Europe matters to an anxious world

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Shada Islam
Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

As Europe tears itself apart, the world is watching anxiously. Entangled in their multiple crises, self-absorbed EU leaders appear oblivious to the impact of their conduct and policies on Europe’s global standing. But in this interdependent and inter-connected world, what happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe. It sends shockwaves across the world.

Europe matters. It’s partly economics. The world needs European markets and investments. In a world desperate for higher growth and more jobs, Europe’s stagnant or slow-growing economies are a source of deep concern.

Worries over Europe’s lacklustre economic performance have grown as the Chinese growth engine slows down to a “new normal”. Latest World Trade Organisation (WTO) data shows global trade tumbling 13% last year to $16.5 trillion, from $19 trillion in 2014. In volume terms, world trade remained flat in 2015.

European technology, standards, expertise and know-how also matter. It’s no surprise that emerging nations embarked on ambitious economic transformation agendas want access to Europe’s intellectual expertise.

But for many outsiders, Europe is about more than trade and business

For proof, look no further than the EU’s recent meetings with China and India and their emphasis on cooperation in areas like urbanisation, digital development, clean energy and water management.

But for many outsiders, Europe is about more than trade and business. It is a major source of development assistance and humanitarian aid. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, the EU’s regional integration efforts are a source of inspiration.

Europe is also an agent for economic, social and political change outside its borders. It promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Hardline governments may not like it, but their citizens certainly do.

Slowly but surely, Europe is also developing its security credentials. Not as a hard military power, but in its capacity to promote confidence-building measures, reconciliation between adversaries and to tackle non-traditional security threats.

These achievements were built slowly, over time. They are now at risk. Europe’s international standing is taking a battering. As they stumble in their efforts to deal with refugees, terrorists and Brexit as well as with the structural challenge of slow growth and jobs, European leaders are sending a message of discord and weakness to the world.

European leaders are sending a message of discord and weakness to the world

Given Europe’s complex relationship with its foreign friends, there could have been some gloating abroad. After all, for years, European policymakers seemed to think their main task was to lecture, harangue and finger-wag their way through world capitals. Appalled critics called Europeans arrogant and complacent.

No longer. In an intertwined world, no one is safe. Far from showing any signs of schadenfreude, most world leaders are genuinely concerned at Europe’s predicament.

“Europe is not tranquil at the moment, we are following developments very closely,” China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Haixing told a meeting of European and Chinese academics and think tank representatives in Beijing last week. “We are optimistic about the EU’s future and its ability and determination to overcome difficulties,” he added.

Queries about Europe’s future also come from family, friends, colleagues, students and business representatives who want to know if this time, again, Europe will bounce back, come to its senses, regain its reputation as a land of tolerance and humanity.

Their collective appeal to European leaders is simple: enough already, stop bickering, get your act together. The world wants and needs a strong and resilient Europe. The message is clear – but is anyone in Europe really listening?

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