The EU institutions and the member states government structures are desperately trying to “recon” hard and soft powers during present uncertain times. Changes are inevitable: they cannot happen without an ideological re-conceptualization of those principles that have been so far guiding the EU’s internal and external policies. But first of all, with the war on the European continent, the EU shall be prepared to face tough times in dramatically changing geopolitical and the EU’s internal situation.
In fact, presently, “the idea of Europe” is going back to its origins: about 25 centuries ago when this idea appeared in ancient Greece. At that time “Europe” was both a geographic term and a personal name (remember the picture “Stealing Europe”); it also meant freedom and democracy, and Europe was meant as power in the hands of free citizens and an absence of autocracy.
In modern time, such notions as “united Europe” or “joining Europe” have been associated with supporting national independence increased growth and a states’ sovereignty against any outside/foreign oppression.
Thus, states in the European continent have been struggling for centuries to be free; so, presently, they will not accept the bondages of a darkest past, acknowledged the Commission. This is why, for example, the EU and the member states –by the end of 2022 – have provided Ukrainian defence efforts with over €20 billion on top of additional military assistance.
The European approach to security issues is multi-sectoral, including military, socio-economic and political (see note below). Over the years, the power of the EU has been defined in many different ways – from normative, to civilian, from regulatory to post-modern, and from soft or “quiet” superpower to the ethical one (see references below). All these qualifications were used to describe how the EU embodied a new approach to international relations. Hard power has barely been on the agenda of the EU. Its member states kept it predominantly in their hands, only enabling marginal debates in the public discourse of the Union. And yet, the EU has been able to shape the international order and norms, partially with its economic clout, and partially with its rising diplomatic outreach, leveraging the projection of its individual member states.
European long-term dependence on Russia and numerous sanctions connected to the war in Ukraine, has led not only to serious energy crises, but also to the EU institutions and the national governances’ changes in “strategic thinking” as a reaction to serious socio-economic catastrophe. Besides, the EU’s dependence on China is leading to future problems too; to avoid the conflict, the EU member states (and the EU institutions) should be forced to seek a better cooperation with the European neighbors. The EU-China issue should also include an updated 360-degree analysis of economic dependencies, including Chinese dependencies on the EU-27. The central point is of course strengthening “reciprocity-like” economic ties and the European multi-vector sovereignty and security. However “decoupling from China” is neither realistic nor desirable from the member states’ and European perspective.
In order to reduce incurred risks, an independent China Policy Expert Commission was recently established in the German’s Bundestag, which is aimed at presenting an annual “China check” to the parliament regarding dependencies on China in trade, technology, raw materials and other foreign issues, and ultimately developing a “de-risking” strategy. “That is, after all, a different tone from the American debates: as it is not about the end of globalization, but rather about more trade with more partners”, sound the opinion of German politicians.
It is interesting to mention the Germans’ opinion about China: according to a poll conducted recently by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), 27 percent see China as a rival, 27 percent think it is a necessary partner, and 23 percent perceive the country as an adversary; only 4 percent think China is an ally that shares the same interests and values. No doubt, that top German politicians are unanimous in attitude towards China, which is described as “untrustworthy, strong and aggressive”.
Note and references to security issues: = Borell J. “Europe in the Interregnum: our geopolitical awakening after Ukraine”, Brussels: Groupe d’études géopolitiques. 2022; = Manners I. (2002), “Normative power Europe: a contradiction in terms?”, JCMS: Journal of common market studies, Volume 40, Number 2, pp. 235-258. =Dûchene Fr. in “Civilian Power and International Relations: the EU and Multilateralism from the Twentieth to the Twenty-first Century”, in Europe: a Civilian Power?-London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-105; = Bradford A. (2020), The Brussels effect: How the European Union rules the world, New York: Oxford University Press. = Cooper R. (2000), The Post-Modern State and the World Order, London: Demos. = Nye J. (2002), The Paradox of American Power. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press); (2004), Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York: Public Affairs. = Aggestam L. (2008), “Introduction: Ethical Power Europe?” -International Affairs, Volume 84, Number 1, pp. 1-11.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been particularly defining moment in EU’s development: the war has not only played a significant role in changing EU’s traditional policies (including defence and foreign policy) but has also highlighted structural problems and inconsistencies among its member states. Despite the Union’s coordinated response at the start of the war, the challenges presented by the ongoing conflict have demonstrated that EU’s unity will remain fragile until institutional reforms are addressed and key divisions among member states tackled. The EU-wide unity is the precondition for a credible EU abroad, and the Union must first put its own affairs in order if it wants to become a stronger geopolitical actor.
The EU should define its role in a changing global order, decide how to stay relevant and rethink its long-term security and economic strategy. This cannot happen without an ideological re-conceptualization of those principles that have been so far guiding the EU’s internal and external policies. With the war on the European continent, the EU shall be prepared to face tough times in dramatically changing geopolitical situation.
More in: https://epc.eu/content/PDF/2022/Jubilee_Papers/Jubilee_Think_Piece_di_Carlo.pdf
Post-pandemic period in the EU-wide governance is characterized by active “dirigisme”: i.e. using such “instruments” as imposing EU-guided plans on “recovery and resilience” in the member states.
However, small EU states do not have “good facilities” to compete on the EU market: evidently, a self-indulgent spirit is already flowing in the European political economy with two main centers of competing global powers, i.e. the US and China. To counter the “dualistic pressure”, as well as combating post-pandemic calamities and a new war on a European continent, the EU institutions are preparing plans to revamp states’ industrial policy and provide additional support to households and businesses; the latter efforts are definitely against the age-old drive of the European antitrust policy and competitiveness at the expense of EU’s states aid rules.
While the present corporate community’s drive for decarbonization and net zero growth is a positive direction, a “standardized path” is difficult to elaborate to satisfy varied member states’ growth interests and priorities. The latter have to formulate adequate and feasible national strategies to create “new markets” for sustainability circular economy and positive climate actions which are to be attractive for investors and entrepreneurs.
Achieving net zero emissions is necessary to avert a climate catastrophe: to avoid it, it is necessary in due time to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement; the latter will require massive and transformative actions on both the EU and the member states’ political economy’s guidance. It also means that not only existing corporate practices, production models and supply chains shall be de-coupled from fossil fuels, but land degradation, reduction of various sources of emissions must be curbed. The new priorities shall enter the national planning process in order to move towards clean energy, sustainable goods’ production, manufacturing and agriculture.
Of course, the EU-wide program of “net zero transition” will require substantial investment, transformations in consumption models and new trajectories for corporate strategies. Besides, at the political-economy’s paradigm, it presents many opportunities for fruitful collaboration at all society’s levels, including national governments, local authorities, scientific community and corporate entities.
European future is tightly connected to sustainable and green growth, climate efficient measures, digital and energy transitions, etc. Green skills and sustainability decisions, environmental competencies, etc. shall be more widely adopted in modern rapidly changing national educational systems. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), green skills are urgently needed in a low-carbon economies; they will be required in all sectors and at all levels in the workforce as economic activities create new and/or renewed occupations. Without adequate skills and training there will be no green economy to deliver necessary transitions in societies. Such skills are required both for the public and private sectors; actually, most present workplaces need staff equipped with “green skills”, i.e. technicians, engineers (as well as those doing first and secondary jobs). These are vital in terms of achieving a fast-moving agenda to get to net zero by 2040-2050.
National political economy’s agenda have to create awareness of climate change measures as well as sustainability decisions and renewable energy in all of public and private sectors. Universities and high schools, professors and researchers have to cooperate actively with policymakers and business leaders on issues that support sustainability, climate change and low-carbon transition.
As global economies shift from linear to circular economies, the need to build on green skills and competencies becomes critical across sectors and industries, and the role of universities in developing these skills becomes more evident, participants at the recent COP27 summit held in Egypt heard. During an event themed “Capacity building on green skills to enable local, regional and international climate action” on 17 November, global climate actors from researchers to university leaders, policymakers and civic society representatives met to discuss the urgent need to build on skills relevant in the transition to low carbon economies.
The attention to education has been visualized in a EU-wide efforts to reforming education by providing additional support for skills and new workforces: hence, the European Year of Skills for 2023-24. It is well-known that education is a key to helping people navigating in modern increasingly complex and interconnected world: national education systems play a focal role in fostering knowledge and skills among young people and provide inclusive learning opportunities in attracting people from other parts of the world.
Also important is the role of education/training providers: most teachers are confident in their ability to teach in multicultural settings; though, lack of adequate professional skills hampers the process. Thus, few teachers recognized having received training on teaching in multicultural and multilingual settings.
Recent Commission’s review concludes that:
= the EU member states are adopting and implementing measures to better match the labour market changes for students, employees, jobseekers and those inactive in employment. Thus, 17 EU member states roll out digital skills initiatives and in about 11 member states put forward initiatives on green skills development. The majority of EU states (18 members) are taking action to promote access and participation in education while one third of EU governments (or 9 states) put the emphasis on improving forecasting mechanisms.
= The dominant approach that employers use to address skills shortages, reported in all EU member states, is through their own on-the-job and off-the-job trainings (often used by large companies) or through publicly funded training schemes.
= Cooperation with a wide range of labour market and education and training actors is also seen by employers in all EU member states as key to improve matching between the workforce skills and labour market needs.
Source: CEDEFOP: European Skills Index: http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/events-and-projects/projects/european-skills-index-esi; and CEDEFOP: Forecasting Skills Demand and Supply http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/events-and-projects/projects/forecasting-skill-demand-and-supply;
National education systems have to introduce new curricula and programs to include “green skills” for all levels of community and environmental services. Such programs are deemed to be based on cross-disciplinary approach, with environmental sciences as the basis of studies across different areas such as politics and law, engineering and agriculture, technology and economics. High schools and academic institutions have to be also involved in delivering programs to upskill and reskill staff in public and private sectors, as well as within faculty members to transform existing programs and curriculum.
Labour market in most EU states is still “very hot”: for example, prevalent policy in the states to resolve labour shortages is of a triple approach: a) through active migration policies to attract foreign labour (in 11 EU states), b) use of wage increase leverage in corporate sectors and employers’ organisations (policy direction in 12 EU states), and c) improving working conditions (in the rest of EU states).
See more in: Eteris E. and Sparitis O. Modern Educational Revolution: Challenges and Solutions. – LAP, 2022. -144 pp.