Author : Pulkit Mohan

Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Apr 03, 2021
Old World, New Frontiers: The Future of Europe

Europe has gradually lost its influence in world affairs. It is, after all, grappling with various problems of its own—amongst them, increasing hyper-nationalism, illiberal thoughts, political populism, extremism, and the rise of extreme right-wing parties. Europe is also facing many demographic challenges. In 1990, the continent accounted for 25 percent of the world’s population; by 2060, it will account for just over four percent. The median age is increasing and by 2030 it will become one of the oldest regions in the world. While migration has provided Europe with an opportunity to solve some of these problems, it appears to be less than ready to embrace it. The European economy has still not recovered fully and most of the countries are facing unemployment issues and rising public debt.

Estimates say that some 68 percent of the European population feel that the European Union (EU) is a “success story”, though the number varies across countries. However, the majority of the people are unhappy with the direction in which the Union is heading. The 3Ps (Peace, rosperity, and Power) are important, in order to gauge the performance of EU. EU has made Europe the most peaceful part of the world as it has brought 70 years of peace, which was never witnessed before in the history of the continent. Though EU was thought of as a converging machine between the different European countries, today they are diverging on the issue of whether or not EU can indeed bring prosperity to their countries. This has become a point of debate between the northern and southern European countries. On the power front, it is not clear whether Europe is willing to become a global power without US support. This would require a European Defense Policy which the people also want but for which the politicians are lagging in their efforts.

To be sure, Europe remains an extraordinary place to live in, with its higher quality of life, its education ecosystem, and respect for freedoms and human rights. The failure of EU will thus have ramifications for the entire world. There are those who believe that EU can lead the world in finding solutions to problems such as climate change, migration, and terrorism. At the same time, others are of the view that the EU is a part of the problem, to begin with, and is in fact also responsible for curbing the liberties of its people. For instance, the EU failed to handle the Syrian situation and there was no collective response to the war. This led to the refugee crisis, which provoked resentment amongst the people and was then exploited by politicians to sow fear and gain votes. This has paved the way for increasing nationalism and populism. The elections in May 2019 will determine whether Europe can in fact lead the global community in reaching solutions to some of the most pressing current issues we are facing. This will require centrist political parties to work together to create narratives that can inspire people for a better Europe.

The EU has not only made peace and prosperity fundamental but has also achieved extraordinary success in making Europe the single largest market as well as second largest liberal democracy after India. The idea of the ‘welfare state’ remains alive in the EU, more than in the US or any other part of the world: the European countries spend more than 50 percent of their combined GDP on welfare expenditure. The financial crisis that emerged in the US in 2007, had serious consequences on Europe, leading to the end of the European dream of perpetual growth for the continent. The perception that migration is challenging the identity of Europeans added more to the sense of dissatisfaction. These two problems combined has triggered crises like Brexit.

The migration crisis has created a new divide between western and eastern European countries. Europe can benefit from migration because countries like Germany and Spain are facing demographic challenges. But the lack of solidarity on the issue has created problems on the Eastern borders. There is lack of clarity and consensus on how migration should be handled. Governments need to show the will and regulate migration in order to address the fears of people. The right to asylum should be non-negotiable, yet temporary until repatriation. The liberal democratic forces need to rally around the rise of ‘good identities’ against ‘bad identities’. Rules should be made for refugees fleeing war as well as for economic migrants. The panel concluded with a sense of uncertainty about the future of Europe, but suggested that there was hope that the continent will rise to the challenges.

This essay originally appeared in Raisina Dialogue Conference Report 2019
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Pulkit Mohan

Pulkit Mohan

Pulkit Mohan is the Head of Forums at ORF. She is responsible for the ideation curation and execution of ORFs flagship conferences. Her research focuses include ...

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