Europe is a soft target. A close group of 28 states, but not a federal state, it is hampered by its complex decision-making process. The Brexit chaos will inevitably leave its mark. As the French historian Pierre Nora has noted, Europeans, once masters of the world, are now pushed to its periphery.
But Europe does not have to accept defeat.
A senior European intelligence official recently said there was a wake-up call in the range of threats confronting the E.U., including interference from Russia and the alt-right, and America’s “weaponization of extraterritorial laws in order to weaken our companies.”
“We must assert our European economic sovereignty,” he said. “We must rearm collectively.”
For that to take place, unity and political will are essential. Within the European Union as it is, that would be an uphill battle.
Europeans need more than a wake-up call. They must decide whether they can contemplate the prospect of their continent being cut up piece by piece by competing bigger powers, or whether they want to regain enough collective strength and common sense to control their own destiny. 5G networks will be a test. Though Huawei has the technological lead, strong doubts persist about its security. There are European alternatives. As the German center-right politician Norbert Röttgen pointed out on Twitter, “Europe has the technological capabilities to become an actor itself. That would be expensive. Hence the political question: Do we want to seize this opportunity or let it pass?”
But what role would Europe play in this new world? On March 5, France’s President Emmanuel Macron issued a solemn call for “A European Renaissance” that was published throughout Europe. “Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project,” he wrote, adding that the European civilization “unites, frees and protects us.” In an understated reaction titled “Getting Europe Right,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer of Germany, the new leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, set out a different vision. The contrast could be called the status quo vision versus the strategic vision.
The lack of accord between these two close, major European nations shows the extent of the challenge. On China, though, they finally seem ready to act together. Moved by a sense of urgency to counter the Chinese divisive strategy, President Macron has invited Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the European Union’s executive arm to join him in what was originally planned as a bilateral meeting with President Xi, on Tuesday in Paris.
Some European leaders still see their continent as the last defender of democracy and multilateralism. Few, unfortunately, are ready to unite to take up that fight.
Sylvie Kauffmann is the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le Monde, and a contributing opinion writer.
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