Is economy the EU’s only remaining trump card?


Estimated time of reading: ~ 3 minutes

The 9/11 horrors continue to resonate with the world even though almost two decades have passed since the terrorist attacks. Many analysts agree that the events of 2001 reversed the way the international system works. According to many views, the terrorist attacks and then the actions taken by the United States and its allies in response to them, confirmed the role of the hegemon to the United States along with European partners as relevant actors globally. However, in 2021, did the United States remain a world hegemon in addition to the overall growth of the People’s Republic of China and the European Union? What role does Europe play in the system of contemporary international relations two decades after the peak of the unipolar era?

During its decades-long defense and security integration, the European Union has remained an incompletely integrated entity at the supranational level. Although there are a number of security and defense arrangements such as the European Defense Agency or the European Battlegroups, in 2021 the world is still missing a “European army”. Other problems of (dis) integration, which manifested themselves in Brexit or poor management of the migrant crisis, established a new Europe, that is, a new type of European integration.

A similar issue is happening with the economic flows of integration (Eurozone), which still do not include all 27 member states of the Union. If security, defense and international affairs are not the trump cards of the European Union, then is it the economy? Despite the lack of integration into the space that uses the common currency Euro, Europe is experiencing significant economic growth in the 21st century. During the first two decades, the European economy more than doubled. From seven trillion USD, the EU recorded growth to 16 trillion. It should be acknowledged here that in that period the Union became richer by 13 member states, but their economies also progressed significantly and did not lag behind the growth ratio in relation to Western Europe.

On the examples of numerous crises, the European Union has demonstrated that it is not the best mediator in conflicts. Since the crisis in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, through military interventions and numerous mediation efforts, the European Union has not crystallized as a global political and security player. However, in the field of economic aid, development and donations, the European Union is number one in the world without a doubt. The soft power projected by the European Union can be a cohesive factor and the only remaining card it can play on in its relations with third countries. However, internal political crises that occur in the Member States, but also among the Member States, can frustrate the economic component of aid recipients or actors with which the Union cooperates. One of them is the People’s Republic of China, with which the Union has signed a Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) that would make it easier for European companies to enter the china market.

Globally, the role played by the European Union seems to be changing so that its economic and political components intertwine in a vicious circle that creates a vicious circle. It is possible that in the general decline of power possessed by the United States, Europe, together with third players, will fight for its own place, which will provide it with an important political and security role in the world through strong economic power. It remains to be seen whether the new role (if the EU fights for it at all) will provoke new responses from the United States as its traditional partners. This will cause tectonic disturbances in relations between the two sides, which will inaugurate a new form of organization of the international system that we have not seen so far.

Written by: Nenad Stekić

Submitted on: 17.09.2021

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