DEN HAAG (PDC i) - The European Union is under great pressure to maintain peace and prosperity in today's world. Europe has the capacity to secure its future, but it requires a grand, inspiring vision pushed forward by great leadership. Existing social and economic structures need to change, and the need for solidarity has to be acknowledged. Only a revitalised Europe will be able to partake in the global arena of power politics. If Europe does not act, the doomsayers will be proven right. Complacency is not an option. This was the warning given by former Latvian president Vīķe-Freiberga i and professor of global politics Holslag i at this years' Europe Lecture.
Their words were sprinkled with both hope and harsh criticism. While the focus in this year's Europe Lecture was on peace and security, much attention was given to economic performance and the failure to increase the prosperity of the average citizen of the EU's member states. The economic weakening of Europe is both reason and result of increased competition on a global scale. Other powers, like China, the US and Russia, are eager to shape global politics, and their current nationalist stance is compounding to the loss of power of Europe.
A strong economy will not suffice. Europe needs to invest in a more unified foreign relations approach. The member states have to realise that it is for the good of their national interest to cooperate further. Defence spending, too, requires additional investment. The European Union needs hard power, something it is sorely lacking. All global powers are fragile in their own respective ways, and this breeds uncertainty. Tensions are rising and global military spending is increasing dramatically.
Hard power is also a necessity if Europe is to show strength vis-a-vis more direct threats. The crisis in Ukraine has made it abundantly clear any internal divisions in the EU, any weakness in a foreign policy response will be exploited by other powers. Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga reminded her audience Latvia was wiped off the map after WW II, occupied by Soviet - and predominantly Russian - forces. As a child she witnessed bombs dropping on her shelter, she was a refugee. When Latvia joined the EU if was their choice to do so, it was not forced upon them. Core values of democracy and security require the strength to defend them, in more ways than one. It is up to the current generation of leaders to ensure that Europe meets that challenge.