I recently spoke to postgraduate students at the Harvard Kennedy School. It was a really brilliant class of 25-year-olds from Europe, USA and the Asia Pacific. The class quickly separated into two groups: Europeans and Americans. In a kind and humorous way, the groups teased each other on the history, role, and more often, the perspectives that the two Western powers hold of one another.
Later on, at a breakfast session that we organised with the European students, everyone who felt free to speak their mind said that Europe is seen by young Americans as a huge theme park, with museums and monuments (Louvre, Coliseum, Acropolis), and as a place known for its football teams, luxury products, and high unemployment. Europe was seen as many steps behind the United States, as regards to innovation, and Europeans were viewed as lacking globally competitive skills.
Naturally, one might argue that this is not entirely accurate and that the US also faces serious problems, but this is not the issue. What matters – and this was made very clear to me during my visit – is that all European students felt they had to defend Europe.
It is our task to ensure that future generations of Europeans see themselves as equals to Americans as regards their professional competitiveness.
Europe sought to exert global influence through the use of “soft” and “smart” power, deliberately refusing to use “hard” power as a means of achieving goals. Despite this strategy, it has fallen far behind Asian states and the US when it comes to innovation and technology. And given that this is what counts the most in today’s economy, it is clear that Europe’s aspirations to be a global leader cannot be met.
For decades Europe, as a soft power – marked by the principles of democracy, individual and social rights, tolerance and a welfare state protecting weak members of society – held unique appeal worldwide. However, throughout the current economic and social crisis, Europe has lost this attraction. The growth of extremist parties that threaten democratic institutions, in addition to the large inequalities which mark our societies today, are significantly changing Europe’s image.
We should face the fact that – as the Norwegian historian Karsten Alnæs has said- Europe should accept that right now it does not have the influence of a great power. History teaches us that in order to restart, Europe needs decisions and leaders, and in reference to Europe’s international influence, this means engaging simultaneously in a soft, smart and also hard power game.
In terms of political goals, this means a European Union with federal characteristics (political union, common financial, foreign and defence policies), high goals and immediate decisions.
Anna Diamantopoulou is President of the DIKTYO Network, Friends of Europe Trustee, former EU Commissioner and a former Greek Minister.
The issues confronting the EU as it moves forward in a time of economic recession will be further discussed at Friends of Europe’s tenth annual high-level roundtable The State of Europe: Tough choices for a troubled Europe on Wednesday, 2 October. Anna Diamantopoulou will participate in the roundtable.