I’d like to see Europe change in several ways. It is an old continent with an anemic economy and regulation-heavy bureaucracy. It is very slow and undetermined when it comes to managing urgent problems. It doesn’t have a common foreign or defense policy, and it’s highly unlikely that it will in the near future. All that and much more is currently missing from Europe. At the same time, though, I’m very glad it exists – for the international system and for us here in Greece.
For all the criticism which can be made of Europe, it has a welfare state that is far superior to any other worldwide (barring Canada’s). It sounds obvious, but it isn’t. This is a continent without guns, fundamentalist ideas on religion or abortion, or issues of obesity, hunger or functional illiteracy. Sure, it’s plagued by contrast and contradiction and, occasionally, internal conflict.
But it also carries a wisdom, I believe. Take a moment to think about how it reacted to SYRIZA’s rise to power and the early political acrobatics of the leftist-led administration. It could all have easily resulted in an accident. In the end we stayed on track thanks to the great crisis absorber that is Europe.
I am not sure if Europe can survive as we know it. Its economic size will not allow the existing levels of welfare spending for much longer. Strengthening competitiveness will require reforms which will not easily go down in countries like France. Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a more solid Europe in the area of security and diplomacy do not seem to be taking off. The challenges of migration and assimilation cannot be dealt with easily.
However, Europe still stands. Perhaps it is not being treated as an equal in global negotiations on major issues. No one sees it as a superpower that can deploy hard power. Perhaps it has been relegated to the fringe of the international system; it does not have a meaningful impact on developments. Many pundits wonder if Europe can wake up. The pandemic, combined with Trump and competition from the East are sounding the alarm like never before. However, anyone who is in for striking developments will be disappointed. As always, Europe will be taking small steps, without risk, without dynamic leadership.
I nevertheless feel very lucky that Europe exists as a continent of civility, moderation and social coherence. When everything around us looks like a bad Western, it’s certainly not bad to have a continent like ours. Europe is a bit like democracy: imperfect, contradictory, dysfunctional. But, as in the case of democracy, there seems nothing out there that can compare to it.