For too many years, the EU has been an economic giant despite rarely going beyond its position as an international political dwarf. In external policy, we can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that the European Union has taken the reins of the international agenda, has set the pace, using its political and economic influence to decide the world’s future. In both defence and external policy, as well as in international trade, Europe has always followed alongside or slightly behind the USA – always abiding by the individual agendas of some Member States, i.e. the French or British agenda. It is important to remember that the only external agenda that Germany takes into account is international trade, except for Ukraine; in everything else it is a political dwarf that is diminished or advantaged, depending on one’s point of view, by its absence from the United Nations Security Council.
I am raising this point following the recent meeting between Trump and Merkel and it is perhaps the only point until now on which I believe the new president to be right: Europe has to pay for its defence, it cannot keep living in NATO’s lap and in the shadow of the USA’s investment. This may therefore be the chance for Europe to reach adulthood, to be able to leave home without American military protection. It remains to be seen whether European public opinion is prepared to take on the financial and human costs of that responsibility. I have my doubts.
Regarding transatlantic relations, last week I had the chance to attend the Baku Global Forum, which brought together, among others, 150 current and former prime ministers and 50 current and former presidents, as well as other international stars, from Africa to Latin America, Europe and the former USSR. The Forum’s main theme was transatlantic relations. Of all the speakers that I had the chance to hear and meet, the most disarming and surprising was the Romanian-born American academic Edward Luttwak, who advised several former American presidents on strategy and defence issues and is currently working with Donald Trump. He had just returned from Russia, where he met several leaders of the Soviet regime on a mandate from the American administration. He did not hesitate to confirm to the roughly 500 people attending the Baku Global Forum that Donald Trump’s aim is simply to combat China’s growing influence on the international economy, even if doing so requires an agreement with Vladimir Putin. Trump’s problem is not Europe, Russia or the Middle East, it is the runaway influence of China and the impact that it has not on the world, but on the American domestic economy. His priority is to change that.
Trump’s strategy is beginning to become clear: the goal is not to diminish or ignore Europe but to halt China’s growing global influence, come what may, even if doing so requires a strategic alliance with Putin’s Russia and serious divergences from the EU.
As well as the five scenarios presented by Juncker’s White Paper, which are based, above all, on economic and institutional evolution, it is up to the European Union to decide what role it wants to play outside its borders: does it want to play someone else’s game or does it want to decide what game the others will play?
This is the climate created by circumstances driven by the European situation and stimulated by the White House’s new strategic alignment. The moment for Europe to take on its responsibilities in geopolitics is now. It needs to and has the opportunity to do so, and there is no scope or time for hesitation or wavering. Either Europe assumes its role as a leading political actor now or it will never be more than a global political dwarf.