Europe Must Learn Quickly to Speak the Language of Power: Part I

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Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission of the European Union – the EU’s foreign affairs chief and effectively the ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs of the EU’ – completes in these days his first year in office. He granted this interview to Professor J.H.H Weiler, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) and the International Journal of Constitutional Law (ICON). Part II is available here.

Joseph Weiler: It is about a year now since you assumed the position of High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. I do not think that any of your predecessors when assuming this position faced even remotely a world scene and geo-political situation as challenging and even menacing as you did and have had to deal with since then. And although we are consumed by COVID related issues, most of these challenges predated COVID and will be with us long after the pandemic is over.

 Here are but a few examples:

  • A disruptive and unpredictable United States not only calling into question and putting under pressure some of the foundations of Atlanticism such as NATO and Iran or dramatically disrupting the Multilateral Trading System (consider American action vis-à-vis the WTO Appellate Body and its internecine trade strife with both Europe and China) but quite openly and it seems willingly abdicating its self-understanding as leading the world of liberal democracies.
  • A Russia which increasingly evokes memories of the Cold War (consider the unresolved Ukraine/Crimea situation, cyber interference in ‘Western’ democratic processes etc)
  • The Middle East – which is the living proof of the Jewish saying – there is nothing so bad that cannot be worse
  • China in which internally authoritarianism seems on the increase and externally even the EU has begun to think of it as a strategic foe

And one could add Syria, Iran, Libya, Turkey – the list goes on and now, to top it all, COVID19 which has upended life as we have known it with a potential impact, social, economic and political, which is hard to gauge – but at a minimum will be very considerable and potentially catastrophic and which seems to overwhelm everything else.

 Before we turn to some of these issues, could you tell us of your initial experiences and even feelings in the first months of assuming your new responsibilities. How different was it to your previous experiences as, say, Foreign Minister of Spain or President of the European Parliament? What was expected and what was unexpected?

Josep Borrell: You summarize very well the challenging global situation that we are facing and the numerous crises and tectonic changes that we have been facing in the last months and that are going on as we speak. Since I assumed my mandate in December 2019, there was indeed no time to breathe.

Just as an example: I left Madrid on my first day in office as HR/VP to attend in Paris the mourning ceremony for nine French soldiers killed in Mali. Now, one year later, the terrorists are controlling most of the territory and a military coup has been staged, toppling the government.

While I was obviously prepared for difficult times on many fronts, I did not expect to start my mandate with the killing of the Iranian General Qasem Suleimani in January, which brought us to a major confrontation between the US and Iran. Of course, I even less expected the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all its consequences. Not only major health and economic consequences, but it also greatly aggravated the difficulties of many states that had already been weakened before, such as Libya and Lebanon, and increased the appetites and imperial temptations of authoritarian regimes such as those of China, Russia and Turkey.

At this very moment, our relations with Turkey are at a watershed moment, and in Belarus we see Lukashenko becoming a new Maduro. In sum, our neighborhood is in flames from Sahel to the Eastern Neighborhood. And these are only the currently most pressing issues and developments. While these predominantly keep us busy now and dominate the headlines, we should not forget our constantly ongoing work on other foreign policy priorities. Regionally, for instance our crucially important relations with Africa, Latin America and Asia and the strengthening of Europe’s strategic partnerships, our engagement in the Western Balkans and in our Eastern and Southern Neighborhood; and topically, our work on migration, climate diplomacy, global cyber security, human rights and multilateralism – and many many more.

I have said during my hearing at the European Parliament already, and I have repeated on many occasions, that Europe “must learn quickly to speak the language of power”, and not only rely on soft power as we used to do. By the way, I am afraid that this reference to the “language of power” will be a landmark quote of what will coin my mandate.

All of us, we are currently living in a very different way than prior to COVID-19. The pandemic is often referred to as an accelerator of previously existing trends, but I think it will be more than that. It is a game-changer and I’m not sure we’ll ever go back to the world before. It will probably permanently change the way we live and work, but also the way in which we understand and implement  foreign policy. We will probably continue in the future to use a lot more VTC and less physical encounters. This should not necessarily make our foreign policy any easier: you can perceive nuances and expressions better, or develop more personal relations, in face-to-face meetings than in VTCs. 

But to come back more directly to your question, if I compare my current job with the jobs I’ve held before, it has some similarities with that of Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in terms of the issues I deal with. However, they are also more numerous, since they really concern the whole planet, the stakes are higher in terms of the positions I have to take, and the institutional logics and dynamics differ substantially. In fact, I am not the Foreign Affairs Minister of the EU, as some wanted to shape my position during the time of Convention on the Future of the European Union at the beginning of the 2000s. Neither am I the 28th Minister at the Foreign Affairs Council that I chair. My job is to build a common position of the 27 member states with respect to world affairs. Frankly speaking this is seldom  easy, because we do not always share the same vision of the world.

This job involves many dimensions: an internal dimension with internal diplomacy within EU members states, and also within the Commission, to bring together, on complicated and divisive issues, countries and governments that differ profoundly in terms of size, geographical position, political orientation, history, and particularly the history of their relationship with the rest of the world…

As a Minister, when you have the confidence of your Prime Minister, you can concentrate principally on the dossiers themselves and the answers to be given to your external contacts. In Europe, you have to exert your diplomatic skills both inside and outside, between institutions and interests of member states, and also balance the two hats of High Representative and Vice-President that I am wearing.

In short, it combines and amplifies the requirements of both jobs. Therefore, it is the most demanding, but also the most exciting job I have ever had.

JW: When you speak of not only relying on “Soft Power” but turning to the “language of power” I imagine that, in the context of the EU, what you have in mind is to “weaponize” so to speak Europe’s economic might?

JB: Not only the economic might. It is about combining the variety of the European Union’s resources in a way that maximizes their geopolitical impact. 

To reach our political goals, we must use the full range of our capacities, to capitalize on Europe’s trade and investment policy, financial power, diplomatic presence, rule-making capacities, and growing security and defense instruments. We have plenty of levers of influence and Europe’s problem is not a lack of power. The problem is the lack of political will for the aggregation of its powers to ensure their coherence and maximize their impact. Diplomacy cannot succeed unless it is backed by action. But let’s be clear, our might is not the military component. The EU is not a military alliance and it was even built against the very idea of power politics. But it was done so in a very different world. 

JW: You serve not only as High Representative but also as Vice President. How is the Europe of today different, if it is, to the Europe you knew, for example when serving as President of the European Parliament? Is it not a more ‘fractured’ Europe, North and South, East and West?

JB: Of course, Europe and the EU are constantly changing and evolving. I am engaged with the integration process and active in European politics for quite some years now. Actually, I received my first scholarship when I was 17 years old with an essay about the prospects of Spain, then under Franco’s dictatorship, to become member of what then was the common market… Since, I witnessed the growth from a small number of member states to 28, and now 27, with the crucially important Eastern enlargement; but also other fundamental changes, such as the changing role of the European Parliament, the establishment of the single market and of the Eurozone – and quite some related crises.

And of course the Europe of 12 is very different to a Europe of 27. More fractured? Not sure, but certainly more diverse. For example: the “fracture” on the issue of migration is not purely West-East; and the North-South “fracture” between debtors and creditors affects mainly countries that were members before the “big bang” Eastern enlargement. There are many more similar examples, but here is what I deem most important: reflecting the EU’s motto ‘United in diversity’, we should look positively on how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages.

From my position, I have to insist on the fact that due to this diversity, we Europeans, from North and South, East and West, often do not have the same vision of the world, the same understanding of the world. Let me give you a personal example on this that I use often to illustrate what I mean by this. For my Polish friends, they tend to say that they owe their freedom to the United States and the Pope: “Pope Wojtyla, John Paul II, told us to be free, and the United States won the Cold War, and therefore it’s Reagan and John Paul II who gave us our freedom.”

And they are right. However, for my personal background, things are very different. I was born in 1947, and I believe, as many Spaniards do, that we also owe 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship to the United States and the Pope. Franco was able to stay in power for 40 years because he had from the beginning and for many years, the support of the Catholic Church and later, based on the 1953 Pact of Madrid between Eisenhower and Franco, from the United States.

This is just one personal example to demonstrate that different national histories give rise to different views of the world in many ways. At the same time, this is what the unique success of the European integration process is about: to overcome these differences, to have them even enrich us, and to focus instead on what brings us together and to jointly work on prosperity, stability and benefits that go beyond the national angle. This is a permanent and delicate, but also enriching and constructive, equilibrium.

This very diverse Europe is indeed difficult to bring together, particularly in terms of foreign policy, but things have progressed in recent years: Europeans are more aware today that in a 21st century world faced with challenges such as climate change and dominated by major powers such as China, India or the United States, they can only survive if they join forces. And  I am convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic will have greatly reinforced the idea that we need more Europe, as we have begun to see with the approval of the Next Generation Europe initiative.  

JW: One noticeable difference is surely the rise of significant Euroscepticism, once a phenomenon limited to the lunatic fringes on the Left and Right but now mainstream in many Member States. The response of the Commission in many guises has been to try and highlight the functional importance of the Union to the prosperity and well being of European citizens. But Euroscepticism is not driven exclusively or perhaps even principally by material discontent (uneven social distribution of the deserts of globalization) but also by deep ‘identitarian’ factors, as you yourself have in the past pointed out. What role for Europe in general and the Commission in particular in facing the ‘identitarian’ challenge?

The good news is that the Union has started to fight more actively against internal social and fiscal dumping, in particular with the initiatives taken by my colleague Margrethe Vestager.

Finally, as we have seen in the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not been able to limit deindustrialization and off-shoring, which leave us highly dependent in many sectors, nor have we been able to make Europe a significant power in the area of the digital economy, essential for the future.

The importance of a more active industrial policy is now better recognized, as is the need to better safeguard our companies and to have more balanced and reciprocal trade relations with our external partners. The need of “strategic autonomy” for Europe has a strong economic dimension.

The current crisis has finally shown that we have learnt the lessons of our previous difficulties: the Member States, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Council have reacted quickly and strongly to the crisis this time. This has been shown in particular by the adoption last July of the Next Generation Europe initiative, which breaks important taboos by allowing the Union to take on a substantial common debt and to make significant transfers to the most affected countries. Until now the European solidarity was based on “back to back loans”, now it is also “to issue debt to give grants”.

The aggravation of external threats has shown everyone that, each Member State on its own, , without exception, is nothing more than a dwarf incapable of protecting its sovereignty and security. For all these reasons, I am rather optimistic about our ability to overcome Euroscepticism in the near future.

JW: Excuse me HRVP if I press this point a bit. Correctly, in my view (if I may say so) you pointed out that one reason the Eurosceptics have gained ground is that we fight the identiterian resistance with material and factual counterpoints. But the examples you then gave seem to me, if I understood correctly, to be just that – material and factual counterpoints. Is there any thinking in the Commission on strategies to address the identitarian issue in identitarian and non material terms?

JB: A bit of a dilemma indeed. It is often difficult for “us” – the elites, academics, serene politicians, etc. – to do what populists often do: to simplify and to speak to pure emotions. This might be against our excessively rational nature, especially for an engineer by training like me! Referring to Aristotle we are sometimes too obsessed with the power of reason, ‘logos’. However, as Aristotle rightly argues: all successful arguing and debate need not only ‘logos’, but ‘ethos’ and ‘pathos’ are equally important components to convince our audiences and voters.

You know, it will always be easier to shout “America (or Catalonia, or Sweden) first!” or “Take back control!” than to call for an international rules based order. Complex and balanced agreements are certainly less sexy, that’s why I agree that we need to talk also the language of positive emotions.

But look, when we wanted to give the EU elements that could produce feelings of belonging as an anthem or a flag, it was refused. They exist but without legal bases.

The details of the work of the Commission, our Treaties, and our institutional dynamics are difficult to translate in emotions, but we Europeans can be proud of what we achieved. We built a system that combines enduring peace, political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion as probably nowhere else in the world. From this point of view, I think we can say that Europe is nowadays a civilization, which can be a strong identitarian narrative and story – but indeed we all have to get better in telling this story.

JW: The ‘chronic disease’ of EU foreign policy – ever since the early days of European Political Cooperation —  has been the mismatch between the intrinsic importance and gravitas of Europe as an economic and potential political powerhouse also representing a distinct set of values and its ability to project such in its foreign policy. One used to say, surely outdated today, Economic Giant, Political Pygmy. Outdated yes, but the mismatch is still very present. Would you care to comment how you perceive this? And as a refinement on the classical question, is there a similar mismatch between the responsibilities that you hold as High Representative and the tools which you have to execute those responsibilities?

JB: Indeed there still is a mismatch between the EU’s economic weight and our ability to project and shape European policy. But, responding to your question on Euroscepticism, I think that we are about to overcome it and more ready now to use that economic importance to project it in our foreign policy. As always in Europe, it will take time, Europe is a slow-moving ship, but it is going forward. I strongly believe that the “power” of the EU will come from its ability to use its economic tools in a coordinated way.

Regarding the question of the tools, many observers have regularly pointed out that divisions among member states were hampering our collective ability to take a stand, even on issues that are core to the EU’s founding principle.

As long as the EU has been working on developing a common foreign policy, it has had to deal with this kind of splits. From the breakup of Yugoslavia, to the Middle East Peace process, the war against Iraq in 2003, the independence of Kosovo or Chinese actions in the South China Sea and recently on Belarus: there have been many examples where divisions among member states have slowed down or paralysed EU decision-making, or emptied it of substance.

The underlying reasons are not hard to state: history, geography, identity. Member-states look at the world through different prisms and it is not easy to blend these 27 different ways of defining their national interests into a united, common European interest. Having been Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, I have sat at both sides of the table. And I know all too well that in the Council we discuss a common EU line, but as soon as we get home, ministers focus above all on conducting their national foreign policy, with their own priorities and red lines.  

The real question is what to do about this. For me it is clear that the main long-term answer lies in the creation of a common strategic culture: the more Europeans agree on how they see the world and its problems, the more they will agree on what to do about them. You cannot pretend to have a common foreign policy, without sharing an understanding of the world – let’s call it a common strategic culture or at least a common understating of the challenges and threats that you are facing. That is in part what we intend to do with the work on the Strategic Compass that we are developing jointly with Member States, and on the practical implications of  “strategic autonomy”, a much discussed concept coming from the defence and security side, but having now a much wider dimension. But all this is a long-term process. And in the meantime, we have to be able to take collective decisions, on tough issues, in real time.

This brings us to the question of how we take decisions on foreign policy. For decades we have agreed that foreign and security policy must be decided by unanimity, which means that every country has a veto right. In foreign policy we work a lot with so-called discrete instead of continuous variables. This means many of our decisions are binary in nature: either you recognise a government or not, you launch a crisis management operation or not. This can lead to blockages and paralysis. It is easier to discuss with continue variables, as for instance on budget discussions and “a little more of this, a little less of that”. There are other important policy fields such as taxation or the multi-annual EU budget, where the unanimity requirement has also created serious difficulties to reach adequate solutions.

The contrast here is with those areas of the EU, from the single market to climate, to migration, where the EU can take decisions by qualified majority (55% of member states and 65% of population). Crucially, market rules or climate targets are not secondary issues of lesser sensitivity. Indeed, big national interests are at stake, which often clash just as much as in foreign policy.

Moreover, it is striking that even in the areas where the EU can take decisions by qualitative majority voting (QMV), it mostly does not. For example, the long discussed sanctions against Belarus could have been taken by qualified majority voting. But it was not done. Why? Because the ethos of the club is to work for compromises, something everyone can buy into. To change this, all member states need to move and invest in unity. Simply sitting on one’s position creates blockages. And in this specific sense, having the QMV option is important: not to use it but to create an incentive for member states to move and search for common ground. This is how, outside foreign policy, the EU can take decisions on important topics with big interests at stake, even if member states are divided. What matters in the EU is not how a discussion begins; what matters is how it ends. But time is also of substance, and our working method sometimes take too long for the pace of the world events.

Right at the start of my mandate I argued that if, in foreign policy, we want to escape the paralysis and delays of the unanimity rule, we ought to think about taking some decisions without requiring the full unanimity of 27. And in February when we were blocked on the launch of Operation Irini to police the arms embargo on Libya, I asked at the Munich Security Conference whether it was reasonable that one country, which would anyway not participate in the naval operation because it lacks a navy, prevent the other 26 from moving forward.

Let’s be clear and realistic: we will not have qualified majority voting across the board. Because dropping unanimity, requires unanimity and we are not there. Possibly we could limit it to aspects where we have been frequently blocked in the past – sometimes for completely unrelated reasons – such as human rights statements or sanctions. In her State of the Union address, President Von Der Leyen repeated this proposal (it was actually the line in her speech that attracted the largest amount of applause).

Since then, there has been renewed debate on the merits and risks associated to this idea. For instance, the President of the European Council has warned that dropping the unanimity requirement would risk losing the legitimacy and buy-in that is needed when it comes to implementing any decisions. This is without any doubt, an important issue. Others have pointed to the fact that the national veto is an ‘insurance policy or emergency brake’ to protect especially the ability of small countries to defend their core national interests (larger member states may not even need the veto to protect their core national interests).

I welcome this debate, but I am also clear that abandoning the unanimity rule would not be a silver bullet. We need to create the right incentives for member states to come together. Just appealing to the need for unity is not enough. Which decisions we make and how credible they are, depends crucially on how we make them. And don’t forget that rules creates attitudes

Going forward, some possibilities seem pertinent to me, to be evaluated and discussed. Maybe it would be better, sometimes, to issue rapidly a  substantial statement at 25 than to wait for several days and come with a lowest common denominator statement at 27? For sure, this legally speaking would not be a position of the Union, and I have been criticised for issuing statements of the HR that are not backed by all member states. But I prefer to take the lead if I am backed by a strong majority. Maybe it could be also better to think not mainly in terms of introducing QMV, but also of “constructive abstention”? This was a possibility introduced to enable a country to abstain without blocking the Union from moving forward. For example, this was how the EULEX mission in Kosovo was launched in 2008.

And finally, as we are certainly not going to abandon unanimity across the board, could we define areas and tools and instruments where it could make more sense to experiment (for example sanctions, statements, demarches) and, if so, with what kind of safeguards?

I hope that in the weeks and months ahead, for example in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, we can debate the pros and cons of these options, knowing that there is a great and urgent need for the EU to protect its capacity to act in a dangerous world.

JW: The trouble might be that agreeing on what I consider very constructive and imaginative options, might itself require unanimity. I wish you success. Be that as it may, before we turn to the substantive issues, I want to return to the issue of Power you mentioned above.  I always took the view, that the nice sounding expression “Europe as a Civilian Power” or a “Soft Power” was but a rationalizing fig leaf for the embarrassing nakedness of Europe when it came to true Hard Power. The aggregate defense expenditure of the Member States is greater than that of Russia but the efforts are so fragmented that there is little to show for it. Do you have a position on the Hard Power Soft Power debate in the sense of Europe’s defense capabilities? Do you think it will ever go beyond Parole, Parole, Parole?

JB: Talking about paroles, and as said earlier: I have repeatedly pleaded for the EU to ‘relearn the language of power’ and to combine our resources in a way that maximizes their geopolitical impact.

In a world of geostrategic competition, in which we see increasingly the use of force in different ways and in which economic and other instrument are weaponized, we must relearn the language of power and conceive of Europe as a top-tier geostrategic actor. This is certainly not the case yet and it is a difficult learning process, and in the area of European common security and defense policy, we still punch below our declared ambitions.

The geopolitical upheavals we are witnessing and that we discussed at the beginning of the interview underline the urgency with which the EU must find its way in a world increasingly characterized by raw power politics. We Europeans must adjust our mental maps to deal with the world as it is, not as we hoped it would be.

And this brings us back again to our history: the EU was established to abolish power politics. It built peace and the rule of law by separating hard power from economics, rule-making, and soft power. We are convinced that multilateralism, openness, and reciprocity should rule the global order and how states interact. But how does Europe deal with this new world?

Europe needs to avoid both resignation and dispersion. Resignation means thinking that the world’s problems are too numerous or too distant for all Europeans to feel concerned about. It is essential for a common strategic culture that all Europeans see security threats as indivisible, as the US citizens from Alaska to Florida see them. Dispersion would mean we want to get involved everywhere, expressing concerns or goodwill, combined with humanitarian funding or aid for reconstruction.

We have more levers of influence than we ourselves are often aware of. We spoke before about it: our internal market is still one of the most important in the world and no external player can afford to neglect it. The European Union has one of the strongest “soft power” toolboxes, with powerful trade and competition policies, significant aid volumes and the new possibilities offered by our investment screening mechanisms. We must use all this to its full potential, taking a holistic approach and overcoming silos.

We are the most important norm setter worldwide – as Anu Bradford convincingly sketches in her recent book “The Brussels Effect” – but we cannot maintain this position if we are not also a technological leader: we need to close the gap between our regulatory capacity and our technological ambitions.

Europe must strengthen its traditional levers, look for new ones and take new and visible initiatives to enhance its global posture. Europe also needs to act in a more united way. And frankly, the EU is the only platform enabling European democracies to promote and defend their interests effectively. In the past, we have sometimes allowed others to paralyze us by dividing us, for example with regard to our relations with China or Russia. We must stop seeing Europe as a collection of national interests and instead define and defend together the common European interest. Easier said than done for sure, and sometimes the problem is not to speak with a single voice, but to say the same thing. I would be happy if in this sense we would at least make sure to always be a good choir.

The security challenges we face are numerous and complex. Tensions and violence are rising in our neighbourhood, notably in Libya, the Sahel and elsewhere. The call for Europe to act and engage is rising in lockstep. If we want Europe’s voice to be taken seriously, we need to be ready to act. To combine our soft power and diplomatic outreach with concrete action on the ground. Otherwise the big decisions affecting our own security will be taken by others.

But look, we are not idle. Around 5,000 women and men are deployed in three continents at the operational edge of our Common Security and Defence policy in our military and civilians missions. They are acting and delivering security to our citizens. In recent years, Europe has come a long way in strengthening its security and defence policy and capabilities. I am thinking for example of the new command structures created over the past years. These steps were driven by an awareness that our security environment is deteriorating and that we have to be ready to take on greater responsibilities as Europeans. In many ways, the most tangible work that can be seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, are our CSDP missions and operations. 

Soldiers, police officers, policy advisers, legal experts and many others are working on the ground with our partners to make our neighbourhood more secure and stable. They train, they advise, they mentor and they monitor. Their work is not just technical, but part of a comprehensive approach, or the European way of building security. They are often based on a UN mandates and are faithful to EU’s values of peace, stability, multilateralism and human rights. 

But if we want our CSDP missions and operations to be effective, we need to provide them with the necessary personnel and assets. When we collectively decide to launch an operation or mission, we should make sure it has the right mandate and resources. We must listen to the advice from commanders on the ground on what they need to succeed. 

There are always reasons for not doing more: resource constraints, difficult security situations, etc. But the question is: can we afford it? And the clear answer is: No. Our security depends on the security of our partners.

In the framework of our current security and defense alliances, we must strengthen our strategic autonomy around common and interoperable capabilities, critical technologies and infrastructures (such as cyber security, drones, secure networks, quantum technology). Europe has the capabilities to do this.

In the wake of the crisis, Member States may feel the budgetary pressure in the defence field, as they did during the previous crisis. That will make it more necessary than ever to spend better together, rationalise and strengthen our common capabilities. This requires an ambitious budget for the European Defence Fund and its industrial and innovation capacities, as well as for the European Peace Facility for stronger and more operational cooperation. Unfortunately, however, I also have to recognise that that multiannual budget that has been approved by the Europe Council is not at the level of this ambition.

Europe must also equip itself with the means to protect itself against disinformation, the “infodemic” which has grown dangerously worse during the Coronavirus crisis. To counter attempts of manipulation by foreign powers. With its strong democratic values and principles, Europe can and must serve as a reference point in striking the fine balance between freedom of expression and the fight against disinformation.

JW: In his book The Sleep Walkers, Christopher Clark poignantly reminded us how 100 years ago or so Europe ‘sleepwalked’ into WWI. Does this sometimes keep you awake at night? Should it?

JB: Unfortunately, I do not sleep very deeply and well all the time, and there are numerous developments and situations around the globe that give good reasons for bad sleep. And, as the French political scientist Pascal Boniface said in his book “Requiem pour le Monde Occidental”, the Europeans have been in a kind of “strategic somnolence”, under the US’ protecting umbrella. And maybe they are awaking now due to a US that is changing its attitude.

But historical comparisons, particularly when we talk about such tectonic changes and big events, are mostly difficult – for instance what we hear now quite often with view to indeed the years before WWI, the demise of the Weimarer Republik, or “Europe’s Hamiltonian moment”. There are always similarities in societal and political circumstances, we always have to keep history in mind and there are many – above all worrying – developments that repeat themselves. And we should learn from this more and better. But for sure we are not in a situation comparable to the 1910s, and our European bonds and the continental balance we have at the moment are much stronger than it was the case at the beginning of the 20th Century.

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