Hubert VEDRINE, 
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, France                                       

« I see no option but for European powers to put their differences aside and tackle the issues head-on. »

« I see no option but for European powers to put their differences aside and tackle the issues head-on. »

« I see no option but for European powers to put their differences aside and tackle the issues head-on. »

In a video message, Mr. Vedrine said that the world is facing a series of ticking time-bombs. The first is environmental, with changing climate, declining biodiversity, deteriorating oceans and forests, and all at an increasing pace. This calls for aggressive greening of agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and construction— in short, every part of the economy. The second time bomb is demographic, with little population increase in Europe but a boom in Africa for decades to come. The digital revolution is another potential timebomb whose impact is already being felt.

All this is happening in a backdrop of geopolitical chaos and instability. The international community no longer presents a united front where things are clearcut, he emphasized. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Western world claimed a final, decisive victory for capitalist democracy and universal values. But it was merely the beginning of a new chapter in history. The West still retains vast power and wealth, but no longer holds a monopoly. New powers have emerged, with China in the lead. We don’t yet know whether this redistribution of power will be an orderly, negotiated process, he warmed, or whether we can expect more tensions or conflict. A lot hinges on US-China relations.

The big challenge for Europe is to find its place and a consensus in the new global order. However, the EU was never intended to be a power or entity in its own right, which is why member states are constantly jostling for position against countries like the US, China,  and Russia. Among the issues European countries have to address are:
• Standing firm against Trump rather than allowing him to dominate the agenda.
• Striking the right balance with Putin by being firm and dissuasive yet cooperative.
• Embracing the idea of a symmetrical relationship with China. • Finding a way to contain the threat of Islamic extremism.
• Working together to address the migrant crisis.

To understand the world we live in today, it is important to distinguish between powers and fora, he continued. The United Nations is a forum, but despite its name it is not really “united”. It is a space where the whole world comes together to talk. The same applies to the G6, G7, G8 and G20; nothing happens unless all the parties agree. The US and China, and to some extent Russia, on the other hand, are real powers. And there are other, old or emerging powers. In Europe, it is Germany and France, or Europe as a block in some areas.

So when we think about global problems, we should not appeal to powers that are not really there. There is no point asking what the UN or the EU is doing about something. We have to look to a specific country or institution, like the European Council. If we focus on bona fide powers—some cooperating, others competing or even feuding—we have a better chance of understanding how the world really operates, emphasized Mr. Vedrine.

However, we should be careful to avoid scaremongering. Yes, things are unpredictable and unstable, but businesses and organizations can still carry on their work, make decisions, invest, and think about long-term strategy.

He finished his video by touching on the euro. “There’s a wave of discontent across Europe. People are protesting against all manner of grievances. But not a single country is contemplating leaving the euro”, he pointed out. The UK has chosen its own path, but it was never part of the single currency and it remains to be seen whether Brexit will actually happen in a real way. There is plenty of unease in the Eurozone, but despite anti-European and Eurosceptic sentiments, nobody is planning to pull out of the block. These are internal issues that will make little difference to the currency’s standing among Europe’s partners and the wider world. Quite the opposite. “The entire European system hinges on the  euro—and I expect it to remain that way”, concluded Mr. Vedrine.