EU’s Role in a Changing Geopolitical System
by Aiveen Donnelly (January 13, 2017)
EU strategy statements have reflected this changing atmosphere. The first lines of the EU’s European Security Strategy of 2003 read: “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history”. However, this rhetoric has changed by 2015 as highlighted in Frederica Mogherini’s Global Strategy, which stated that “the world – and our perception of it – has become more dangerous, divided and disorientating”.
The current challenges are multi-polar and compounded by both internal and external pressures. Just to mention a handful of unparalleled events that have impacted the geopolitical environment and challenged the status quo in the past few years include a financial turn sovereign debt crisis, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, a mass influx of refugees and migrants, a Turkish coup d’état, a positive Brexit vote, a close call on CETA, and most recently, Donald J. Trump becoming president-elect. More precisely, with the strains faced by all players additionally being exacerbated by energy security issues and global climate change, the challenges will be presented as opportunities to reformulate relationships in favour of a transition to a circular economy.
Russia: The EU-Russia relations are mainly driven by a mutual need. A large part of Russia’s state budget is derived from gas sold on the European market, and a majority of the EU’s gas supply originates in Russia. This interdependency came to a front with the gas disruptions from Russia to the Ukraine, the main transit country to the European market, in the winter of 2008-09. Relations were further soured by political conflict and consequently the annexation of the Crimea in 2014. With mutual sanctions imposed by both the EU and Russia, the search is on for alternative partners. For Russia this is China, and for the EU, partners are found around the Caspian Sea including Azerbaijan. This shift in relations combined with the EU’s general policy promotion of renewable energies, represents a major change in the geopolitical environment. It does, however, simultaneously leave space for Russia and the EU to develop a new strategic partnership for the long run.
China: A refreshed EU-Sino engagement could be a win-win situation for both sides. China’s strength lies in its innovative progress in photovoltaic technology and industrial symbiosis, which could be the basis of a strong technological partnership wherein the EU views China as an equal partner. Conversely the EU’s strength lies with its regulatory power which could provide the foundation for constructive steps be taken towards developing sound intellectual property rights legislation to enhance the EU-Sino partnership. As the world becomes more multi-polar with the ascent of the BRICS economies, China represents an amiable partner to the EU regarding technological innovation to speed up a transition to a circular economy and provide mutual support in this.
MENA and SSA: The Middle East and Northern Africa are current hotspots of fragile and failed states, yet rich in crude oil, natural gas and petroleum. With this self-funding capacity, there is little political pressure that can be exerted. As a result, these conflicts have led to millions of refugees and internally displaced people. Sub-Saharan Africa includes a number of countries that are politically stable and are to large extent agrarian societies. With the effects of climate change visible on the one hand, and there being a need to increase rural electrification on the other hand, there is a huge potential to directly develop a renewable energy grid. In a general trend of the EU from humanitarian aid to development aid with a strong focus on sustainable agriculture as well as mitigation and adaptation to climate change, a truly empowering partnership can be developed.
USA: In consequence to the discovery and technological advancement in shale gas and liquefied natural gas, the USA is changing the dynamics of the global energy market. Throughout the Obama administration, progress has been made in taking on the challenges posed by climate change constructively. The EU has been a strong partner in this, and the trans-Atlantic partnership is to be further strengthened economically by way of TTIP. In addition, the USA is a breeding ground for innovative service-based start-ups that have been leading progress towards a digital economy, which is hugely important to the EU’s transition to a circular economy. Nevertheless, with a US president who prefers to drive a protectionist economy and claims climate change is a hoax, it remains to be seen if a progressive USA-EU partnership can weather the storm.
All of the challenges the EU faces as a result of a changing geopolitical system have underlying tendencies to be traced back to energy security issues. Many of these challenges can be controlled to an extent by turning challenges into opportunities. In the current geopolitical climate, characterised by unparalleled and far-reaching events, there is a need for the EU to respond with unparalleled and far-reaching policies to reformulate partnerships constructively. There is an opportunity to be seized in a transition to a circular economy. However this will not happen unless the EU-27 starts working together.
Aiveen Donnelly is Junior Policy Analyst at Bridging Europe
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