Following the COVID-19 outbreak, what began as a health crisis soon turned into an economic and social emergency. In view of the growing rivalry between the United States and China, the pandemic poses a threat to the western economic liberal model and risks jeopardizing the world geopolitical order itself. The gap between the two superpowers is such that some media outlets started ironizing about the advent of a possible new Cold War. Be it a new Cold War or anything else you want to call it, one sure thing is that Europe, for the second time around, finds itself squeezed between two powers, risking ending up, once again, as the battleground between the two different blocs.
If the pandemic hit hard on the economic giants, particularly true was for the European Union, where COVID-19’s wave shed light on Brussels’ enormous dependence on the two opposing powers. As of China, a relatively new economic partner, the virus highlighted the extent to which the continent is dependent on areas nowadays considered critical for prosperous growth, i.e., health, technology, AI, and data. Conversely, on the other side, is the American giant, the historical partner, on which Europe relies not only economically, but also in terms of security. Defined as Europe’s “security umbrella” , and under NATO alliance, the United States, having troops stationed in many EU states, have proposed themselves as the main guarantor of that security that Europe, over the years, has forgotten to implement.
With the US pushing for decoupling from China and, on the other hand, China lobbying silently for greater economic dependence (FDI, private investment, technology), the growing conflict is putting global cooperation into question. This time, however, as Marie-Pierre Vedrenne (Vice-Chairwoman of Parliament’s Committee on International Trade) stated , the EU, which with all its 27 Member States, stands out as the world’s second-largest economy, cannot once again end up being a victim. US unilateralism and Chinese assertiveness triggered a rethinking of the EU’s strategic landscape . To prevent Europe from being swept aside by the opposing powers, in the drafting of a new EU Recovery Plan, particular attention has been paid to what appears to be the key objective for Europe in the coming months, namely, strategic autonomy.
Admittedly, Europe, like many other Western countries, was poorly prepared on many fronts when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the need for a more robust political and economic approach did not arise alongside the virus outbreak in February. It was still November when European Union President Ursula Von Der Leyen started talking about the need for a new European Geopolitical Commission capable of boosting Brussels’ political role in the world arena. Due to the coexistence of nation-states and the single market, cooperation between all 27 states is not always easy to be reached, as shown by the rise in recent years of opposing narratives such as populism and authoritarianism. Indeed, a plan is needed, or Europe will risk, as announced by French President Emmanuel Macron, to disappear geopolitically.
Making America Great Again: the Strain on EU-US Relations
The alliance between the EU and the United States has been going on for quite a long time. The partnership is evidenced by the fact that both blocs are each other’s first exporting partner, with annual trade worth around $1.3 trillion. The alignment is also reinforced by the fact that both blocs share common values, namely democracy, respect for human rights, economy, and political freedom, in line with UN Charter three main pillars (peace and security, human rights, and development). In recent years, however, the relationship between the two has evolved, and not for the better. Under Trump’s administration, Europe is facing a situation where, for the first time, an American president does not share the very idea of the European project (Macron).
Alongside its notorious motto “America First”, Trump’s administration has taken several initiatives which, besides creating tensions in the world order, have put the US-EU partnership at risk. Among the most heated ones were the steel and aluminum tariffs, import tariffs on EU aircraft Airbus, and the threat to impose higher rates on car imports from Europe. Beyond the economic aspect, tensions have also arisen in the field of security. The American President has long called on his Transatlantic allies to respect the rule according to which 2% of member countries’ GDP has to be allocated to NATO defense spending fund. Moreover, by firmly pushing for unilateralism and protectionism, the US presidency has also expressed its intention to withdraw from some of 21st-century key treaties, such as the Paris Emissions Treaty and the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Furthermore, as a result of growing tensions with China, Trump has also recently threatened to permanently cut US founding to the UN health body, WHO. Simultaneously, tensions have escalated after a series of harsh statements — “the Chinese virus” — which have added further strain to the US-China situation.
As far as US-EU relations are concerned, two key points should be borne in mind: security and technology. According to figures, the United States would currently store 92% of Western world data, and, at a time when wars are fought on digital terrain, data access appears crucial. Here the importance of digital innovation for Europe. In contrast to strategic defense, actual defense, i.e., military defense, on the other hand, is far from being achieved in Europe. Not having an army on its own, and due to the significant presence of American troops on EU territory, Europe is unlikely to detach itself from the US “security umbrella”, at least for the near future. This is partly why, instead of talking of pure autonomy, experts have chosen the word “strategic” to underline that independence must be achieved in those areas which, due to the globalized world order, have an impact at a strategic level, such as, for instance, the field of cybersecurity. Apart from its military capacity, Europe remains the world’s second largest economy, and despite the long economic and historical link, should not blindly follow the United States if this doesn’t meet its interests.
From ‘Strategic Partner’ to ‘Systemic Rival’: EU-China Relations
Much more recent, when compared to the opponent’s, EU-China relations began deepening in 2008. As a result of the global financial crisis, many European companies, one of the most affected regions, opened to Chinese capital and investment, creating valuable trade links. Over the years, the relationship significantly developed, resulting in a series of diplomatic initiatives, such as the EU-China Summit, dedicated to strengthening of the cooperation between the two in dealing with global challenges through the rules-based international system.
Historically, in terms of partnerships, Europe has tended to establish closer ties with “like-minded” countries  as of the United States. When looking at China, at that time, still considered a developing country, in the 1990s, Transatlantic policymakers saw the advent of the internet on the continent as a factor leading to greater openness and transparency . On the contrary, however, in particular under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the implementation of technology resulted in increased political control and repression (Tibet, Uighur reform camps, Hong Kong). An evolution that has surely not gone unnoticed by European politicians. “Europe has lost its naivety” (Macron). Evidence of this is also provided by the fact that, for the first time, in 2019, EU Strategy Paper on EU-China relations referred to the country as a “systemic rival, promoting a different kind of governance”.
While the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted Europe’s dependence on China’s supply chain (health sector), EU-China trade relations have long been affected by unequal market access. The lack of “competitive neutrality”  between the two, evidenced by policies, such as the “Made in China 2025” one, stems from the fact that China in seeking to favor its own national champions, wouldn’t grant in equal measures market access to foreign companies, among which Europeans.
If there is no doubt that the two continents share different set of values and distant rules of governance, further cooperation with China represents both an opportunity and a necessity (Charles Michel) , especially in view of a world order becoming every day more polarized. In Europe’s eyes China would simultaneously represent:
Cooperation Partner. Sharing the same objectives on the global scene, both could count on mutual aid in fields such as Climate Change (as of today China stands as the first country in the world for emissions, but at the same time as one of the most committed to the Paris Protocol) and global trade. In this regard, WTO modernization appears fundamental, especially to Europeans, in order to ensure that the current rivalry between the American and Chinese blocs does not result in a trade war.
Negotiation Partner. Although efforts to normalize dialogue between China and Europe are still ongoing, the creation of an annual China-EU summit (the last one taking place via Zoom in June of this year) represents an important step toward ensuring that the interests of both blocs are mutually respected.
Economic Competitor. Especially in critical sectors such as supply chain, technologies, AI and data.
Systemic Rival. Presenting a different form of governance and not acting in accordance with the three pillars established by the United Nations Charter (peace and security, human rights and development) concerning the respect of human rights, for the moment, an alignment like that with the US is still far from being conceivable. As noted by European Deputy Brando Benifei, it isn’t easy to engage in an on ongoing dialogue if you can’t have free debate .
Being Europe, the leading exporting country for China, and given current US administration reluctancy to implement multilateralism, it is in the interests of both countries that trade relations continue and that cooperation in critical areas such as climate change and international agreements is intensified. However, to accomplish this, some reforms must be implemented, especially when it comes to a more rules-based trade system. While EU and China are still far from the “like-minded countries” perspective, on the economic ground in order for collaboration to be fruitful for both parties, higher openness must be reached, namely creating a more balanced as well as more reciprocal level playing field.
On May 27th, the European Commission announced its Recovery Plan, setting out the necessary economic steps to “repair and prepare for the next generation”. In order to achieve this, Brussels is prepared to allocate substantial funds: €750 million to boost the 2021–24 EU budget — NextGenerationEU — along with a longer-term reinforced budget in the region of €1.1 trillion for the period 2021-27. This ambitious plan assumes a new evolutionary phase of globalization in which there is a trade-off between the desire to reap the benefits of the free market and the necessity of maintaining the sovereignty and security of new global players . In this context, the EU must too evolve, such that it can continue to promote multilateralism while at the same time being more responsive to its own interests.
Founding elements of the new plan are:
Diversification of supply sources. Through reinforced strategic stockpile building, especially in the health sector, Europe will boost its capacity to handle future crises, while, simultaneously, reducing its over-dependence from other world players such as China and the USA. In this context, of particular importance is RescEU, the European crisis management body, which will be reinforced through the strengthening of emergency response infrastructure, transport capacity and more active emergency teams, thus increasing EU’s resilience;
Relocation of EU strategic activities. The implementation of shorter supply chains to bring them as close as possible to their place of consumption will not only ensure a higher level of strategic autonomy but will also result in a positive impact on the environment. By cutting transport, corporate footprints will be profoundly reduced. Of particular importance, in this context, key markets, which should be kept within the European Union (Borell);
Free trade safeguard. Given today’s globalized world order (in contrast to the bipolar USSR/US situation), full economic benefits are only attainable in an international environment . In order for this goal to be achieved, protectionism needs to be limited, while on the contrary, openness, cooperation, and coordination must be further promoted and implemented. In accordance with this logic, WTO, UN’s trade regulator, appears to be of particular importance;
FDI Strategic Guidance. Several guidelines have been issued by the European Commission to protect its strategic interests with regard to foreign investment. For this to happen, it is essential that relevant information relating to the monitoring of current or future foreign investment is coordinated and shared between the Union member states according to a system based on precise rules;
EU Green Deal. By investing in a greener economy and increasing the circular economic model, the strategy aims to modernize EU buildings and critical infrastructure and provide the EU Member States with affordable, nutritious, safe, and sustainable food. New employment opportunities will additionally be created through initiatives such as Renovation Wave and Just Transition Fund;
Digitalization. As with oil in the 20th century, data in the 21st is increasingly becoming a major currency. As a result, those who control data are more likely to be significant players in the international political economy. Therefore, the EU’s objective is to invest in better connectivity alongside the development of its industrial and technological presence. The investment in data and a more digital economy will also provide additional job opportunities. To achieve this, Europe will need to implement its data sharing legislation, setting out clear rules and strategies to boost cooperation at the European level, together with the capacity to preserve EU infrastructure secure.
Throughout history, financial crises have paved the way for economic coercion, leading states to devalue their strengths and set aside their interests to comply with the coercer’s demands . Stuck between American protectionism and Chinese pressure, Europe risks devaluing its own potential. Standing, as of today still, as the world’s second-largest economy, when trying to face the crisis, Brussels must not succumb to the trap of transforming the current economic depression in a sell-off of its critical infrastructure and technology .
In view of what some have called a new Cold War, it is in Europe’s interests to maintain a dialogue with both, acting as a “stabilizer” between the two players, while at the same time developing its structure in those areas likely to provide it with greater strategic autonomy and safeguard its global relevance. As Vice-Chairwoman of Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, Marie-Pierre Vedrenne  pointed out, sometimes, it is better to refuse an agreement than to remain tied to an unprofitable one.
1. European Council on Foreign Relations, Hackenbroich J. ”China, America, and how Europe can deal with war by economic means” (2020), URL: https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_china_america_and_how_europe_can_deal_with_war_by_economic_meansn
2. EC Introductory statement by Commissioner Phil Hogan at Informal meeting of EU Trade Ministers (16/04/2020), URL: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/hogan/announcements/introductory-statement-commissioner-phil-hogan-informal-meeting-eu-trade-ministers_en
3. Marie-Pierre Vedrenne for Pole Evénementiel Jeunes Européens, “The world after COVID-19: Europe’s role between the United States and China” webinar
4. McKenzie M., Loedel P., “The Promise and Reality of European Security Cooperation” (1998) pg. 72-73
5. Marie-Pierre Vedrenne for Pole Evénementiel Jeunes Européens, “The world after COVID-19: Europe’s role between the United States and China” webinar
6. Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations “Europe in the face of US-China rivalry” (2020) URL: http://www.egmontinstitute.be/content/uploads/2020/01/200122-Final-ETNC-report-Europe-in-the-Face-of-US-China-Rivalry.pdf?type=pdf
7. Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics, “The European Union and Multilateral Governance” (2012)
8. CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies), Ortega A. “The US-China race and the fate of transatlantic relations. part II: Bridging differing geopolitical views” (2020) URL: https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-china-race-and-fate-transatlantic-relations-0
9. Joint communication of the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, “EU-China – a Strategic Outlook” (2019), URL: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/communication-eu-china-a-strategic-outlook.pdf
10. EU-China Summit video conference, 22 June 2020, URL: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2020/06/22/
11. Brando Benifei for Pole Evénementiel Jeunes Européens, “The world after COVID-19: Europe’s role between the United States and China” webinar
12. European Council on Foreign Relations, Borrel J. ”The post-coronavirus world is already here” (2020), URL: https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/the_post_coronavirus_world_is_already_here
13. European Commision introductory statement by Commissioner Phil Hogan at Informal meeting of EU Trade Ministers (16.04.2020), URL: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/hogan/announcements/introductory-statement-commissioner-phil-hogan-informal-meeting-eu-trade-ministers_en
14. European Council on Foreign Relations, Hackenbroich J. ”China, America, and how Europe can deal with war by economic means” (2020), URL: https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_china_america_and_how_europe_can_deal_with_war_by_economic_meansn
15. EC Introductory statement by Commissioner Phil Hogan at Informal meeting of EU Trade Ministers (16/04/2020), URL: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/hogan/announcements/introductory-statement-commissioner-phil-hogan-informal-meeting-eu-trade-ministers_en
16.Marie-Pierre Vedrenne for Pole Evénementiel Jeunes Européens, “The world after COVID-19: Europe’s role between the United States and China” webinar
Legacy of antifascism for the common pan-European future
The post WWII architecture is a strong and decisive reaction to the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust. The United Nations, created in San Francisco on 26 June 1945, are built on three main pillars: Freedom from fear and violence, freedom from want and poverty, human rights and respect for human dignity. For the first time in human history, war has been prohibited in international law with only minor exceptions, namely the right of States to self-defence and the collective security system under the guidance of the UN Security Council. For the first time in human history, the promotion and protection of human rights were acknowledged as a legitimate goal of the international community and international law. For the first time in human history, the main perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity had been brought to justice before international military tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo. And for the first time in human history, economic and social development, prosperity and the eradication of poverty have been defined as goals of a new world order. These ambitious aims and objectives were only possible thanks to the antifascist consensus among the allies, which at that time seemed to be even stronger than the differences between capitalism and communism. When the UN Human Rights Commission, the predecessor of the current Human Rights Council, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights between 1946 and 1948, this antifascist consensus was still strong enough to achieve a synthesis between the Western and the Socialist concepts of human rights. The Universal Declaration, solemnly adopted in Paris on 10 December 1948, contains civil and political rights together with economic, social and cultural rights and with the vision of a new “social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized” (Article 28).
As soon as the Human Rights Commission started to transfer this historic compromise between liberal freedoms and social security into a legally binding universal convention on human rights, the United States and its allies in 1951 forced a decision in the UN General Assembly to split human rights again into two categories, which dominated the ideological debates during the time of the Cold War. The International Bill of Rights, which was finally adopted after long negotiations in 1966, was divided into the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, favoured by the West, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, favoured by the Soviet Union and its allies. Civil and political rights and freedoms were conceived as immediately binding State obligations to respect and ensure the rights to life, personal liberty, privacy, security and integrity, freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to participate in democratic decision making processes. Economic, social and cultural rights to work, fair, equal and healthy working conditions, social security, the rights to food, housing, health, education and an adequate standard of living, on the other hand, were conceived as mere “programme rights” to be achieved step by step through progressive implementation.
As WWII had started as a European war between fascist and democratic States, Europe felt a particular responsibility to prevent another war and catastrophe like the Holocaust through economic and political cooperation and the protection of human rights. While the European Communities of the 1950s aimed at preventing another war through economic integration, the Council of Europe was established already in 1949 as a political organization based upon human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe was a Western European organization, which defended these “European values” against any form of totalitarianism, whether fascism (as practiced at that time in Spain and Portugal) or communism (as practiced in a growing number of Central and Eastern European States).By adopting the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR) in 1950, which only contained civil and political rights, the Council of Europe left no doubt that it was a Western organization, which did not feel bound by the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, as expressed in the Universal Declaration. Economic, social and cultural rights played and unfortunately still play in the Council of Europe a subordinate role. The European Convention with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which decides in a legally binding manner on tens of thousands of individual applications per year, is the light-tower of human rights protection in Europe, while the European Social Charter of 1961 and its monitoring system is much weaker and very little known to the public. Nevertheless, this is the time when the social welfare state, based on the economic policies of John Maynard Keynes, was developed in Western Europe, North America and other industrialized nations. The architects of the social welfare state or a market economy with a human face were, however, not even aware that they were implementing economic, social and cultural rights, as these rights were primarily associated with the Soviet Union and its allies.
During the Cold War, human rights were the subject of fierce ideological battles between Western and Communist States, and to a lesser degree, the newly independent States of the Global South. Nevertheless, this was the time when human rights were codified at the universal and regional level. In addition of the two Covenants of 1966, the United Nations adopted a number of universal human rights treaties, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979, the Convention against Torture of 1984 or the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. These core human rights treaties are today almost universally ratified. On the regional level, the two most important treaties, which were largely based on the European Convention, are the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969 and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981.
With the implosion of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and the velvet revolutions of 1989, which quickly led to the fall of the iron curtain and the end of the Cold War, a historic window of opportunity opened for a new world order based upon human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action promised a new era, based upon the equality, universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, spear-headed by the newly created Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. For the first time, the collective security system of the UN Charter was applied in practice and led to new generations of peace-building missions with human rights components and peace-enforcement actions, which also tackled some of the worst human rights violations. Two ad-hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were established by the UN Security Council as the first ones after the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals and led to the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court in 1998. In the same year, the 11th Additional Protocol to the ECHR entered into force and transformed the European Court of Human Rights into a full-time court which since then has delivered thousands of judgments every year, most of them in relation to the newly admitted former Communist States in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2000, the EU adopted a Charter on Fundamental Rights, and the United Nations adopted Millennium Development Goals, which promised a better future, above all for the poor and marginalized communities in the Global South. Despite the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which happened before the eyes of UN peacekeepers, one can conclude that never before were human rights advanced in such a quick, innovative and forceful manner than during the 1990s.
Let’s go back to 1989, which was a truly remarkable year in human history. In addition to the velvet revolutions, the world wide web was created, and with the “Washington Consensus”, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund agreed to adopt the neoliberal economic policies of privatization, deregulation and minimizing the role of the State, which had been advocated for many years by the Chicago School of Economics, thereby replacing the more interventionist economic policies of John Maynard Keynes. This meant that the rapid digitalization and globalization of our world were driven by neoliberal economic and financial policies. As a consequence, the historic opportunity of implementing a new world order inspired by universal human rights, democracy and the rule of law wassoon replaced by a new world order driven by transnational corporations and global financial markets. On the one hand, these policies led to an unprecedented economic growth and global digitalization, which contributed to more prosperity and a significant reduction of poverty, above all in China, India and other Asian States. On the other hand, these policies led to a dramatic increase of economic inequality, which is undermining the social coherence and democratic values of our societies. Radical policies of privatization, which had started already in the US and the UK during the 1980s, include even core State functions, such as the military, intelligence, police, justice and prisons (rise of private military and security companies), as well as providing social security, pensions, health care and education. The policy of minimizing the role of the State, which is often imposed on governments by the international financial institutions, result in drastic reductions in social security and social welfare and undermine the obligation of States to protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights, but also civil and political rights. In this context, we observe the rising phenomenon of failed and fragile states, which lead to insecurity, armed conflicts, the rise of organized crime and terrorism. Finally, the deregulation of global financial markets led to unprecedented speculations, tax evasion, money laundering, corruption and the undermining of the banking system, which directly resulted in the global financial and economic crisis of 2008. There can also be no doubt that the neoliberal economic policies contributed significantly to the current climate crisis, the ruthless exploitation of nature, deforestation and the destruction of our environment. The slim neoliberal state has no longer the power and the political will to regulate and control transnational corporations and global financial markets, and international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization or the European Union, which would have the power by concerted efforts to regain political control over global markets, are either at the forefront of neoliberal economic policies themselves or are increasingly undermined by nationalistic and populistic politicians. The Brexit, attacks by the Russian Federation against the Council of Europe, the sidelining of the United Nations in relation to the armed conflicts in Syria, Libya and other regions, and open attacks by the United States against the United Nations, its specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization, or against the International Criminal Court are only a few symptoms of the current crisis of multilateralism.
The world was in disarray when the Corona virus appeared on the global agenda at the beginning of a new decade, and when the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented lockdown of the global economy, a fundamental restructuring of our daily life and drastic restrictions of our most cherished human rights. Our world was certainly not well prepared to deal with this pandemic, which has caused already more deaths worldwide than the tsunami as the worst disaster of the 21st century. The most neoliberal States, such as the US, the UK and Brazil, which happen to be governed by politicians, who are used to “solve” crisis situations by spreading fake news and searching for scapegoats, seem to be hit most severely. In Europe, States which had cut down their public health and social security systems most radically, such as the UK, Italy and Spain, encountered much more serious problems to contain the spread of the virus than States, where the public health and social security systems had somehow survived neoliberal policies. Even politicians, who for many years had preached that free markets are much better equipped to solve problems than governments, realized that we need strong and well-functioning States to take the necessary measures and that we should listen to experts rather than populists, fake news and social media in order to cope effectively with this pandemic. It is too early to draw far-reaching conclusions since we are still in the middle of this health crisis and do not know how the coming months will develop. Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness among the people, irrespective of their political opinions and political party alliances, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way how we are living and that we need to drastically change our economic, political and social world order if we wish to ensure the survival of our planet and a healthy and satisfactory life for our children and future generations.
Where does this leave us with respect to the topic of this conference? What can we learn from this short historical overview for a pan-European future, built upon antifascism as a European confidence building block, mutual trust and good neighbourly relations? One conclusion is obvious: In order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges, such as the global climate crisis, growing economic inequality or global migration, we need to strengthen, rather than weaken, the regulatory functions of States and of international organizations, both at the global and regional (European) level. Secondly, we need to replace the neoliberal economic politics by a new and more social market economy “with a human face”, which is more responsible towards nature, towards economic equality and solidarity with the poor and marginalized sectors of our societies, at the national, regional (European) and global level. This also means that politics need to regain its power to control and regulate the economy, as has been well illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to use this new confidence in a responsible regulatory power of politics to also tackle other global threats, such as the climate crisis. At the same time, we need to strengthen the EU by transferring certain powers in the field of social justice, public health, environmental protection, asylum and migration policies from the member States to the EU institutions. The EU, which, despite the Brexit, is still a major global economic and political player, shall further be entrusted by its member States to pursue and strengthen these socially and ecologically sustainable politics also at the global level, above all in the international financial institutions and the WTO.
With respect to the Council of Europe, which is a truly pan-European organization with currently 47 member States and a pioneer in international human rights protection, we need to introduce economic, social and cultural rights on an equal level with civil and political rights and try to overcome the deep distrust between the Russian Federation and Western European States. This requires confidence-building from both sides. The Council of Europe, as a Western European organization, had quickly opened its doors after 1989 and invited the former Communist States to join. Many States used the Council of Europe as an entry door for quick EU and/or NATO membership, which was not always properly coordinated with Moscow and led even to armed conflicts in Georgia and the Ukraine. Many “frozen conflicts” in Europe, such as Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Tansnistria, Eastern Ukraine, Kosovo and the Republika Srpska, can only be solved if the Russian Federation is again better integrated into European politics. The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), provide the necessary diplomatic platforms, but the political will for mutual confidence-building is still lacking. Antifascism is no longer a meaningful basis for a pan-European confidence block, and in fact it had played this role only for a few years immediately after WWII. If the Council of Europe, with the active support of the EU, would be able to build a pan-European social welfare system, which is based on the indivisibility of all human rights rather than on neoliberal economic policies, then it would resume its pioneering role as a political organization that is uniting Europe on the basis of common European values.
(Exclusive speech for the Conference at the DAW, Vienna, 1 July 2020)
Making Europe’s future rhyme for the Next Generation
History does not always repeat itself but for Europe it does usually rhyme. Or at least it used to.
In the face of a virus that has taken lives and livelihoods across the world, Europe did not give in to age-old instincts or re-open barely healed wounds from the financial crisis a decade ago. Instead, we chose to pull each other through and invest in a common future.
This is why we can say that last week’s decision by the Leaders of the 27 Member States to endorse the European Commission’s recovery proposal was historic.
Firstly, the numbers. Europe will have at its disposal a recovery tool worth 750 billion EUR to support those hit hardest by this crisis. Called NextGenerationEU, it will invest in a recovery that builds a greener, more digital and more resilient Union for our children. This will be topped up by the EU budget for the next seven years, bringing the overall package to 1.8 trillion EUR.
Secondly, it is historic because of how Europe makes it work. For the first time on this scale, the European Commission – backed by the 27 Member States – will use its strong credit rating to raise money on the capital markets for NextGenerationEU.
In past crises, the better off survived while the most vulnerable paid a heavy price. But this time it has to be different. This time we can only get back to our feet if we all pull each other up. This is why most of NextGenerationEU funds will be distributed in grants to Member States to finance crucial reforms and investment. This is European money supporting projects and people from Flensburg to Freiburg, creating jobs locally from Cottbus to Cologne, and Europe’s strength globally.
Reforms and investment will be tailored to what each country needs and be in line with our wider European goals. For some, this will support reforms in the labour market to boost productivity, while others will focus more on education and training to help people develop the skills they need. Some will invest in improving digital infrastructure and others on transport connections. But, crucially, all will contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal. 30% of the overall 1.8 trillion will be ring-fenced for climate related spending and a new Just Transition Fund of 17.5 billion will help those people and regions who have to make a bigger transformation than most.
The third reason we can use the word historic is because of how the money will be repaid. To avoid sending a higher bill to Member States in the future, Europe should repay the funds through what we call new own resources. These will include a levy on big tech companies, a tax on non-recycled plastics and putting a carbon price on imports coming from countries with lower climate ambitions.
Some people will ask about why Germany should raise or repay money with another country thousands of kilometres away. The answer is simple. Europe’s prosperity lies in its unity, its community and its single market. So for us solidarity is actually self-interest and a euro invested in one country is actually a euro invested for all.
Think about what happens to our tourism industry if people from across Europe cannot afford to come to our Alps or to visit our Baltic Sea beaches anymore. Think about what happens to our manufacturers if they cannot get the parts they need from their suppliers in different European countries. Think about how the crisis has taken its toll on us all – on the wellbeing of people, the solvency of businesses, the functioning of society and the health of every single European economy. And it is not over yet.
This is why we need to act urgently, decisively and collectively. And last week, Europe has shown that it is up to the task. Of course, some will point to the long and difficult Summit and see that as hesitation or weakness. We see it as the ultimate sign of Europe’s unique strength.
Just take a step back and look around. Nowhere else in the world could 27 different countries even discuss financing their recovery and future together. We did it over one long weekend. At this very fragile moment in history, being in Europe is the best place to be. And now we need to keep it that way for all by working with governments and parliaments to bring this recovery to life.
Our Union should always be judged on what it can offer for the future. That vision of a common future enabled us to take every bold step in our history: uniting Europe after the Second World War or the end of the Cold War, creating our common market and introducing our common currency. Today, it is that same pioneering vision enabling us to make another historic step for our Union.
Where do we go from here? -revisiting words of Steve Clemons
On 1 July 2020,the first real-time conference in Europe past the early-spring lockdown took place at the Diplomatic Academy Vienna. This highly anticipated event, entitled From the Victory Day to Corona Disarray 75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System Legacy of antifascism for the common pan-European future, was organized by the International Institute for the Middle East and Balkan Studies, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace. (the entire conference proceedings are available
After the end of World War II, the United Nations was founded in 1945 to maintain international peace and security, build relationships among nations, promote social progress, better living standards, and human rights. The Nurnberg and Tokyo trials (1945-1948) prosecuted war crimes and contributed to the development of international criminal law as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). These laid down the foundation for the liberal international system that is based on the shared interest in maintaining rule of law, the cooperation to resolve security issues, and to maintain an open, stable system, in which institutions reinforce cooperation and collective problem-solving.
The first panel reflected on the legacy of World War II, collective security, Human Rights, and the importance of mutual trust within alliances. Discussions emphasized the testing times that we are living in, which unwittingly remind us of the set of challenges that the international system must overcome. Challenges that will commend other solutions, while testing the integrity of the current international system. During the first panel, discussions touched upon a crucial and complex issue, which came under the spotlight due to the severe worldwide effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of international institutions as well as the transatlantic relations.
As the health crisis started to unfold rapidly, an unprecedented macroeconomic shock was triggered. To slow the spread of the virus, national governments-imposed sanctions, lockdowns, curfews, closed educational institutions, and non-essential businesses. National borders were shut down in a matter of hours, governments started to look for unilateral solutions to solve their lack of medical and food supply, and suddenly it seemed like the globalized world and the relevance of the international organizations are fading away, as the interest to act in concert would not exist anymore.
National crisis management aimed at containing the spread of the virus and minimize the economic damages, at the same time sent an immediate warning that the collective problem-solving mechanisms are not functioning properly. It also demonstrated how interdependent the economic, social systems are and this magnitude of crisis cannot be dealt with unilaterally within national borders. As Mr. Steve Clemons, Editor-at-large, HILL pointed out in his intervention, the course that a nation should take is more in question than it has ever been before. ‘When you look at the Transatlantic experiment, it looked like it succeeded enormously until it stopped succeeding and working.’
As the C-19 crisis demonstrates, the scale of transnational threats cannot be dealt with on a national level. Combatting interstate terrorism, cybercrimes, climate change, the slow pace of clean energy transition, migration, global pandemics require transnational solutions. Meanwhile, countries are putting more emphasis on strengthening their positions as a nation in the international discourse and seeking a different role by redefining themselves and embracing other core values and institutions.
Attempts to look for alternatives and transform the existing institutional structure put in place after World War II have surged in the last decade, especially after 9/11, the financial crisis in 2008, but with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world arrived at another tipping point. As Mr. Clemons phrased it: ‘A point of diminishing return that these institutions need to be rethought, reconsidered, and recalibrated, that the power players that now guide much of the world need to be reassorted. There is no doubt that countries like Brazil, India, etc. are not included in those power centers, and yet they have enormous stakes in the way global affairs occur.’
A global power transition has been taking place for years, the question is how the shift from unipolarity will accommodate rising powers, who will be able to take the lead and fill the power vacuum that the United States leaves behind. As opposed to the rules of the liberal value-based world order, a new set of rules is being written by rising powers. Some of the political leaders turned back to ideologies like nationalism and populism, as a potential alternative to liberalism. Conflicts in recent years reinforced this tendency, like disputes between Hong Kong and mainland China, the Ukraine crisis, and Turkey`s autocratic behavior. In addition to this, the United Kingdom left the European Union and Hungary changed its raison d’état by redefining itself as an illiberal democracy.
Even the United States is less committed to the post-war world order. Demonstrating that by leaving institutions that It helped to build, such as the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Accord, questioning the legitimacy of NATO and certain UN institutions. Mr. Clemons stated that the United States has become a serious competitor with its allies to a certain degree and the notion of shared interest has diminished. He emphasized the different stand that the United States took in the C-19 event as oppose to its position in World War II: ‘The United States has chosen not to be the kind of leader that it has been in the past. It did not step forward in the C-19 crisis to help become a broker of strength and benefits and help support nations around the world. We may have done something here and there, but nothing on the scale.’
The set of challenges put the resistance of decade long alliances to a test. At the same time, they create the opportunity to find comprehensive solutions and more efficient problem-solving mechanisms for the future, by revitalizing and reforming institutions that are the cornerstones of long-standing regional orders, cooperation, and collective problem-solving. To stand resilient against global challenges like C-19, the transatlantic relationship must come back to its core values and redefine itself. Therefore, as a first step, it must be acknowledged what led to this harsh world without much leadership.
The strength lies within like-minded alliances and sharing the same core values as well as in the ability to come together despite the differences and finding a common ground again. That is what happened 75 years ago, after the end of World War II, when the United Nations was founded. Let us remember that.
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