Europe is threatened by disintegration. There are quite a number of people who don’t believe that the European Union will be able to rise to the challenges of Brexit, nationalist populism and America’s shift towards isolationism and protectionism.
Professor Burkhard Schwenker, Senior Partner at Roland Berger and a member of United Europe, disagrees. In a an essay for our website – here’s the link to the full piece in German – , he argues that the European Union can successfully negotiate both with the UK and the US on two conditions: it needs to be self-confident, and it needs to be able to use the leverage provided by its huge domestic market.
Europe should set its priorities accordingly and then concentrate on implementing them, Schwenker writes. “With all the actionism you get from Donald Trump, there is one point where he is right: ‘It’s time for execution!’ That’s certainly also true for Europe. Efficient implementation requires prioritisation. There are two priorities that are obvious for us: growth and defence.”
In his piece, Schwenker proposes that the European Union should concentrate on concrete measures in two areas:
- Strengthen the European economy and prove to young people in particular that Europe can provide them with a perspective of employment and hope. Detailed proposals already exist for much of what needs to be done here, including a revival of the single market and investments into infrastructure and digitalisation.
The key is to combine the industrial know-how, that much of Europe excels in, with digital competence. According to studies drawn up by Roland Berger, this could result in enormous growth opportunities – 1.25 trillion euro until 2025 if you take just 17 of the EU member states.
- Transform European defence spending: With a total of 203 billion euros, the EU is the world’s second largest military spender. But a huge part of this money is wasted because it is spent on 28 separate armed forces. According to the European Commission, the lack of coordination in procurement alone is costing member states up to 100 billion euro per year.
For Schwenker, this is not about creating a common European army, though he would be very much in favour of it. Instead it is about pooling and sharing, about common armaments programmes and about creating a single market for defence. European defence ministers could use the Munich Security Conference in mid-February to launch an initiative, he suggests.
None of this amounts to a grand new vision, and it’s not a particularly intellectual approach to the future of Europe either, Schwenker writes. “But if we do this, we gain time and we increase our clout. In order to get there, we only need to commit ourselves to setting priorities and acting accordingly.”
Schwenker concludes his essay with one more suggestion: the EU needs to communicate better. This is not about imitating President Trump’s tweets, but it is about being more immediate, personal and purposeful, he says. “The EU should put forward specific projects and goals to show what this is about: power, pride, self-confidence and the capacity to act.”