Khaled Abou Zahr
The BRICS conference in Johannesburg last week was described as a symbol of an evolving global order. This has a clear impact on the future of the EU. Indeed, the EU finds itself at a crossroads in a world that is becoming more integrated. This is why a strong and focused response is required in light of the potential difficulties presented by the rising of new economic powers from the East, or what some call the Global South. In order to manage this new terrain while still retaining its global influence, the EU must adjust its policies, encourage innovation and create new relationships.
The global order has undergone significant changes in recent decades, with countries from the East emerging as powerful economic players. Nations such as China and India have rapidly transformed to become economic powerhouses, challenging the traditional dominance of Western economies. As the world becomes multipolar, the EU must acknowledge that its global influence is no longer guaranteed by economic might alone.
In order to face these challenges, Brussels must embrace a multifaceted strategy. There is no doubt that innovation should be at the forefront of its goals. This is the big differentiator even as the national economic output of rising powers surpass the European ones. In this field, the EU has a history of technological prowess, and must continue to invest in research and development to remain competitive on the global stage. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation, the EU can lead the way in crucial fields such as renewable energy, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. It is clear that the EU has still a great role to play and potential to unlock from within. Yet, in order to avoid the biggest risks of this changing world, Europe also needs to listen to its own growing powers. Indeed, the EU should give a bigger say to emerging powers in the future of the bloc. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania need to gain in the decision-making process of the EU in order to secure its future.
As an example of the rise of these countries, we notice that in 2021, Poland and Czechia exported machinery to neighboring markets valued at nearly €77 billion ($84 billion) and €63 billion, respectively. Hungary’s main export was electronic machinery valued at €29.6 billion, while Slovakia’s was vehicles at €28.4 billion. Why should Poland, the rising dynamic economic power, not have a greater voice? Or Hungary? All this shows that the power within the EU bloc is still not fully exploited. And developing this integration would give greater leverage for the EU’s global positioning. Brussels also needs to propose an updated pact to its global trading partners. For example, the environment in Africa is now more competitive both for markets and energy, so there is a need for a new approach in order to keep strong relations. In the same way, the EU needs to plan a strategy to engage and compete with the rising economies and preserve their interests. It is one of the facets of this new world as competition and collaboration collide.
Addressing these challenges might also require a reform of the EU’s internal mechanisms as well. Streamlining bureaucracy, promoting investment in disadvantaged regions, and harmonizing regulations across member states will make the EU more agile and attractive to both investors and skilled professionals. A united front will not only bolster economic prospects but also reinforce the bloc’s influence on the global stage. It is also important for the EU to unify its global strategy both economically and politically. It is an absolute necessity for the EU to speak as one voice. And it is an urgent one. There should not be division when facing global competition or new challenges. The EU has to adapt and compete differently on global markets, and in order to achieve this it should have a unique global political voice that represents the interests of all European nations.
One of the EU’s biggest challenges concerns the complexities of managing refugee and migrant flows, which has underscored divisions among member states regarding the distribution of hosting and integration responsibilities. Along with the impact of the pandemic, this has accelerated the rise of nationalist and populist movements in various EU countries. The worries of these nations and people regarding migrant flows need to be addressed with a concrete policy and not brushed off, or else it will become a real challenge to the EU’s cohesion, leading to increased criticism of EU institutions and calls for more nationalistic policies and departures similar to Brexit. The other big challenge is energy.
One thing is clear, there needs to be trust and boldness in the future of the EU in order to answer these challenges. The bloc must recalibrate its strategies and tactics while focusing on innovation. It needs to double down on its values and core mission. This means taking a bold step toward a unified foreign policy voice. It is the only way forward to protect the interests of all EU countries, and turn the old continent into a new power.