Europe: The threat of the boiling frog | Popgen Tech
Europe’s power in the world is shrinking, which means a diminishing ability to prevent international developments unfavorable to its interests, says Professor George Pagoulatos. [AP]
The European Union currently represents less than 6% of the world’s population. Its share will have shrunk to 4.5% by 2050. In terms of purchasing power parity, the EU27 will have fallen from 16% of global GDP today to 9% in 2050. The world’s two largest economies in 2050 are likely to be China and India, with the US in third place. Turkey is expected to be the world’s 12th largest economy by 2030 and rise to 11th place by 2050, overtaking France (PWC, 2017). Although these projections are based on assumptions that can be disproved by future developments, the long-term trends are quite clear.
Just one more figure is needed to complete the comparison: the EU finances more than four-tenths of global social spending. Because its population is aging, because it invests in education. Because preserving democratic stability requires investments in social cohesion. This is why Europe represents one of the most developed regions in the world, a free democratic block of mature institutions, with rights, opportunities and social protection, ecological awareness and a commitment to quality of life – our European way of life. These are the criteria by which one chooses where to live, not the rate of GDP growth. This is also why millions of migrants struggle to reach Europe – not to China or to Turkey.
But the shift in numbers is inexorable: Europe’s global share is shrinking, along with its power in the world, which (all things being equal) means a declining ability to prevent international developments unfavorable to its interests. To maintain its standard of living, the EU must address its production challenge: with reforms, closer market and fiscal integration, and technological investment. It must also address its demographic challenge: with policies to strengthen families, extend working lives and integrate legal immigrants. To compensate for its growing power deficit, the EU must raise its common ambition, define its collective European interest, speak the language of power and European (not just Euro-Atlantic) unity.
The power shortages are already visible. Together with our closest transatlantic ally, the EU defends common values and interests on the Ukrainian front against Putinist revisionism. But Europe is also bearing the brunt of the energy crisis. US energy companies have made windfall profits of US$300 billion from the war in Ukraine – US$300 billion, mainly, sucked out of Europe’s competitiveness. Then comes President Biden’s “Buy American” protectionism, which loads European companies with subsidies if they locate in the US, posing a real threat of deindustrialization to Europe.
Along with Atlanticism, it is the ongoing political maturation, strengthening and deepening of the EU that will protect Greece in the long term from the dangers of our troubled neighborhood.
The allegory of the boiling frog tells us that the frog that stays in the pot while it is slowly brought to a boil will perish, while the frog that falls into boiling water will jump to safety. The recent wave of (poly)crises therefore comes with one advantage: Sudden crises help to activate reflexes, break down resistance, eradicate procrastination. Europe – and Greece with it – has so far proved resilient in the face of unexpected crises. The problem with the long term is that it slowly creeps up on us and provides constant incentives to put off difficult decisions. After all, political time has (at best) a four-year horizon; this is clearly not conducive to decades of preparation. In the face of complex changes that require highly complex mobilizations at various levels, the political system tends to find equilibria in inertia and procrastination. The greatest danger to Europe’s future – more dangerous than the “polycrisis” and the “permacrisis” – lies in a gradual, imperceptible, long-term marginalization and a decline of its power.
Given adverse demographic dynamics, Greece faces identical challenges, about which we talk so much but do so little. What is the take home message here? Next to Atlanticism, it is the ongoing political maturation, strengthening and deepening of the European Union that will protect Greece in the long term from the dangers posed by our troubled neighborhood. This means more readiness to support EU defense and political integration initiatives. It also means the adherence to a true European mindset and solidarity, which seeks to align national interest with the pursuit of a stronger Union. It also includes a public discourse that does not treat partners crucial to the European project (such as Germany) as competitors!
George Pagoulatos is a professor of European politics and economics at the Athens University of Economics and Business and director general of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).