Europe in an increasingly uncomfortable world

Europe in an increasingly uncomfortable world

Thursday, 31 May 2018 - 5:00pm to 6:45pm
Venue: 
The Nissan Lecture Theatre, St Antony's College, 62 Woodstock Road, Oxford
Speaker(s): 
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s former Foreign Minister
Series: 
ESC Annual Lecture

The European Studies Centre of St Antony's College, University of Oxford, invites you to attend the ESC Annual Lecture, this year entitled, "Europe in an increasingly uncomfortable world", given by Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s former Foreign Minister.

Please note that registration in advance of the event is required as places are limited. Please go to: https://esc_annual_lecture_2018.eventbrite.co.uk to secure your attendance. 

Please email: european.studies@sant.ox.ac.uk for any further information.

The challenges facing Europe today are immense. Fundamental parameters are being shaken to the core. The EU as we know it today will cease to exist once Great Britain leaves the Community and the Western Balkans enter as member states. At the same time, the global political landscape is changing so dramatically and at such breakneck speed that even a distinctly more united Europe would find it hard to remain steadfast, especially as Europe’s traditional industry-based economy is coming under unprecedented competitive pressure with the emergence of a new, global and data-driven economic model.  In addition, the US are turning their back on their own liberal order in pursuit of a new approach ruled by cost-benefit. As a consequence, the disintegration of what we have always thought of as “The West” – i.e. the transatlantic alliance between Europe and the US – seems to be on the cards. Meanwhile, Europe can but register that other powers, in particular China, are rushing in to fill the vacuum while countries such as Russia, Iran and Turkey are currently demonstrating in Syria that Europe wields very little influence when it comes to the reshaping of Syria’s future. It is an uncomfortable truth that while we Europeans are busy giving lofty speeches lamenting the situation, others are busy recasting existing power structures. It is this political vacuum which allows the solutions presented by populists and the new nationalists to take hold in Europe’s societies.

The world has become a markedly more uncomfortable place than we would have thought possible at the beginning of the 21st century. And it is dawning on us Europeans that we cannot afford to remain sitting comfortably watching world politics from the sidelines. Disintegration and fragmentation of neighbouring states is resulting in a drastic increase in conflict, destabilising entire regions.  The situation is aggravated by growing opposition to the previously unchallenged trend towards globalisation and democracy. Central pillars of international relations are being questioned, such as multilateralism, international law and the universality of human rights. This in turn threatens to erode the very base of our wealth and security, increasing the likelihood of trade wars, arms races and armed conflict, while catapulting issues such as the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers to the forefront of political awareness. After decades of an ‘anything goes’ attitude, we are now seeing a shift towards order, certainty and hierarchy. But whichever way the world turns, Europe can only survive if it is capable of defining its interests and projecting its power. 

So, where do we go from here? What we need is to take a clear and realistic look at the world as it is, and not just as we would like it to be. That includes forging a strategic relationship between Europe and the US – with the United States remaining one of our most important international partners – while at the same time being able to identify and voice common ground as well as diverging interests.  And then, with regard to Russia, we will also need to be more coherent and explicit in defining our goals and interests. In fact, with the threat of growing global proliferation of nuclear weapons, we need to realise that only the joint effort of the US, of Russia and China will be able to curb this development.
In today‘s hawkish and conflict-ridden world, Europe has something important to offer. The European project is, after all, living proof that erstwhile enemies can become partners, and even friends. To this day it is something of a miracle that the nations that suffered the most under Germany’s terror are those who subsequently invited us to return to the fold of civilised nations and join them in their efforts to construct a common and peaceful Europe. It is because of the singular success of this project that we as Germans bear a special responsibility for the future of a common Europe.