The challenges of the European Union in 2021

Would you like a little lesson in current geopolitics? This video produced by Arte as part of its show ‘Behind the Maps’ offers an overview of the challenges facing the European Union in 2021, with the added bonus of an expert’s insight.

Jean-Dominique Giuliani, interviewed here, is President of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a research and study centre on Europe recognised as being of public utility. Last May, and for the 15th consecutive year, the Foundation published a report on the state of the Union – a reference work that takes stock of the EU and serves here as a basis for discussion.

Among the topics discussed, the Covid health crisis is obviously at the top of the list: did Europe manage it well? The European Union, on its way to becoming the world’s largest vaccine producer, has acted as a ‘central purchasing agency’ by uniformly managing the purchase of vaccines. As a consequence, there was less disorder and less inequality between countries in regards to their wealth and location. On the other hand, the crisis highlighted how slow and inefficient the Union can be: multiple governments mean various speeds and decisions that are not necessarily in line with each other.

On the economic side, the 750 billion euro recovery plan is similar to the one launched by the United States. In a divided Europe, with the so-called ‘frugal’ countries (which spend little and are careful) on one side and the more troubled Latin countries (Italy, Spain, Greece, etc.) on the other, some had refused to take on the debt of others. However, the crisis has served as a reminder that European solidarity is essential: if one country collapses, the others will inevitably suffer the consequences.

As far as cooperation is concerned, European agencies are taking centre stage and are gradually becoming more effective. Frontex, which manages migratory flows, is turning into a coastguard and border guard agency for the joint management of European borders. Europol, the European intelligence service that pools resources to fight terrorism, will conduct more and more cross-border investigations. In short: we are moving towards more joint work.

Diplomatically speaking, this is where the issue becomes more complex. “Europe has won peace but not power,” says Jean-Dominique Giuliani. Although the EU has won its place among the world’s great powers, it has not yet managed to get its member countries to take decisions together. It also struggles to defend its interests, to promote its model and to project itself as a power at the international level. Worse still, according to Giuiliani, it is torn between three energies: France, which wants to emancipate itself from the great powers such as the United States and China; Germany, which remains closely linked to the East and does not want to cut its ties with Putin’s Russia; and the Eastern countries, more reassured by the idea of American than European protection.

No future, then, for a single European diplomatic identity? If it remains tedious work, it is nevertheless bearing fruit in several places; For example in the Sahel where nearly 20 countries are currently collaborating in the field. The election of Biden has also facilitated the Euro-American relationship, with more room for negotiation.

However, many challenges remain: can the European model (political, economic, cultural) accept that democracy is being called into question in some of its member countries? For Giuliani, the problem of Hungary and Poland can be resolved with time and patience. As for the nations ‘in tension’ with Europe, such as Russia or Turkey, he has a rather clear-cut opinion. He sees the former as a nation in decline (Russia’s GDP is currently lower than that of Italy, for example), frightened by the power of the EU on its borders. And he sees the latter as facing economic difficulties and the instrumentalisation of religion against the EU.

Not necessarily accessible to all but extremely interesting, this video analysis has the merit of addressing various current issues with hindsight and finesse.

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