Event ReportsPublished on Jan 23, 2020
European Union’s frontline position has come to an end

ORF Mumbai organised a talk by Ali Aslan, a renowned international TV presenter, and journalist, on The Crumbling Transatlantic Consensus and the Future of Europe on 17 January 2020. Having moderated a panel a day ago with eminent thought leaders on a similar theme at the prestigious Raisina Dialogue, ORF’s flagship international conference in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs, Aslan addressed the crumbling nature of the transatlantic partnership and its impact on Europe.

In his introductory address, Dhaval Desai, Vice President of ORF Mumbai, reflected upon the European Union’s (EU) dwindling unity. The crumbling transatlantic consensus, the rise of the Asian century with China at its forefront, and the absence of benevolent US leadership have marginalised the EU’s credibility as a global power. This loosening grip has implications on EU’s erstwhile stronghold on global affairs, he said.

Ali Aslan began his talk reflecting on his speech given at ORF Mumbai in 2016, when the the EU was grappling with the refugee crisis. “Europe is no longer the epicenter of the world”, said Aslan in his opening remarks, emphasising the EU’s lost potency as a mediator on global concerns ranging from the US-Iran conflict to Venezuela, Sudan, Libya, etc. He lamented the lack of European voice on certain pertinent global issues, including on conflicts in its own backyard, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Aslan went on to address the gathering by underlining the attitude alarmist position of EU’s top leaders such as French president Emmanuel Macron regarding a “braindead” NATO and opening up a new chapter with Russia. Aslan said the EU brought about its own downfall. Soon to be a union of 27 nations with Great Britain’s departure, the “brand of EU” faces a huge blow. Britain, he said, was the second-largest contributor to the EU’s budget.

Criticising the EU’s persistent dependence on US leadership, Aslan began to discuss the alliance of NATO. Mr. Trump, he said, believes NATO to be obsolete and finds it hard to understand the relevance of spending for the alliance. Although, the US President was right in his criticism of the EU nations’ failure to contribute two percent of their GDPs towards security and defence. However, Trump’s proposal for NATO’s involvement in the US-Iran conflict is “not going to happen”.

Looking from a “realistic” and “honest” perspective, he explained that the decline of Europe and the waning interest of US leadership began much before Donald Trump took office as President when President Barak Obama shifted focus of the United States from the transatlantic with his Pivot to Asia concept seeking to “rebalance” US’ foreign policy from the transatlantic to Asia-Pacific. If anything, Trump has only set a “new quality and tone” to the relationship in which he sees the EU not as a partner, but one of its many rivals.

Highlighting Europe’s lack of credibility and inability to defend itself on the security scene, Aslan pointed out to the crisis in the former state of Yugoslavia, where it took Americans to come in and solve a conflict that was happening “in Europe’s backyard”. Even in the case of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the EU did not have the “influence to reverse an act against international law”.

Drawing his attention to the genesis of the EU on account of the trauma that first and second world wars, Aslan said that despite the union losing its grip on global affairs, “the European Union is, and remains to this day, the most successful political project of the 20th century.” Hence, containing conflicts, wars, and deaths, in the essence of arguing EU member states differences in a political and democratic set-up, is viewed upon with great importance. This premise of the union is what he deemed as a “successful political project”. With more members joining the union after the Cold war and the breakdown of the Soviet Union, many “satellite nations” of the eastern and central Europe, along with existing member nations, came together to find the common currency. He firmly held the belief that this is the primary reason why the “brand EU is no longer attractive”. In the last 5-6 years, the “crisis” engulfing the common denomination – the Euro (EUR) – has inflicted serious damage to the union. Germany’s persistence to use “disciplined fiscal measures”, and particularly its insistence to play the central figure, has caused a political rift and disrupted trust between the member states.

Other than the Euro crisis, the more detrimental crisis that impinged on the unity of the nations is the migration crisis. He mentioned that since the inception of the Syrian war in 2010, there has been “no effort from the European side to try and bring it to an end”, which in turn, led to the “inevitable”. Some countries’ adamant refusal to take in the refugees shifted this burden towards countries like Germany, Netherlands, etc. Other than this, some countries exist in the union to “reap the economic benefits, but not share the values and burdens”. However, “those who lived up to it paid a political price in their home countries leading to the rise of far-right populists,” he remarked. He gave an example of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, calling it a “single-issue” party that binds together subjects like migration, Islam, and refugees. This trend reversal is forcing the existing parties to imbibe some of the positions of the demagogues in their own politics.

“The days of the EU as a hard power are gone”, said Ali Aslan, but pointed out and suggested that an alternative for the EU’s transition could be to address soft power issues such as climate change.

Concluding his talk, Aslan reiterated that Europe’s former position on the frontline is tumbling, but the nations – even the most powerful – know that their opinions can only survive in a bloc. This acknowledgement, he believed, has placed Europe in a “catch-22 situation”, and created a further lack of leadership – which many hoped Germany would play a defining role in. He said that this aspect of Germany existed due to the nation’s horrible history, and hence also explained the other EU leaders’ unwillingness to lead and merely act as “team players”. It will take “more Europe and not less” for the union to survive, but as a consequence, “national governments will become irrelevant”, which is the toughest political decision to make, he surmised.

An enthralling Q&A session after Aslan’s talk secured some conclusions pertaining to the inability to pay the costs of climate change by the governments and people, EU’s anticipated position in the coming five years, youth movements, and economic considerations in the era of realpolitik.

This report has been compiled by Tanya Rana, a research intern at ORF in Mumbai.

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