A New Vision for Europe

The seven Aspen Institutes in the Old Continent have joined forces to help relaunch Europe and rejuvenate the Transatlantic relationship.

The two sides of the Atlantic share most fundamental values, many political institutions and economic standards, and a host of XXI century challenges and problems that have emerged in our societies. We can still shape the future by translating diversity into creativity – just as the West’s history (for all its twists and turns) teaches. There is no simple recipe to rebuild trust in the ability of Europe and the wider West to address the legitimate concerns of our citizens, but there are key priorities.

The European Community was set up in the last century with a strong security rationale: to prevent wars from recurring in Europe. But after the project of a fully-fledged “European Defense Community” fell through in 1954 it went on to become a chiefly economic entity. The idea of “functionalists” such as Jean Monnet was that political union would be achieved through economic integration. The truth, however, is that the incomplete Economic and Monetary Union does not work well and political union has never gotten off the ground. Meanwhile, the security tasks that any citizen expects the state (or federal/confederal union) to perform were put on the back burner, suffering from insufficient funding and limited coordination. Thus, many Europeans have come to perceive the EU as a bad deal. The sentiment of losing control and identity is deepened by the impact of globalization.

For too long we did not listen and pay attention to the concerns and needs of our citizens.

The result is that in most European countries we are seeing an increase in the weight carried by parties which we generically brand “populist” (on both the left and right of the political spectrum). In the post-Brexit climate, this is the recipe for a  step by step implosion of the EU by national means, i.e. through the defeat of pro-European forces in some of the member states.

In turn, the implosion of the EU would deal a tough blow to the international liberal order that has primarily been based since 1945 on cooperation among Western democracies. Today –  with the rise of powers such as China, the resurgence of Russia and neo-authoritarian rule in Turkey –  cooperation among like-minded, liberal-democratic countries is no longer sufficient on its own, but it is more necessary than ever. The EU’s collapse would gravely damage our ties with the United States, leaving Europe overexposed to the forces of instability and illiberal democracies and encouraging US retrenchment.

To counter this worst case scenario, three decisive steps should be taken.

First, it is crucial to adopt economic policies that foster growth and offer more concerted action to create jobs, with a combination of national efforts and EU-level measures.

Second, just as important and urgent, we need to redefine the security rationale underpinning the EU. Security must no longer be interpreted as the prevention of a conflict between the larger states on the continent – in that crucial respect Europe has done a good job. Rather, we need to interpret security as protection for ordinary people from today’s risks, as well as managing the continent’s eastern and southern fronts. We  must create a strong new link between what we might term “democratic security” (accountable, responsive institutions), security from transnational risks and threats (rapid and often preventive responses to crime, terrorism, hybrid warfare), and international security (the pursuit of the EU’s broad interests regionally and globally). Common defense in a more traditional sense is clearly a key ingredient of this mix, and one that needs to be pursued consistently with the commitments made in the context of NATO (to nurture the Euro-Atlantic community of values in changing circumstances).

Third, we must manage the huge migration phenomenon that will confront us for decades to come, both with foreign policy action in the Mediterranean and in Africa and, on the internal front, with asylum policies and integration. Both these spheres external and internal security –  are also going to carry equal importance in the struggle against Islamist terrorism, as rightly indicated in the “global strategy” presented by Federica Mogherini last June, the very day after the Brexit referendum. The combination of centrifugal forces (which certainly are not confined to the UK) and a growing awareness of the need for joint action characterize the EU today.

In this context, true to our values of an inclusive, multi-partisan approach and aware of the EU’s current fractured economic and social geography, the Aspen Institute has decided to establish an Aspen Initiative for Europe, pooling the efforts of its seven institutes in Europe, all with national roots but each independent of their respective government.

Rescuing the European Union is a precondition to tackling the challenge shared by Europe and the US – defending the international liberal order from the numerous threats that it faces today and, at the same time, improving it.

by Marta Dassù, Mircea Geoana, Rüdiger Lentz