Yes, I know we’re called “Debating Europe”, so perhaps we’re not exactly neutral on this question. We’d love more people to be discussing Europe, not less… but is there a risk that the recent obsession with the European crisis is crowding out other items from the agenda? Earlier this month, we asked you if we in Europe are too obsessed with the economy, at the expense of issues such as environmental sustainability. More broadly, though, is Europe so self-absorbed at the moment that it’s not paying sufficient attention to any of the seismic changes reshaping the current world order?
The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, described the Arab Spring as “the most significant event of the early 21st century,” but can we really say it has been receiving Europe’s undivided attention? As the international system moves from a bipolar to a multipolar order, President Obama has been busy realigning the US strategic focus towards the Asia-Pacific region, whilst Europe’s response seems to be one of retrenchment. Is the rest of the globe going to wait for Europe to sort out its business or, when we finally emerge bleary-eyed from our crisis, are we going to find that events have passed us by?
In May, we attended the annual Security & Defence Agenda NATO conference and had a chance to speak to Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, Italy’s Minister of Defence. We’ve already held several debates (here, here and here) about the rise of China, but with the US now very publically shifting its strategic attention away from Europe and towards the Asia-Pacific, we asked for Minister di Paola’s opinion on the debate.
The minister’s main point was that:
Europe needs to open up its mind. We cannot continue to look down on our belly, believing that everything happens in Europe. We have to open up… to engage, together with the US, in the world. Engage economically, militarily, politically.
Earlier this year, Protesilaos sent us in a comment making a similar point, arguing that the “crisis of the euro should not dominate political talk, marginalizing the major challenges humanity will be facing in the upcoming years. A viable climate is much more important in the long-run than a functional monetary system.”
We took this comment to Staffan Nilsson, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, and asked him to react:
His main point was as follows:
Even if we are nervous and we don’t know what’s happening just now, we need to take a stance and we need to ask the leadership to take the right decision, and to keep multiple perspectives at the same time.
This was a point Staffan Nilsson returned to when we put a comment to him from Peter about whether the eurozone crisis wasn’t an opportunity to consider a new growth paradigm:
Staffan Nilsson argued that:
Sometimes, I have the feeling that when we speak, both in civil society and at the political level, we speak only one message. We have difficulties to keep different perspectives at the same time.
What do YOU think? Whilst Europe struggles with perpetual crisis, is it able to keep the broader global perspective in mind at the same time? Or have the problems in the eurozone been distracting Europe from finding its place in a changing world order? Are civil society and political leaders able to juggle both short-term and long-term issues, or is it inevitable that short-termism will dominate in a crisis? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.
Admiral Giampaolo di Paola is the Italian Minister of Defence.
Staffan Nilsson is President of the European Economic and Social Committee.