Why Europe Wins
Edited by Andy Ross
European countries are desirable paces to live and do business. In a global poll, 7 of the 10 nations with the best reputation for social, economic, and political success were European, whereas the United States barely cracked the top 40.
Analysts, diplomats, and politicians say Europe lacks the high growth, centralized political institutions, domestic legitimacy, and hard military tools required for an effective global presence. Many observers predicted the euro would collapse, enlargement would fail, and voters would reject European ideals. Yet the EU survives.
In recent years, Europeans have faced four big foreign-policy challenges:
In each case, Europeans quietly prevailed by deploying foreign aid, trade and employment agreements, the imposition of regulatory standards, the cultivation of international law and organization, firm but quiet diplomacy, and the promotion of democracy.
Russia annexed Crimea and covertly supported separatism in two eastern provinces. Since Russia enjoys local military superiority and accords great importance to Ukraine, realists counseled Europe to let go.
European leaders led a Western effort to face Russia down. Six years on, Ukraine — minus 7% of its territory — is now an independent country forging a relationship with the West. The war is winding down, negotiations inch forward, and most Ukrainians want to join the EU.
EU officials helped the Ukrainian government integrate with the West by adapting its legislation to EU standards. Russia pressed the Ukrainian president to reject an agreement. In response, protesters waving EU flags led a revolution that ended only when a new president took office.
European values helped spark the revolution, and EU aid sustained it. Under the EU association agreement, Ukraine has expanded exports with Europe to more than 20 times those to the United States.
The EU has an extensive integrated program of reform to align Ukraine with the West. EU competition law and infrastructure spending limits the power of Gazprom and ensures continued energy supplies to Ukraine. French and German leaders have led a diplomatic effort to defuse the military conflict.
In 2015, about a million irregular migrants arrived in Europe. Many were Syrian refugees seeking asylum. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe would like to migrate to European countries.
Europeans mounted a swift and successful response. The flow of irregular migrants declined to about 123,000 in 2019 and has continued to trend downward this year.
European governments adopted tough but effective policies. They constructed walls, fences, and high-tech sensing systems. They criminalized the transport of migrants. They removed EU policing and rescue boats and cracked down on NGOs that assisted migrants. When European navy ships spotted migrant boats in international waters, they towed them back to Africa or Asia.
Europe struck deals with transit countries. All have agreed to police their shores, house millions of potential migrants, and work with the EU border control agency. In exchange, they receive foreign aid, trade and travel concessions, and border control gear.
European governments remained resolute. They view reduction of uncontrolled migration as the only way forward. Doing so creates the political space to admit migrants on selective economic and humanitarian grounds.
Since 2001, extreme-right populist parties have increased their vote shares across Europe. They now participate in government in six countries. In Britain, they spearheaded Brexit.
Rather than panicking over populist threats, European leaders are hanging tough in negotiations with Britain. They dampened migration and terrorism and managed the coronavirus pandemic. Today, Europe is more united than at any time in recent history.
Only in Britain, Hungary, and Poland does an extreme-right or Euroskeptic party actually lead the government. Their extremism poses threats to the quality of democracy and rule of law, but their effect on foreign policy is slight. Brexit is the only major Euroskeptic achievement of a populist party in recent years.
Brexit happened in a perfect storm of extremely unlikely circumstances. Britain is the only European country where Euroskepticism attracts more than a tiny fringe of the electorate. Biased UK electoral institutions are what prevented EU supporters from prevailing.
Today, Brexit remains stalled. Britain is much smaller and dependent on Europe's good will to gain access for nearly half of its exports. The EU can take a tough stance in negotiations over the terms of the UK withdrawal. Britain is running out of options.
Populists elsewhere are moderating their ideas rather than following London's lead. The wave of populist Euroskepticism seems to have crested.
Europe's close partnership with the United States has been the bedrock of Western defense and economic policies for 75 years. President Trump called all this into question.
Trump started by threatening to pull out of NATO. But within three months of entering office, he took credit for the problem being fixed and said NATO was not obsolete.
The United States is unlikely to leave NATO. European countries remain trustworthy and capable allies. Most US forces stationed in NATO countries are there to support the projection of US power in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, and Eurasia.
Trump also took aim at European economic interests by threatening tariffs on EU exports. Yet his administration provoked only two small squabbles. The two sets of tariffs targeted just $7.5 billion in European exports each, compared with $300 billion in Chinese exports.
Trump dare not provoke a transatlantic trade war. US corporate interests are inseparably linked to Europe. The EU is a global regulatory authority.
European leaders pick their battles carefully and advance workable solutions. Their incremental and technocratic policymaking may be boring, but it works. European policies are sustainable and successful.
AR I ♥ EU