Although the European Union has a 60 % larger population than USA, its influence in the world is much smaller and steadily diminishing. There are increasing problems in our neighbourhoods as well as internal problems in many EU countries and future trends may further increase the stress on our democratic societies. In order to meet present and coming challenges it is necessary for Europe to change from a passive attitude where action is determined by the â€œlowest common denominatorâ€, often zero, to a more forceful way of action. A low point was how Europe let the war go on in Bosnia for 3 years. Only when the Americans intervened it was stopped.
The Russian occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine shows that Russia, under the current leadership, is willing to use harsh means for expanding its sphere of influence. Even in other countries in our region, it is unsettled. In Syria and Iraq there are full-scale wars with fanatical Islamists and there is also considerable uncertainty about the development in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa while the Ebola epidemic is plaguing West Africa.
The economic development in Europe has been a problem during several years and a large part of the population is unemployed. It is difficult to predict the future, but if the trend continues, the competition from overseas countries will harden and even technological progress can make more and more people redundant. There are therefore concerns that unemployment could become entrenched or even increase.
Furthermore, in several EU countries there are fascist parties threatening democracy and, most remarkably, a conservative governing party in Britain playing Russian roulette with their EU membership.
In this situation, it is no alternative to let EU remain as before or, as the British want, make the union even looser as this will lead to a steady deterioration.
The European Union was formed by former enemies and has lead to peace, prosperity and democracy in the member states. Now we must not allow this cooperation to be broken, but on the contrary strengthen it and open it up to new member states.
Challenges to the EU
Below you will find a list of major challenges to the European Union and some suggestions to their solution:
Ongoing changes in global economy has lead to a situation where more and more of the products and services we use are produced outside the Union. For a long time automation has lead to fewer jobs in production and we are on the threshold to an age when even collar jobs are being replaced by artificial intelligence. As people in formerly poor countries (e.g. China and India) are getting a better standard of living we see an increased pressure on the environment and the Earth’s limited resources. If we do not solve these challenges it may lead to a downward economic spiral with mass unemployment and increasing social unrest.
Therefore a thorough analysis of the economic challenges we face is required. Are they manageable or will they require fundamental changes of our societies? And in case, what kind of changes?
Internal security is largely linked to economy. Unemployed people live in economic uncertainty and do not get the satisfaction a job provides. Instead, their energy may be used in destructive ways. How can a society function if many do not have a work? How to make life meaningful for people who are left over when the economy goes down? These issues need to be examined and answered.
The EU is surrounded by actual and potential problems – Russia – Middle East – North Africa. It is therefore high time for the EU to create a doctrine how to deal with the surrounding world. Here the emphasis should be on reducing risks for internal and external conflicts through aid, cooperation, trade, education, etc. It is in our own interest to tie surrounding states as closely as possible to us, including association or membership if the criteria are achieved. Rejecting countries such as Russia or Turkey from future membership perpetuates uncertainty in our neighbourhood. But if necessary we must also be ready for meeting threats with sanctions and, ultimately, military means.
We need a continuous knowledge of the condition of all countries in our neighbourhood. In addition to normal diplomatic representation this requires people who are embedded in the country and thus get to know the people and their way of thinking. In connection with the Ukrainian crisis, a renowned foreign reporter wrote: “It is alarming how little the EU – and the United States – have been interested in how they think and feel in Moscow. Politics is the art of the possible, but nothing is possible if you donâ€™t endeavour to understand the opponent, how badly you may think of himâ€.
We read all the time how people suffer and die when they flee from their home countries to Europe. Although we do our best to save refugees from drowning, the best help we can give them is to counteract the conditions in their home countries that force them away! First of all there is a need for a long-term action plan for developing and stabilizing our neighbouring countries, secondly we must be prepared for fast action if any country gets out of hand. Here, Syria is a sad example. By failing to intervene early, the situation has deteriorated so far that millions are fleeing and 200,000 killed and there is still no end of the conflict.
The civil wars in Syria and formerly in Bosnia exemplify the EU’s impotence. Rather than act early in the conflict we wait until everything is out of hand. Unlike Chamberlain in Munich we must realise that all people are not good and unfortunately only understand one language – the threat of military retaliation.
In March this year we could read an opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter, a major Swedish newspaper, entitled “Swedish defence capability, the poorest since the 1500s.” And concerning the Libya War it was said that it could not have been implemented without the participation of USA. I have nothing against the American participation, but why was it necessary? How can it be that the EU, with a total population of 500 million people (although not all countries participated) does not have sufficient military capacity to make a limited attack against a country of just over 6 million?
Thus, it seems that not only Sweden but also all of Europe have insufficient defence capability and can only cope with something with the support of the United States. The European states should together be able to handle most situations in our immediate vicinity. This requires upgrading the national defences and, in addition, a separate EU Task Force.
E.g. Germany has often been reluctant to participate in various campaigns, but with a Task Force under EU flag, participation would possibly be less controversial. This force should possibly build on mixed recruitment of officers and soldiers from different countries and not on national military units. A European Task Force will not only strengthen the overall military capability but also create contacts between people from different countries and thus increase collaboration and fellowship in Europe.
The idea that Europeans would starve without subsidies to the agriculture is as true as that our cars would not be repaired unless car workshops were supported. Agricultural subsidies are taking too large a share of EU’s budget and do not contribute to future development. They should therefore be phased out within a decade. This will release huge funds for future investments. Support for landscape management should be returned to the member countries. Remaining EU responsibility in agriculture would be animal husbandry and environmental requirements.
From time to time ranking lists are published of the world’s best universities. Dominating on the top are always universities from the United States. On one list published earlier this year 46 of the top 100 were from the US and only 24 from the EU, of which 10 British. (Non-EU country, Switzerland has 2, thus a total of 26 European universities on the top 100 list). If the EU had the same average quality of its universities as the United States it should have about 60% more than USA on the list. Instead, the EU has only half as many. Even if a ranking list does not say everything about quality in different places, it shows that the level of European universities is well below that in the United States.
Now education in the member countries is not under EU responsibility, but the gap between EU and the United States should not be neglected. Therefore, the EU must investigate why the difference is so big and come up with proposals on how the gap can be reduced.
While generally education should remain the responsibility of member countries it should be considered to establish a directed EU financial support to a limited number of higher educational institutions and specialized centres of excellence within the member countries. These universities should see the whole EU as their catchment area and adjust their teaching and research accordingly.
In addition to the recruitment of students and researchers from the EU, a large number of places at these universities should be reserved (and possibly facilitated by scholarships) for young people from the EU neighbouring regions (Eastern Europe, Middle East and North Africa). Personal contacts between young people is of great value, and if we can tie a future elite in neighbouring areas closer to us this will improve the conditions of harmonious development for all of us.
Research and development
Although Europe fosters a lot of good scientists, many of them leave for the United States. It is not at all wrong with the exchange of researchers and experiences between countries, but mostly this exchange is one-sided. Therefore it is important for European institutions and companies to create attractive conditions (financial and professional) making researchers to move even in the opposite direction.
After an awfully long time it was finally decided in December 2012 to introduce a single European patent system and a single European Patent Court. Previously, the cost of patent protection in Europe was 15 times higher than in the United States, but is now expected to fall from â‚¬ 32,000 to â‚¬ 6,500. Yet the system is not implemented and vital time has been lost in manoeuvres from countries with special interests. Without the EU nothing would have been accomplished at all, but it is important to avoid similar delays in other important matters.
When implementing the single European patent system it should be investigated which support the EU can give inventors whose patents are subjected to infringement. Large companies have the resources to cope with lawsuits on their own, while smaller companies and individual inventors have big problems to protect their rights.
With increasing carbon dioxide levels in the air and resulting greenhouse effect there is a massive shift ongoing in European energy production. Huge wind farms are being built in many countries and efforts are being made in other renewable sources such as solar energy.
These efforts can easily be governed by the respective national governments to a limit – that’s when the whole EU security is being jeopardized by energy decisions in individual countries. Such was the case when Germany decided to become more dependent on Russian gas and a few years later decided to phase out nuclear power. For the future, such decisions should not be able to take without EU consent.
There have already been tremendous improvements in environmental protection in Europe with common standards based on EU directives. Although there are differing opinions on e.g. details of the EU climate and energy package, harmonization in the environmental area is one of the major achievements of the European Union.
The infrastructure within the EU is generally better than in the United States, but should be developed further as it may be of increasing importance in the competition. When hopefully farm subsidies are phased out, money should be transferred to priority projects of importance for many countries.
Society and social issues
In many European countries there are minorities. In most cases, they live well integrated while some, especially the Roma in Southern and Eastern Europe, live on the edge of society and often under miserable conditions. The EU has special responsibility for these people as the countries where they live have poor economic conditions and there can be a lack of commitment to improve their situation.
While each member country generally should retain responsibility for social issues, the EU should take more responsibility and increase itâ€™s support for solving particularly difficult problems such as that above. An important part of the work is to improve education and to involve representatives of vulnerable minority groups in the projects.
The European culture is of great importance. Picasso, MirÃ³ and Gaudi attract lots of tourists to Barcelona and even small towns like Figueres (DalÃ), Mora (Zorn) and Sundborn (Carl Larsson) are visited by hordes of tourists every year. What an artist once created may persist centuries after he passed away. A stimulation of culture is not only an investment for the moment but for the future.
Culture gives meaning and hope, and is therefore particularly important in times of declining growth and rising unemployment. It should therefore be given higher priority both within member countries and in the EU.
Europe consists of a large number of peoples, languages â€‹â€‹and cultures. Unfortunately, this diversity is not reflected in the music played and movies shown around Europe. Generally what is offered is limited to the domestic and the American or English, while music and movies from other European countries are more or less neglected. In the 50Â´s and 60Â´s it was much more balanced than it is today.
It is not possible to direct what people choose to like, but I am convinced that more can be done to increase the diversity of supply. And it should be a task for the EU to find out why it is so difficult for European culture to reach across borders to other EU countries and what to do about this. Concerning movie production, maybe supporting better production facilities could help?
Europe has a lot of challenges during the years to come. If continuing as now we will not remain where we are, but will risk economic recession, social unrest and, at worst, lack of freedom. However, if our forces are joined we have the possibility to meet those challenges and become much more influential in the world than today. Therefore, in addition to our identities as Swedes, Frenchmen, Britons, etc. we have to acquire a European identity and act together. A joint Europe is our future. Come on, Europe!