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The New Global Puzzle

01 October 2006

The ongoing debate on the future of Europe suffers from a lack of perspective on the global developments that are changing the context of European integration itself. While Europe ponders its own future, the future of the world is in the making. The risk is that the Union and its Member States will be increas-ingly subject to, rather than actors of, change. The debate on the reform of the Union, its policies and institutions, and on the division of tasks between the EU and its Member States, needs to be linked to a strategic assessment of the rapid transformation of the international system, and its implications for Europe.
The EUISS Report ‘The New Global Puzzle. What World for the EU in 2025?’ provides a contribution in this direction. The purpose of this Report is to identify the long-term trends, actors and factors that concur in shaping the international system, and the position of the EU therein. The Report is divided into three main sections. Part I addresses some structural variables affecting change over the next two decades, with a focus on demography, the economy, energy, the environment and science and technology. The political dynamics and the strategic outlook of major international players and global regions are presented in Part II, while a final section highlights some key questions for the future of international relations, and outlines the implications of long-term developments for the EU.
The main findings of this Report suggest three main considerations. First, globalisation will remain a key factor shaping global politics, economics and also culture. Economic globalisation will bring considerable benefits to the populations of emerging economies, notably in Asia, but its gains will be un-evenly distributed. In particular, lack of governance reforms in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the worsening environmental conditions and the expected demographic explosion, may exclude many countries in these regions from the benefits of globalisation.
Second, twenty years down the line a multipolar international system is likely to have consolidated. In other words, after three centuries of Western hegemony, history is taking a somewhat more ‘natural’ course, with old/new powers such as China and India coming to the forefront and bringing with them their own distinctive sets of worldviews. The redistribution of power in its various political, economic, cultural and military dimensions will entail a redistribution of influence in setting the global agenda. In addition, the question is what type of multipolar system will emerge, whether this will be a relatively stable concert of powers or a system featuring aggressive competition for scarce resources and geopolitical influence.
Third, while the international system will be more heterogeneous, it will also be more interdependent. This will be the case not only from an economic standpoint, but also regarding global or regional challenges such as climate change, the progressive depletion of energy resources, water scarcity, and new pandemics. Effective governance structures will be essential to foster international cooperation in addressing these matters, although it is as yet open to question whether there will be sufficient political will to reform existing international institutions.
By 2025, Europe will represent only 6% of the world population, and its relative share of global wealth and trade will have shrunk. Contentious econom-ic and welfare reforms as well as the integration of a growing migrant population will be among the key internal challenges for many EU Member States. Based on current trends, the EU may also be surrounded by an increas-ingly turbulent neighbourhood, from Russia to the Mediterranean and Africa. Structural indicators of relative power, however, do not tell the whole story. The more diverse the internation-al system, and the more pressing environmental, demographic and energy challenges become, the more international leadership will matter in build-ing consensus towards effective multilateral solutions.
With its rich experience of continent-al integration and stabilisation, and intra-regional dialogue, the EU has the potential to be a front-runner in paving the way towards sustainable globalisation and effective multilateralism, thereby driving change as opposed to enduring it. The forward-looking global picture sketched out in The New Global Puzzle should enhance the debate on the future of Europe. By thinking strategically of its own future and of its position in the international system, the EU will be better equipped to reform itself in order to shape a more secure and better world.