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Future opportunities, threats, challenges and goals of the European Union



Abstract: The story of European integration has been a remarkable achievement going from an economic union of six states to a supranational organisation consisting of a majority of countries on the European continent. Today, the EU finds itself in a shifting world order and a period of continuous crises posing many threats, challenges as well as opportunities to the European Union (EU) in terms of its vision. The aim of this paper is to list out the major opportunities, threats, challenges and goals of the EU in the near and distant future. The focus is on addressing long term trends rather than just the short-term implications of the present global dynamics. This includes both internal questions of the EU as well as those concerning the role of the EU in the global order. Similarly, I try to link the current issues to trends and patterns in 20th century Europe and how the EU can use lessons from its history to shape its future policy.


The EU has come a long way from the 1950 Schuman plan and the 1957 Treaty of Rome to currently being the world’s second largest democracy (EEAS, 2020) and third largest economy (World Bank). The EU currently finds itself in a global shift towards a multipolar world order (Dee, 2005), the largest change since the end of the Cold War (Krauthammer, 1990). This has several implications for the future of the EU, both positive and negative, both internal and external. Combined with this, the past decade has seen Europe experience the brunt of many regional and global crises such as the European debt crisis, the 2015 migrant crisis, Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 energy crisis and most recently the Russia-Ukraine war. While this has posed direct threats and challenges in the short term, the EU faces much larger long-term questions. However, this dynamic also presented many opportunities for the EU to capitalise on. Therefore, the current phase can be described as being the most critical period in the history of the EU yet. The EU needs to treat all these issues with a clear vision in line with their future goals, but at the same time, the answers to some of these questions can be traced back in European history. One thing that is certain is that the EU needs to act with urgency and unity.

Opportunities for the EU’s future

The emerging multipolar system has presented the EU with an opportunity to act with greater unity. The rise of China, India, Russia and others as economic and military powers surpassing most or all individual EU member states means that if the EU wants to be a major actor or a “pole” in the multipolar future, it is necessary for it to be a unitary actor on matters of global importance since none of the EU states would be able to become a pole on their own (Herolf, 2011, p.2,16).

The opportunity for greater unity also stems from the need for a more consolidated approach. The Russia-Ukraine war could be a positive factor contributing to a stronger European identity and common policies as was also seen post Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 (Gehring, 2021, p.1489,1500-01,1511). While the current situation is different, a parallel could be drawn to the latter and early post-war stages of World War II, a period which fostered ideas of European federalism (Wiener & Diaz, 2009, p.31-33). Therefore, while the European response to the crisis does not indicate a shift towards federalism, it might prove as an opportunity for further integration and unity in policies.

The war combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy crisis have forced the EU to focus its policy on resilience and strategic autonomy (Jacobs et al., 2022; Håkansson, 2022, p.2-3). This has given the EU an opportunity to reduce its vulnerability by streamlining the process to the two most important aspects of not only the priorities set by the EU parliament for its internal policy but also in terms of achieving the key foreign policy aim of “strategic autonomy” as set out by the EU in its 2016 Global Strategy (Alcaro & Tocci, 2021).

Threats to the European future

The EU is faced with many pertinent threats. According to the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) in 2022, the EU faces 15 risks that could cause potential harm to its stability and prosperity in the near future ranging from climate events, economic risks, etc. However, the two most pertinent threats that appear to be long-term threats to the EU are 1) Russian aggression and 2) Populism.

Russian aggression poses a threat to not only European security but also to European integration. For Russia, the expansion of the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) closer to its border provides it with a perceived threat to justify what might be seen as defensive expansionism. Its offensives in Georgia, Crimea and now Ukraine are clear examples (Dedman, 2010, p.2,185-190). This can be traced back to the post World War II era, when Stalin followed the same policy of defensive expansionism in Eastern Europe. The current scenario reflects a reactionary cycle created by EU/NATO expansion followed by Russian defensive expansionism. Irrespective of the realisation of Ukraine becoming an EU or NATO member, the prospect of this being a possibility led to Russia’s aggression. However, the 2022 invasion has led to Finland and Sweden, two EU countries joining NATO. Thus, Europe finds itself in a security dilemma (Kunz, 2022), since further NATO enlargement means greater Russian defensive expansionism. The need for the EU to become a stronger security actor has become clear and the EU has made its intentions clear to do so. While the EU’s capabilities might be seen as only complementary to NATO today (Borell, 2022), this will help the EU’s goal of strategic autonomy in the future. The rearmament of Germany can be seen as a positive step in this direction, but there is also a need for restraint and oversight on the part of the EU. There always lies a possibility of an arms race such as the one Europe experienced in the early 1900s (Richards & Waibel, 2014, p.37).

Europe has witnessed the rise of populist parties since the 2008 financial crisis and the 2016 migrant crisis. The populist movement poses two main threats to the EU. Populist movements in Europe have been shown to be based on targeting migrants and Euroscepticism (van der Woude, 2020; Noury & Roland, 2020, Buti & Pichelmann, 2017). The root of the socio-economic problems in Europe is seen to be European integration and the decision-making of Brussels. The rise of populist parties is not limited to the elections of the member states but can also be seen in the parliamentary elections of the EU itself. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that Eurosceptic parties make up 29% of the EU parliament following the 2019 elections, the highest in history (Desilver, 2019). This poses a major challenge to the EU as those who opposed the EU are themselves making decisions of the EU and a continuity in this trend poses a severe threat to the future of the EU (EU Council 2021). Similarly, the securitisation of migration is also a key challenge for the EU. While in no means comparable to the Holocaust, the targeting of immigration and immigrants by neo-Nazi populists as the reason for socioeconomic problems has similarities to Nazi Germany (Lazaridis & Tsagkroni, 2015).

Challenges for the EU

One of the most pressing issues for the EU remains that of integration. There are numerous factors to consider in this case. Should the EU aim to grow wider or deeper, or both, or neither? Meaning, should the EU pursue enlargement and add more member states or should it focus on greater integration amongst the existing members, which are already 27 in number. This challenge is even more pertinent after the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU. Is there a limit to EU integration (Thiel, 2011)? There are arguments supporting each of the above-mentioned approaches to EU integration (Wiener & Diez, 2009; Kelemen et al., 2014). The failure of the EU to ratify the 2004 Constitutional Treaty and the subsequent move to the Lisbon Treaty also highlighted the limits of EU integration (Carbone, 2010). Furthermore, the EU has not been able to come up with a treaty since then. Another issue remains: the question of being European itself. What are the boundaries of Europe, both real and cultural? Many conservative and nationalist parties in Europe are against any prospective EU enlargement to Muslim majority countries such as the Western Balkans and Turkey (Bélanger & Schimmelfennig, 2021).

Another important challenge for the EU remains that of climate change. Climate change and sustainability have been important aspects of the EU’s internal and foreign policy discussions. The EU has often demonstrated its ambitions to be a global leader in climate policy (Çelik, 2020). However, the EU has often been criticised for its climate change hypocrisy and unfair demands on developing countries (Gold, 2022). The EU has been repeatedly advocated for reform in the Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) framework which requires the developed countries to take more responsibility against climate change than the developing countries (Petri & Biedenkopf, 2019). A reason for this is that China and India’s responsibilities towards controlling greenhouse gas emissions are limited due to this, even though they are two of the world’s largest emitters (Friedrich et al., 2020). However, the EU itself is the third largest emitter in the world. Furthermore, the per capita emissions of EU countries are significantly higher than most developing countries (Worldometer). Furthermore, the energy crisis and the Ukraine war are also challenges to the EU’s 2030 and 2050 climate neutral goal. Therefore, not only the risks and vulnerabilities of the EU to climate change, but also its aim to be a leader in climate policy face several challenges.

Future goals of the EU

The European Union set four priorities for the 2019-2024 period including the protection and freedom of citizens, developing a strong economy, sustainability in Europe and promising European values and interests globally. While these are short term priorities, they are consistent with the historical tenets of the EU and at the same time provide a picture of the EU’s long-term goals.

However, according to me, the most important goal of the EU in its near future remains the development of its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The EU announced its Global Strategy in 2016 and its main goals include: 1) strategic autonomy, or not being dependent on anyone for their security and 2) promotion of a rules-based world order based on multilateralism. Furthermore, the EU has also realised the centrality of the Indo-Pacific in the future. The EU aims to play a more involved role in the region for this reason. The EU has always aimed to be a normative foreign policy actor, meaning that its foreign policy is not based on realist power politics but rather on exporting its values. While the EU has reaffirmed the importance of promoting its values in its foreign policy, it also announced its ambitions of becoming an effective geopolitical actor in 2021 (European Parliament). Foreign policy remains one of the least integrated elements of the EU, which means that the foreign policies of individual states and the EU can be competing or contrasting in many cases (Hadfield et al., 2017). However, it is also increasingly the most important aspect for the EU’s global goals. Therefore, it is necessary for the EU and its member states to take the necessary steps toward the development of its CFSP if it aims to be an important player in the multipolar world.


The EU finds itself in a crucial period where it is posed with both threats and challenges but also the opportunities to achieve its goals. The current situation has many similarities to what Europe was experiencing exactly a century ago, including war, a pandemic, and a changing world (Carr, 2020). It is clear that trends in many of the current events affecting the EU can be traced back to European history and the lessons from then can help shape today’s EU policies. However, while learning from the past is important, it is equally important to look towards the future for answers. The Conference on the Future of Europe held in 2021-2022 was a great initiative in this regard. While the EU might not be experiencing it most glorious moments, it still remains the most successful experiment in regional integration (Feng & Genna, 2003). Whether or not it will reach greater heights or see a decline remains a mystery, however one thing is for sure, the EU faces several questions in the changing global order and the urgency and unity with which it acts will determine its future.

Dhruv Nilkanth is a final year undergraduate student of international relations at O.P. Jindal Global University. His areas of interest include Indo-Pacific Studies, European Studies, Geopolitics, and Political Risk.

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Europe’s relations with Africa and Asia are on the brink of collapse, and Russia is benefiting

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Image source: twitter @EmmanuelMacron

More than one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world remains caught in the middle. Against a backdrop of high energy and food prices, ravaging inflation, social unrest and fears of another global recession, Western and Russian blocs are once again vying for support from nations of the developing world.

Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Sergei Lavrov, Qin Gang, and Anthony Blinken are just some of the names that have made high-profile visits to Africa in the last 12 months. All have largely focused on cooperation and trade, yet each has done so with a discourse reflecting a kind of Cold War reboot, with Ukraine as one of its most prominent symptoms.

Each in their own way, armed with their respective propaganda, these superpowers wish for nations of Africa and Asia to pick a side. Yet, unlike the previous century, those nations cannot so easily be made to choose, nor should they have to. Russia understands this. The West does not.

It’s no secret that Africa has been reluctant to overtly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or to participate in Western efforts to sanction and isolate the warring country. Instead, African and Asian nations have continued to welcome these longstanding partners with open arms – widely condemning the war, but not Russia.

In Malawi, for instance, Russia’s deliveries of tens of thousands of tonnes of fertiliser amidst global shortages are seen as a gift from heaven by struggling farmers. Malawi’s minister of agriculture shook hands with the Russian ambassador, describing Russia gratefully as “a true friend”. Russia’s announced plans to send 260,000 tonnes of fertiliser to countries across Africa, is certain to spread similar sentiments.

In my country Congo-Brazzaville, the government signed five major cooperation agreements with Russia in the midst of its war with Ukraine, including for the construction of a new oil pipeline and to enhance military cooperation.

This charm offensive, prominently led by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania just since January, is already nourishing pro-Russian sentiment throughout the continent, and stands in sharp contrast to the damp squib that was President Emmanuel Macron’s recent African adventure.

In his press conference with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President, Felix Tshisekedi, in what was perhaps the most deaf-tone faux pas of his entire trip, President Macron was repeatedly asked to condemn Rwanda’s support for M23 rebels causing havoc in eastern DRC – a situation that closely resembles Russia’s covert support for Donbass separatists in recent years. For all intents and purposes, he failed to do so.

Instead, when a French journalist quizzed him on former Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s disparaging mention of an “African-style compromise” in relation to President Tshisekedi election in 2019, Macron proceeded to lecture the Congolese President on freedom of the press – much to the disbelief of those witnessing the scene.

Despite President Macron’s effusive rhetoric about ‘new relationships’ and ‘new starts’, his outburst was yet another bitter reminder of Europe’s longstanding paternalistic and dissonant attitude towards the continent. This is the same attitude whereby decades of European political and military influence on the continent have failed to generate meaningful progress when they did not actively undermine those efforts. Africans are wise to this and refuse to take it anymore, as evidenced by the growth in anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Russia, China and others, though far from being without reproach, are merely seizing the presented opportunities.

Just as the share of EU aid going to Africa has declined significantly, similar problems are afoot with Europe’s relations in Asia. Its share of Southeast Asian merchandise trade, excluding China, fell by over a third over the last two decades. Western Europe was the destination for less than a tenth of Malaysian, Singaporean, South Korean and Taiwanese exports in 2021. Russia is again moving fast to fill the gap, adopting China as its main trading partner, and consistently exporting oil and gas to eager Asian buyers, rather than to the West. When Russia suspended its double taxation treaties with “unfriendly” countries around the world in mid-March, most Southeast Asian countries were exempted from this measure.

Moreover, Russia has over the last decade become the largest arms supplier to the region, recently running joint naval exercises with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have all rejected imposing sanctions on Moscow, whilst Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to improve agricultural trade earlier this year.

One cannot fault these nations for engaging in partnerships and cooperation with international partners, in the interest of addressing their most urgent societal priorities. Nor can one fault African and Asian countries for taking with a pinch of salt a discourse on international values and change, when this supposed change stems not from recognition of current flaws, but from the impositions of emergent global trends.

What lessons can be given about territorial integrity and justice, when the events of 2011 in Libya, as well as their enduring consequences, remain traumatically fresh in African minds, or when the posture of African countries relative to the war in Ukraine is almost identical to that of Europe relative to the conflict in the eastern provinces of the DRC?

What lessons should be drawn from European courts proceeding to the seizure of Malaysian assets and properties worth $15 billion – including lucrative oil and gas assets – based on a questionable arbitration authorised by a Spanish arbitrator facing criminal prosecution from the Spanish authorities? And who will really benefit, given that this claim on sovereign territories, derived from a mid-nineteenth agreement between a long-vanished Sultanate and a colonial-era British company, is funded by unknown third-party investors?

The willingness of European courts to confiscate the resources and assets of a sovereign Asian nation on such flimsy grounds is not lost on observers in Africa and across the developing world.

Whatever the answer to these questions may be, it is evident that relations between the old and new worlds will continue to strain as long as underlying assumptions and beliefs do not evolve. Specifically, change is needed in those attitudes that continue to consider developing nations as oblivious to the many contradictions of rhetoric and practice that characterise the world as we know it – whether in terms of: a system of aid and trade that nourishes the imbalances and ills it purports to address; a discourse on international law and values that crumbles in the face of past transgressions and current drives for reforms; or even negotiations on climate finance in which urgency stops when economic interests begin.

The Western world can only reverse this trajectory by seeking out a genuinely new footing in its relations with the countries of Africa and Asia – challenging its own assumptions and understandings about what a respectful partnership between equally legitimate nations truly means. This is not about paying lip-service to ideals struggling to remain convincing, nor is it about entirely conceding these ideals on the altar of economic pragmatism.

Rather this means accepting a due share of responsibility for the current state of affairs, understanding expectations for the future, being willing to make real concessions, and aligning discourse with dollars and deeds. In doing so, the Western world will reassure those of us that continue to believe in the promises of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these were not merely pretences to maintain hegemony in the face of existential threats, but rather an enduring vision for a better world that remains worth fighting for today.

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A Muscular U.S. Foreign Policy and Changing Alliances

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Imagine a country rich in fossil fuels and another nearby that is Europe’s premier industrial power in dire need of those resources — is that a match made in heaven?

Not according to Joe Biden who quashed it as if it was a match made in hell.  Biden was so much against any such rapprochement that to end all prospects of a deal, he ordered the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines.  Two out of four lines were severely damaged, about 50 meters of them and Russia chose not to conduct repairs.  Instead,it is pumping its gas up through Turkey.

So far, Russia has not responded to this act of war but a leader can not afford to lose face domestically or internationally, and one may not be surprised if an American facility or ship suffers an adverse event in the future.

In the meantime, Russia has become fast friends with China — the latter having its own bone to pick with Biden.  China, a growing industrial giant, has almost insatiable energy needs and Russia stands ready to supply them.  An informal deal has been agreed upon with a formal signing ceremony on March 20, 2023.

So who won this fracas?  Russia gets to export its gas anyway and China, already generating the world’s highest GDP on a purchasing-power-parity basis, has guaranteed itself an energy source.

Of course there is Ukraine where Biden (like the US in Vietnam) is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian.  Despite a valiant resistance, they are not winning, for Russia continues to solidify its hold on Ukraine’s east, most recently by taking Soledar and capturing parts of the transport hub Bakhmut itself.

And then there is Saudi Arabia:  hitherto a staunch U.S. ally, it is now extending a hand of friendship to Iran, which its previous king used to call the snake in the Middle East.  But Saudi Arabia is keenly aware of the vassal-like manner in which the U.S. has treated Germany, its ally with the largest economy in Europe, over its desire to buy cheap gas from Russia.  The deal was nixed and observers estimate it cost Germany a couple of points of GDP growth.  Such a loss in the U.S. would translate to almost zero growth.

India used to be a neutral country between the great powers.  In fact, its first leader after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement.  It is now being tugged towards the US.

The latest tug is ICET or the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies.  Its purpose is to find ways to engage through “innovation bridges” over the key areas of focus.  This coordination between the two countries is to cover industry, academia and government.

On the other hand, India’s arch rival Pakistan used to be in the US orbit for decades.  Now it is virtually a Chinese client state even though for a time, particularly during the Afghan war, it was a source of much help for the US.

Such are the vagaries of alignments in a multi-polar world, particularly when under pressure from major powers.

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Adoption of the controversial pension reform bill in France



Image credit: Roland Godefroy via Wikipedia

On Thursday, 16th March 2023, the senate adopted the pension reform bill with 193 senators voting for the project and 114 senators voting against it. A few hours later, after many meetings of key figures of the government and the Renaissance party –the governing party – , it was decided that the National Assembly was not going to vote for the bill but rather the government would use the famous 49.3, an article of the 1958 constitution which allows the prime minister to have a bill adopted into law without a vote. The Senate and the National Assembly – through a joint committee – had agreed on a compromise text of the bill the day before the crucial vote in the Parliament. The project was so important to President Macron that he threatened to dissolve the National Assembly if the project did not go through. Some analysts saw this threat as way of inducing members of the National Assembly to adopt the project rather than put into jeopardy their political careers. Politicians like Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, a staunch republican, claims members of the National Assembly had to vote the bill because they should be convinced that it is the best thing to do right now for a sustainable pension system in France.

When President Macron was elected in 2017, he pledged to change the pension system in France for he believed that it was unjust and that it would be difficult to sponsor it in the years to come since more people will be going into retirement. It is believed that those aged 65 will be more than the under 20 come the year 2030. Macron did not carry out the reform in his first term in office after meeting with different resistance like the one of the Gilets Jaunes; he probably feared it may cost him the second term. Once the first term was over, he was most probably determined to carry on simply because he is not scared to lose, his second term being the last one. The pension reform has been heavily contested, with polls in February 2023 suggesting that 65% of the French people are against it.

The reform moves the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. The change will be carried out progressively with 3 months added each year to make it two years in total in 2030. To have fully contributed to the retirement insurance one will have worked 43 years. People working in relatively hard industries like the police, firefighters, garbage collection will still be able to retire early. However, those who entered the career late like those who had long studies will have to work until 67 years. Disabled people could still go on retirement at the age of 55 while those who have suffered disability along the way could retire at the age of 60.

With the new bill having become a law, those who will have a complete career (43 years) will not receive less than 85% of minimum wage (i.e. 1200 Euros gross salary). Furthermore, the government believes it will be able to save 17.7 billion Euros by 2030 with the new pension system. According to the government, increasing the retirement age was the fairer way than increasing taxes especially that people are believed to live longer than in the past.

The left parties (La France Insoumise LFI, Les Socialistes, Europe Ecologie-les Verts) have made it difficult for the bill discussion especially in the National Assembly by proposing thousands of amendments to delay the voting process and even derail it. This is probably why the government feared to lose the vote and decided to invoke 49.3. The government doesn’t have the outright majority and has had to rely on the right party (les Républicains LR) to have the reform bill voted in the Senate but some of Renaissance members of the National Assembly were reluctant to vote for the bill and some LR members had said they would abstain, leaving the ruling party with no other choice than to use 49.3. The Prime Minister suggested that “the reform is necessary” and she was taking responsibility by invoking 49.3.

The reform bill was so unpopular that there have been protests for months spearheaded by the Union of workers who mobilized workers across many industries (i.e. energy, transport) and public institutions (e.g. education). Millions of people have been on the street, a reminiscence of 1968, when students spearheaded strikes in which 10 million of people took to the street to make request which resulted, inter alia, in the 35% increase of minimum wage. The objective of protestors against pension reform bill had been to make the government withdraw the entire project because they believe it is unjust to ask people to work two years more, considering that their career is long enough. President Macron seemed not interested to receive the Unions and had no intention to withdraw the project.

As a result of strikes, the city of Paris and some other cities in France have seen the bins fill up along the streets and residents are said to hold their noses as they pass by. For some this is not the image to show to the world for a city that is hosting Olympic games in 2024 let alone for health reasons but for others this is the price to pay for the actions of a government that does not hid the voices of the people. Transport on the road as well as in the air has been heavily disrupted. Those who don’t participate in strikes are generally said to support the actions of the protesters. However, it is unclear if they will keep supporting them if the movement lasts long.

Using 49.3 always comes with the risk that the opposition would present a censure motion, in which the government itself runs the risk of being forced to resign and the text of the bill being rejected if the censure motion is adopted. Before the Prime Minister announced that the government had chosen to use 49.3 to adopt the pension reform bill, she was not allowed to speak for a few minutes. Ivan Rioufol, a journalist at CNews believes that this moment is not just a big moment for the 5th Republic but also a historical moment. For now, the government has triumphed and one of the most contested reforms of French modern politics has become a law– at least if the censure motion does not bring down the government and along with it, the newly-adopted law.

Nonetheless, despite the bill being adopted into law by the Senate and through 49.3, unions have vowed to keep protesting until the law is suspended. In a recent BFMTV poll, 62% French people would want the strikes to continue if the bill passes. Now that it has passed, it is not clear whether the resistance will make the government change anything. Neither is it clear whether the movement itself will be able to resist long since the longer workers strike the more money they lose from the salary. With the inflation and conditions of life that have been hard due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine it will be hard to sustain the strikes. What is clear is that the repercussions of this reform will linger on for many years to come. One anonymous political scientist even claimed that this could open the narrow door to the extreme right to come into power.

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