Europe in Turmoil

By Sangeetha Madasamy, MALD’16

The Norris and Margery Bendetson International EPIIC Symposium is an annual five-day public forum organized by the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University featuring international practitioners, activists, academics, public intellectuals, and journalists. As a recipient of the 2016 Institute “Robert and JoAnn Bendetson Public Diplomacy Award,”, João Vale de Almeida, the EU Ambassador to the United Nations, was invited to speak at The Fletcher School on “European and Global Challenges: How “Perfect” is the “Storm.”

According to Almeida, the world is in a global storm where there is transition, changes in order, power, terror, and democracy, and a major shift in the economy. In our time, people are being affected on a scale not seen before. Much has changed from the Cold War, where the world was relatively predictable and bi-polar. There has been a major shift in power at all levels, and there is a certain amount of order which we do not see anymore. This shift is not only seen from east to west, but also north to south. Governments have become less powerful, and civil society organisations, political parties, and trade unions are playing a greater role in decision-making. With the emergence of non-state actors as terrorist threats, we live in an uncertain world where not all parties are represented in key decisions.

The 2008 financial crisis has displayed the extent of interdependence and interconnection of the global economy. There has not been a global recovery, but a new mediocre recovery – showcasing slow growth and low job intensity. Almeida emphasized that even in the global context we are not masters of our national economic destinies. Our world is very much affected by the emerging economies of Brazil, China, and India to name a few.

According to Almeida, populism offers simple answers to complex problems. National entities have become challenged by globalization as there is a large mismatch between highly sophisticated global economies and the improvisation of national economies. He admonished against simple slogans preaching to be the solution of all problems. There is a fear factor as public opinions are insecure and people are afraid of development. If unchecked, this could lead to protectionism, nationalism, and potentially non-democratic solutions.

There are too many links to the past which have not been updated – the mechanisms of global governance today have been built after the war, and the manner in which the UN has organized itself makes one think of the Cold War. Although the G20 was founded as an alternative, instrumental arrangement to deal with the challenges of the financial market, the ambassador has been concerned that there has been less cohesiveness since 2010. It is pertinent to look at ways in which global governance has been effective, and apply those successful strategies.

Almeida said there are 2 ways of looking at the current situation in Europe, and both are equally valid. One, views the situation as a foreign policy crisis with a domestic spill-over. The other views the situation as a domestic problem with a foreign policy “detonator.” What makes the current European turmoil different from previous crises? This crisis is not about new treaties and constitutions that have been defeated in a referendum. There is an enlarging gap between citizens and politicians, and people now are questioning the existence of Europe and its fundamentals.

The after-shocks of the financial crisis has had a vast impact on the European economy. Today, a growth of 2 percent is considered good; unfortunately, it is not enough to create jobs and social security based on the current 11 percent unemployment rate. Having a banking union and capital market union was unthinkable before the financial crisis.

Europe is now surrounded by the “Ring of Fire” – countries such as Russia, the Caucuses, Afghanistan, the Arab world, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. This “Ring of Fire” is considered to be in Europe’s backyard, and currently there has been no solution to the turmoil, only a vast impact.

The ambassador spoke about the refugee crisis from a humanitarian perspective. As people are dying, being smuggled, exploited, and drowned, it is important to maintain solidarity, share responsibility, manage how Europe relates to foreigners, and manage its borders. The ground is now fertile for populism, fear, and xenophobia, which should be avoided as much as possible.

Almeida concluded by saying that the debate in the UK and Northern Ireland about potentially leaving the EU has made this storm more “perfect” than previous storms. It has added an existential dimension to the turmoil. However, the ambassador was largely optimistic. He hopes that the storm the EU is currently facing will not fundamentally change things, and that we should not let it be become the perfect storm.

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