European troubles can forge a stronger union

Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden, gives his view on Europe and highlights three main challenges for next year, including the refugee crisis.

Is Europe’s economy in decline?

No, but the European Union is facing a number of serious challenges that force the different governments to act together in ways they are perhaps not always prepared for.

The Greece crisis was one example, the Ukraine crisis another and now of course we have the refugee challenge. What I see is a Europe that is actually forged together by the joint crisis management it is forced into.

But they must handle these acute issues in parallel with handling the more long-term challenges of economic transformation.

Is the greatest challenge facing Europe economic, social or geopolitical?

Essentially, it’s political. I believe that while the driving force behind a vision of a more federalist Europe has faded, the necessity of actually working together on acute issues forces the countries together and drives integration forward in a more pragmatic way.

In the world of today, all European governments are too small to handle the challenges they face on their own, and – sometimes somewhat reluctantly – they understand this trend.

What should be the top priorities for Europe’s leaders in the coming 12 months?

Apart from the acute refugee crisis and its foreign policy dimensions, I would point to three large issues of long-term significance – the TTIP trans-Atlantic trade talks, the digital single market and the capital markets union.

Moving forward on these key areas would also increase the chances of handling the risk of Britain’s exit from the EU by demonstrating that the EU actually works on core issues. The importance of that issue can’t be stressed too much.

Name one thing that happened in the past twelve months that has renewed your optimism for the future of the region.

The fact that we have actually stopped Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.

His ambition was clearly to move forward with his Novorossia and carve up the country completely – by military means if necessary.

But the EU and the US demonstrated coherence and strength in supporting Ukraine and forcing Mr Putin to stop.

He still isn’t respecting the Minsk agreement, so we must stay the course, but he is no longer advancing.

He had to throw himself into Syria instead to sustain his muscular image, but I very much doubt that this will do Russia any good.

How do you think Europe’s position in the world will have changed by 2020?

Well, the position of everyone in the world will of course have changed by 2020.

How? The United Kingdom question is the by far most important.

If we were to face first the break-up of the EU and then the possible break-up of the British Isles Europe, the world as a whole would be much weakened on virtually every issue.

There would be profound concern in Washington, disbelief in Beijing and Delhi and jubilation in Moscow.

* Courtesy WEF

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