Europe is gradually emerging as the world’s new superpower. Experts believe that within a couple of decades, the European Union will equal – if not surpass – the United States as the dominant economic force on the world stage. At present, the EU is enormously prosperous and technologically advanced. It encompasses four of the Big Seven economic powers: Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy. Moreover, geopolitically, it includes a unified Germany in further union with its historic rivals, France and Great Britain. Add Russia to the mix and the implications are mind-boggling. The emergence of the continental superpower raises the prospect of a union more formidable than the United States, stretching from the Atlantic across Eurasia to the Bering Sea.
Europe was a united entity during the era of Roman Empire. However, it got disintegrated into smaller units later. The situation changed when the rise of nationalism led to the unification of countries in the 1870s (e.g. unification of Germany, unification of Italy etc). Nonetheless, this was not without conflicts.
- Conflicts and rivalry between European counties created many wars – including World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45). Europe then recognised that too much nationalism is also dangerous.
- The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries that trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict.
- The result was the European Economic Community (EEC) created in 1958. It increased the economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
- Since then, 22 other members joined to create a huge single market (also known as the ‘internal’ market). It continues to develop towards its full potential, under a new banner – European Union (since 1993).
- The process acquired a political dimension with the creation of the European Parliament.
- What began as a purely economic union has evolved into an organization spanning policy areas, from climate, environment and health to external relations and security, justice and migration.
Why the EU can?
- The European Union (EU) has been called an emerging superpower by scholars and academics like T. R. Reid, Andrew Reding, Andrew Moravcsik and some politicians like Romano Prodi and Tony Blair.
- The EU has an economic, political, diplomatic and military influence.
Economic Power of the EU
- The EU is the world’s biggest economy with GDP larger than that of the United States.
- Its currency, euro, can pose a threat to the dominance of the US dollar.
- Its share of world trade is three times larger than that of the United States, allowing it to be more assertive in trade disputes with the United States and China.
- Its economic power gives it influence over its closest neighbours as well as in Asia and Africa.
- It also functions as an important bloc in international economic organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Political and Diplomatic Powers of the EU
- Two members of the EU, Britain and France, hold permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The EU includes several non-permanent members of the UNSC. This has enabled the EU to influence some US policies such as the current US position on Iran’s nuclear programme.
- Its use of diplomacy, economic investments and negotiations rather than coercion and military force have been effective as in the case of its dialogue with China on human rights and environmental degradation.
Military Powers of the EU
- Militarily, the EU’s combined armed forces are the second largest in the world.
- Its total spending on defence is second after the US.
- Two EU member states, Britain and France, also have nuclear arsenals of approximately 550 nuclear warheads.
- It is also the world’s second most important source of space and communications technology.
Why the EU cannot?
- Some do not believe that the EU will achieve superpower status. They cite the following reasons:
No Hard Power
- European Union does not have enough hard power (it lacks a strong European military). With just soft power, it is not easy to emerge as a superpower.
Lack of unified foreign policy
- EU also lacks a unified EU foreign policy. In many areas, its member states have their own foreign relations and defence policies that are often at odds with each other. For example, UK was America’s partner in the Iraq invasion, whereas Germany and France opposed American policy.
No common constitution
- All members of the EU must pass the constitution for it to take effect. At a time when the idea of a common constitution was proposed, even though most of the countries voted for the constitution, France and the Netherlands voted against it.
- The EU and the European Central Bank (ECB) have struggled with high sovereign debt and collapsing growth in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain since the global financial market collapse of 2008.
- There is also a deep-seated ‘Euroscepticism’ in some parts of Europe about the EU’s integrationist agenda. Not every country in the EU adopted the common European currency, euro. This limits the ability of the EU to act in matters of foreign relations and defence.
- The UK even earlier preferred to be out of the European Market, now it is planning to leave the EU (Brexit).
Despite the eurozone crisis, the European Union is still a significant international financial actor as the biggest trade bloc in the world, and perhaps this would indicate that it can be considered a superpower. Given the nature of globalisation, nations are becoming interdependent with the EU. This again would demonstrate that it could be viewed as a superpower. The main problem that the EU faces, however, is a lack of collective action and policy cohesion.
Europe’s history since World War II has been unprecedented. The continent that had held the world’s most advanced and deadly armies for hundreds of years, was suddenly playing third fiddle to two superpowers: America and the Soviet Union. In that environment, the United States made a simple bargain with Western Europe: You no longer need to maintain a world-class army; instead, we will protect you. This deal helped bring an extraordinary level of stability and tranquillity to a part of the world that has repeatedly convulsed with astonishing violence and destruction throughout its history.
Now, however, this unusual era is coming to an end. As we head into the post-American era, it is Europe that is picking up the mantle of “leader of the free world.” Even now, Europe is stepping out of America’s shadow and responding to threats in North Africa. And it is the only possible candidate to succeed America as the financial leader of the world. — Richard Palmer
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