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European polycrisis: is the EU under existential threat?

In Delivering on European common goods. Strengthening Member States’ capacity to act in the 21st century the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), an EU in-house think tank, has recently described in a surprisingly frank way the different ways the EU is declining. The report is centered around a number of themes; namely the rise of Asia, the increase of Eurosceptic populism, weak European militaries, poor quality migrants and weakness on R&D and tech. The report does not shy away from using strong words either. Speaking of a polycrisis that involved finance, debt, migration, Brexit and terrorism, the EU may, indeed be under existential threat. The image of the EU over the last ten years has been of an organization “too often caught off guard, too slow to respond and in constant crisis mode”.

The EPSC notes that amidst important shifts such as protectionism and the decline of the liberal-based world order, “the EU’s traditional regional partners – such as the Western Balkans or Africa – are diversifying their partnerships, looking more and more to the East, whether on trade, investment or security cooperation”.

With Britain leaving, the EU has also taken a hit in the military domain. While it is not obvious that the EU’s military budget should be compared to that of the US, as the EPSC does, the latter spends 3,3% of GDP on defence compared to 1,34% in the EU. Equally problematic, according to the report, is that “leading military powers such as the US, China and Russia continue to invest heavily in AI-related defence technologies, while Europe makes only incremental steps in this respect”.

Another important theme covered in the report is migration. The key message here is that the EU continues to underachieve on attracting high-skilled talent. Instead, since 2010 the EU28 countries have received on average 43% of the world’s new asylum applications and more than half of legal migration flows are driven by family reunification or humanitarian grounds. Labour migration only accounts for 15% of total migration.

The energy transition that has been attracting so much attention lately is also addressed. Here, the report warns that many consumers and taxpayers are unable to cope with the costs of the clean energy transition. The EPSC clearly shows how some regions and segments of the population are impacted more than others, for example by the rising costs of utility bills or work in energy-intensive sectors.

Overall, the Zero Hedge website, while praising the frankness of the EPSC, rightly points to the strange contradictions characterizing some parts of the report. Thus, regarding the section on migration they write:

[W]e note here the schizophrenia in official thinking which is rampant among the metropolitan classes across the West. On the one hand, opposition to immigration is interpreted as irrational, hateful, and will lead to ethno-religious conflict. On the other, it is discretely acknowledged that mass non-European immigration … is leading to “the development of parallel societies and even radicalization”.

Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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