With more than 500 million consumers looking for quality goods and 2 out of the 5 world’s largest economies, the European Union (EU) is by far the world’s most powerful economic unit, followed by the United States and China. In 2014, the European Commission (EC) assessed that the EU alone was worth EUR 4.150 billion in trade, EUR 350 billion and EUR 650 billion more than the United States and China respectively.
Despite its prime position when it comes to economic weight and global trade, the EU seems not as geopolitically powerful as it should be on the world scene. Aside from France, the sole independent nuclear deterrent force on the continent, the EU desperately lacks the strategic clout that is necessary in proportion to the security threats it has to deal with and to the interests it has to defend abroad.
Counting on NATO – and thus the US military strength – the EU apparently renounced to become the world’s most powerful force. Instead, the EU has focused most of its efforts on opening its trade regime and building an integrated market. Yet, according to former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, today’s world context might provide the EU with an opportunity to take additional responsibilities and fill the global power vacuum created by the US – and likely to continue under the Trump administration.
If the idea is appealing, facts on the ground – especially in Brussels where the EU has to deal with growing discontent on behalf of EU citizens – rather show that the EU is being increasingly politically challenged, up to the point that it could disappear especially in case of a radical political change in any major country such as Marine Le Pen becoming France’s next President.
If Stubb sounds right when he thinks Europe should do more on the world scene, the EU first has to rethink the way it is organized and reconquer the Europeans’ hearts and minds before fighting for world leadership. For now and till the whole process ends, the Brexit – Europe’s Lehman Brothers according to Stubb – remains a big roadblock on the EU’s path.