lead. For France, the future of Europe will be determined by its capacity to handle security and defense matters, including with Britain, who has been invited to play a role in a more integrated European defense policy despite its plan to leave the EU.
If the 1957 Treaty of Rome established the goal of “ever closer union,” France’s vision stresses differentiated cooperation in a political and strategic environment that requires quick actions and pragmatism. France is also drawing on concerns over the Trump administration’s partial retreat from U.S. international commitments to boost the move toward greater defense cooperation in Europe and “strategic autonomy.”
- Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, Director, Paris Office, GMF
Germany Looks to Europe, Still
Outgoing Federal President Joachim Gauck used to tell audiences big and small over the last five years that Germany would be the last country to abandon Europe. It is true: Even as doubts about the future of Europe are growing on the continent, Germans are still not running away from Europe.
Yes, the permanent sense of crisis is eroding support for the big continental project somewhat. But as Germany’s foreign policy outlook is clouding, the only answer seems to be Europe. The musclemen trio of Presidents Putin, Erdogan, and Trump does not instill confidence in German audiences that we are headed for an age of stability. Compared with the disruption, the threats and the unpredictability that this threesome generates, the European Union, with all its bickering, still seems like the home of the likeminded. Maybe that is something to build on in a time of turmoil.
- Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Vice President and Executive Director, Berlin Office, GMF
The debate in Poland over the future of European integration and Poland's place in the EU has entered the most intense period since Poland's EU accession.
The current political mood is deeply affected by last week's election of Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister of Poland under the Platforma Obywatelska (PO) government, for the position of European Council President. The fact that Prime Minister Szydlo was left isolated in her opposition Tusk's candidacy prompted several members of the government to complain that the vote violated European principles. Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Poland may need a "negative policy toward the EU," and the parliamentary opposition framed the vote as a defeat of the government and a sign of Poland's marginalization within the EU.
Yet, the bigger debate is about Poland’s place in the changing EU. The Law and Justice (PiS) led government, like the PO government before it, rejects the idea of multispeed Europe. Over 80 percent of Poles support European integration, and there is a national consensus that Poland should not be left behind. There is, however, much less agreement though on what kind of EU Poland would like to build. The government is calling for an EU of sovereign countries, where some powers are repatriated back to member states and national parliaments have greater say over European policies. But opposition parties call for Poland to focus on joining the core of European integration - last week Nowoczesna (a pro-European opposition party) called for Poland to join the eurozone as soon as possible.
Despite being generally very pro-European, the Polish public remains skeptical about the euro, common European asylum and immigration policy, and greater cooperation in security and defense - arguably the three main policy areas where the European integration is likely to advance under the scenario of "multi-speed" Europe. This chasm between the aspiration to be in the center of integrating Europe, and hard policy choices in areas of immigration, defense, and economics will be the key feature of European debate in Poland for the months to come.
- Michal Baranowski, Director, Warsaw Office, GMF
China Hopes Europe Can Succeed
China looks at the future of the EU with genuine apprehension. Beijing has always been willing to play member states off against each other to get its own way, and to adjust its approach pragmatically as power dynamics in Europe change. But unlike Russia, and even some voices in the current White House, China wants the European project to succeed. It has taken clear positions to this effect, from Brexit to the eurozone crisis, and continues to see a well-functioning EU as a source of stability and order.
By contrast, China views the populist forces that are roiling the continent as a threat to the economic globalization and multilateral institutional frameworks that underpin China’s rise. It sees similar concerns in the “economic nationalist” proclivities of the Trump administration. The coming period is likely to see Beijing seeking closer cooperation with the EU on maintaining the centrality of the WTO and heading off global trade wars, as well as positioning itself even more explicitly as a reliable external supporter for the EU during a period of vulnerability.
- Andrew Small, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, Asia Program, Washington, DC
The United States is more Skeptical, Less Engaged in Europe’s Future
American views of Europe are at an inflection point as great as the ones of 1947 and 1989. A stable and democratic Europe, which has been taken for granted for decades, is now open to question.
On the right, nationalists are no longer just skeptical of the European Project, but are actively promoting its deconstruction. On the left, hopes that Europe might save the liberal order from Trump are tempered with concerns about European versions of Trump and by the development of illiberal democracies in eastern Europe.
Americans are preoccupied with their own problems and divisions and, in contrast to the period when the Marshall Plan was adopted, no longer see an overriding threat from an adversary like the USSR to pull them out of their introspection.
- Stephen Szabo, Executive Director, Transatlantic Academy, Washington, DC
You may also want to read our recent Policy Brief on the potential for a two-tier or multi-speed Europe: Can Core Europe Move forward without a Core?
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.