Previously, when I’ve written about the eurozone crisis, I’ve focused on the economic aspects. But the euro’s problems have a wider impact – not least because they provoke friction between EU members and divert them from confronting political challenges elsewhere.
The story of European integration shows it was more successful when Europe was engaged in grand projects. In the 1960s, the foundations for the Common Market were laid; in the 1980s, the Community was transformed into the Union; and since then, the EU has given membership to a dozen states from the former Soviet bloc. Outside these periods, there have been disputes and, latterly, growing financial woes. So in overcoming the current crisis, the Europeans should aim not only to accelerate economic growth but also to build a new model that allows their politicians to concentrate on strategic rather than everyday economic issues.
This is vital, because the West is now losing its ability to control global affairs – something it managed to do for several centuries.
The United States dominated the world for most of the 20th century, saving mankind from two dangerous totalitarian systems. However, it demonstrated leadership rather than management. America never managed the world, preferring only to influence it in an oblique manner. Attempts at direct rule from Washington were usually associated with the use of military force and, for good or for worse, crumbled. From Vietnam to Iraq, America failed to impose its order on parts of the world not ready willingly to accept it. US ambition did not lead to the expansion of freedom – it rather resulted in the appearance of serious opponents to the US, whose economies were largely based on American principles.
Europe demonstrates an opposite way. During the last 20 years, the membership of the European Union has gone up from 12 to 28 countries, and is still on the rise. The desire to become European – and to achieve EU membership – explains the success of Central European countries’ transition from Communism to market-led democracies. Arguably, this European Dream helps nations to progress more successfully than the American one.
Europe as a political and economic community possesses huge potential for expansion. To the east of the EU lie Belarus, Ukraine and, most importantly, Russia – a vast country but one that in its economic potential (GDP of $2.1trn, or £1.25trn) and population (142 million) cannot be considered a superpower even by European standards.
Countries that have joined the EU in the last 30 years are today 31 per cent more populous than Russia and surpass it in gross product by roughly two times.
However, if you imagine a Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, it’s clear that no other region of the world could compare to it either in natural resources or military power, or in intellectual capital or historical heritage. At the same time, all the events in Ukraine in the last 10 years show that the peoples to the east of the EU border are convinced by its political and economic model.
Even in Russia, the anti-European rhetoric of Kremlin propagandists can’t prevent ordinary people from spending more time in Europe, and the most successful from buying real estate there and sending their children to study in European universities.
The story of the Baltic nations shows that people who were born in and grew up in the Soviet Union can easily turn into law-abiding Europeans, as they would in their own country, were it not governed by chauvinistic kleptocrats. Europe is not so much unable to become a global political player as it is unwilling to turn into one.
I believe the EU should restore Europe to a position in the world that was practically lost due to the two great wars of the 20th century. The EU has turned Europe into a continent of peace, and now it’s time to take advantage of it. If Europe set a goal to unite all Europeans (and a German princess who ruled Russia as Catherine the Great said long ago that there is no such thing as “Europeans” – there are French Europeans, German Europeans and Russian Europeans, all of them equally European) it might achieve a result that will for ever put aside the very question of whether the end of Western dominance is approaching. But first Europe must abandon its inward-looking policy and realise both its attractiveness for its Eastern neighbours and its interest in that eastward expansion.
Of course, the costs of such an enterprise must be carefully evaluated. In 2013, the US spent around $630bn (£376bn) on the military. The combined military expenditures of the EU countries stand at $300bn (£179bn). If the Europeans spent $50bn (£30bn) a year – equal to 0.3 per cent of EU gross product, or 17 per cent of that combined military budget – on pursuing an aggressive and values-driven Eastern policy, it could turn Europe into a world power.
Moreover, this money would be better spent than if it went on the military or assistance to Third World countries, since merging Russian and Ukrainian natural and human resources with Europe’s would provide economic growth for the “extended Europe”, from which European businesses would greatly benefit.
The EU should rise above its current problems and launch a new strategic enterprise. Financial difficulties should be left to the technocrats able to overcome the contradictions that arose during the creation of the euro area and to establish a mechanism that will provide additional funding for more proactive policies.
In a not-so-distant future, the EU should evolve into some kind of confederation and indicate in a straight and clear way that it is open to accept Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. I doubt the Europeans can even imagine what a galvanising effect such a message may have for the changing world.
If the Europeans are able to set aside some of their current problems, if they are able to show courage and seduce neighbouring nations, the world will be a lot better for it.
Vladislav Inozemtsev is a director at Moscow’s Centre for Post-Industrial Research and a visiting fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies