EU: Will it become a power or will it stay a pygmy?

EU: Will it become a power or will it stay a pygmy?

The European Union has always been a geopolitical pygmy. But it used to comfort itself that it was an economic giant: It accounted for 29% of global output in 1992.

In the wake of the European Parliament elections, the bloc needs to wake up to how precarious its position is. Its share of the world economy fell to 17% in 2022. What’s more, being weak on the world stage now really matters.

For many years, the EU contracted out its defense to America, its energy supplies to Russia, and the demand for its products to China. This model is broken. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a massive threat to the EU. So is the possible return to the White House of Donald Trump, who has cast doubt on America’s commitment to NATO.

Meanwhile, the EU could easily be squeezed between the two biggest economic blocs – the United States and China – which are more dynamic and making bigger investments in new technologies. They are also not playing fair: They are using a mixture of subsidies and tariffs to give their industries an edge.

The EU still has potential. Although it is a shrunken economic power, it is still number three. It is rich enough to be a geopolitical force – at least in the wider European, Middle East and African region.

But to become more powerful, the EU will need to act with greater unity. It will need to streamline its decision-making process so national governments can’t veto so many things, especially in the area of foreign policy and defense. And it will need more money at the center – so it has the resources to invest in the green transition, new technologies and defense.

The European Parliament elections complicate, but do not prevent, such a transformation. The right-wing nationalists, who increased their representation, will not want to transfer any more powers to the EU. But the traditional parties of the center-right, center-left and center will hold a comfortable majority – and the European Parliament as a whole will be enthusiastic about a more integrated EU.

France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz have indicated they want Europe to come together more strongly. But they emerged weaker from the elections. The key question is whether other leaders agree. That will determine whether the EU becomes a power or stays a pygmy.

Hugo Dixon is commentator-at-large for Reuters and an avid philosopher.

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