Europe: 3rd superpower
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2019 - 12:00am

It is to be expected that the main geopolitical concern of the Filipino people are events in the Asia Pacific region, especially contentious issues with China in the South China Sea. However, there are other major global events that may not have an immediate effect on our country; but, which will have dramatic geopolitical consequences even in the medium term.

One such event was the recently concluded elections for the top three positions in the European Union – the presidencies  of the European Commission,  the European Council, and the European Central Bank. These elections were critical because of the recent resurgence of populist leaders in Europe and the pending exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The persons who would be elected to the top three positions would signal what direction the European Union would take in terms of stronger unity versus division, greater financial integration versus greater economic diversity and stronger adherence to liberal democracy versus the rise of populism and the weakening of democratic institutions.

A more  unified European Union could actually become the third superpower in the world. It has a population of around 515 million people and  with a nominal GDP of $18.8 trillion which makes it the second largest economy in the world – second to the United States and ahead of China. Its combined military strength is actually the second largest in the world although its nuclear arsenal is not as big as Russia. In comparison, Russia has a nominal GDP of $1.7 trillion; and, China has a nominal GDP of $15.0 trillion. The European currency – Euro – is also the second most traded and utilized currency in the world next only to the US dollar. 

With all these strengths, many Asian observers wonder why the European Union has not established a much stronger international presence. Perhaps, the main reason is that the EU is composed of 28 independent nations (27 without the UK) and there is difficulty in unifying its national security, human rights and monetary policies. While there have been calls for a closer union or even moving from a confederacy to a federal union, the EU has remained divided into blocs.

The strongest bloc is composed of the original founders of the European Union – France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg. Then there is the Nordic or Scandanavian bloc, the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain and Greece. Finally there are the former Eastern European countries of Poland, Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. This last bloc is composed of  former members of the Communist Eastern European bloc and still have the weakest democratic institutions in Europe. There are observers who believe that the original six EU countries should have unified into a federal state before allowing other countries to join. Others also believe that in 1991, after the downfall of the Communist regime in Russia, the EU should have invited  Russia to join instead of making the Russians feel like they did not belong to the rest of Europe.

Just this past week, after nearly three days of intense negotiations including all night sessions among the EU’s presidents and prime ministers, a team of three high calibre politicians and technocrats to lead the EU’s institutions were finally chosen. 

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defense minister was chosen as president of the European Commission. This is the institution of the EU is responsible for proposing legislation to the European Parliament, implementing decisions, upholding EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. It operates as a cabinet government with 28 members of the Commission or one member per each member of the EU. The President is nominated by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was elected president of the European Council. This  is composed of all the heads of state of the 28 member states of the EU together with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. It sets the overall political direction and priorities of the EU. It has been described as the Union’s supreme political authority. However, since decisions are made by consensus, this has become an unwieldy body.

Christine Legarde,  President of the International Monetary Fund, was elected President of the European Central Bank. This is the central bank for the Euro and administers monetary policy within the Eurozone.

The elections of the three officials give a signal that the new leadership in Europe are in favor of a more unified Europe. French president Macron said : “ This agreement is the fruit of a deep Franco-German understanding and of our ability to work with our European partners...This decision is one which means we do not divide Europe – not politically nor geographically.”

It is believed that Macron was the real winner in these elections  with the election of Ursula von der Leyen who is very pro-European and open to Macron’s ideas on stronger defence and economic integration; and, Christine Legarde who is considered a strong supporter of the euro and the eurozone. Macron also said: “ It is an Act 2 that begins for our Europe...a new team, profoundly renewed, new faces, a breath of fresh air.”

We might have just seen the rise of the world’s third superpower – the European Union.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on July 20 with Gabriela Lee (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

 Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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