I borrowed the title of a recent tweet from former Swedish Premier and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (photo), who quoted this question, basically, from the statements of a veteran of European diplomacy, to answer: “Yes, is the answer, it’s already here.” Bildt was answering the question asked by Wolfgang Ischinger, the known president of the annual Munich security conference (each February for over 50 years), who raised this issue (“whether winter…?”) at a European security forum. On November 22-23, the said forum brought together an impressive contingent of global experts, to explore today’s geopolitical situation and the trends that seek to reform it in the following decade.
The first day of the conference was hosted by the European Political Strategy Center, a European Commission think-tank (day two will be hosted by the European Parliament).
What confers upon this assembly its specificity is the fact that it promotes inter-institutional collaboration between the officials of the European Commission, European Parliament, European Council and European External Service, benefitting from the monitoring of global trends provided by the special committees of the EU, and the conclusions drawn offer strategic counselling to the European Commission. The current forum is taking place under the title Global Trends to 2030: Can the EU Meet the Challenges Ahead? and aims to decipher how the world will look in 2030, as foreseen today by experts from all geographical horizons (for those interested, the main ideas can be found on #ESPAS17, and they reveal the fact that the international system of states is today at a crossroads, just like Europe is, which has to handle the “winter” mentioned by Carl Bildt). What did Ischinger say at this forum so as to draw Carl Bildt’s reply?
The main idea is that Europe cannot handle today’s global challenges and impose development trends except by being united, and closely linked with the U.S. Here is his demonstration, included in the text posted on the forum’s website: “We are almost 500 million Europeans and we still largely depend on 330 million Americans for protection and for diplomatic initiatives that are essential for European security. This is unsustainable — and not just because of the positions of President Trump. The right time to develop Europe as a more credible security and diplomatic actor is now. The good news first. In foreign and security policy, Europeans want ‘more EU’, not less: 75% are in favour of a common EU defence and security policy /…/ Europeans clearly sense that our nation states are too small, too insignificant, and too weak to deal with the massive foreign and security challenges on our own. Most of them understand — Brexit notwithstanding — that the best way to defend and advance European interests across the globe is do so jointly, and collectively.”
The participants are, as I mentioned, top experts from the main states of the world, from Pakistan to Singapore, from Brazil to Russia, from China to Northern Africa, from NATO to OECD representatives, from Europol to European Commission representatives, etc. The panel in which this question – regarding the winter that has come in Europe – was raised also included the executive director of Europol, who pointed out that the Old Continent experiences today “the highest terrorist threat the continent has seen for a generation, with hundreds of people affected by multiple terrorist incidents over the last three years” (Rob Wainwright). Identifying a strategic vision, necessary for the European Commission to devise policies up to 2030, has determined an avalanche of ideas that would ease this process. From MEP Klaus Welle, who wondered “What’s the future of Eurasia? What role for Russia and the US in the new Eurasian balance?” a very pertinent question against the backdrop of the latest developments in this region, ranging from the launch of China’s grand strategy dubbed OBOR to Russia’s assertiveness and the U.S. strategic and geopolitical initiatives. Similarly, in what concerns Europe’s southern front, there were opinions that “Either we ‘export stability’ or we ‘import instability,’” and that “We have to improve our toolbox to use our ‘soft’ power” (J.Hahn, EU commissioner for neighbourhood policy and enlargement).
And P.Swieboda, the organising think-tank’s expert, was firm in stating that “If we want to be a respected player in Beijing and Washington, improving decision-making in foreign policy in the EU and shifting to QMV [qualified majority vote] is essential.” It is in fact a solution discussed ever more in the EU, so that it would be capable to fulfil what is stipulated in the global strategy adopted last year, which strives to transform the organisation into a “global actor.”
A Turkish expert was similarly careful to point out that “There is no single Arab World – there are four distinct regions (Morocco – Libya, Egypt on its own, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Gulf).” Dmitri Trenin, a prominent Russian expert, expressed his own assessment on the future of Europe: “The transit from the Pax Americana of the 1990s-2000s to a new world order will have advanced significantly by 2030. It will be powered primarily by the growing importance of nation states, especially the world’s major powers,” and that “Europe lives in its own world. It’s not a strategic player and it will be not in 15 years.” The pessimism of the Russian expert obviously is a reference to the things stated by both Carl Bildt and Ischinger.
The heavy winter from the “Game of Thrones” has already come for the European Union, and the EU must – as the German diplomat argues – consolidate the transatlantic relationship and must understand that nation states acting on their own and not closely united are powerless to handle the challenges of the future.
The careful monitoring of the mentioned hashtag (#ESPAS17) gives the reader the possibility to get to know the richness of ideas and solutions presented by the participants in what concerns their vision on the world’s geopolitical appearance in 2030.