Decline – once it has begun it is difficult to stop, but the future of Europe is not an overly-centralized one ran by technocrats but instead will rely on refocusing on individual nations working towards common goals, Hungarian historian Mária Schmidt writes on her blog.
Perhaps the most difficult task is to give a new world order to a world which now has none, she writes. The reasons for this uncertainty are historical: In the second half of the 20th century, the two global superpowers assumed the role of guarantors of peace, while the rest of the world largely only enjoyed its benefits, without having to make any active contribution.
But in 1989 and 1990, both the Soviet empire and the former Soviet Union fell apart, and it was only thanks to the United States that the transition did not result in total chaos.
The then U.S. president, George H. Bush, defined the three pillars of the new monopolar world order as free trade, democracy, and human and civil rights.
Free trade – as we all know – mainly benefits the strongest. The U.S. has also been advocating for the export of democracy since after World War l, often with disastrous results. As for human and civil rights, the U.S. made it clear that in a world dominated by it, their rules should be followed.
Nobody really questioned this monopolar world order, since the U.S.’s military and economic might, as well as its technological superiority, were painfully obvious.
Beginning with the 1950s, the U.S. also began a soft policy of Americanizing global culture, through movies, pop culture, music, and fashion. American democracy and the American way of life have thus become synonyms for freedom and opportunity.
At this time, the rulers of the major Western European powers have, for the third time in the past century, come to the wrong conclusion that they have won and that no change is necessary or desirable. What they failed to realize was that World War I was won by the U.S., World War II by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and the Cold War was won by the U.S. with the significant contribution of East-Central Europe.
The monopolar world order, however, was but a fleeting moment that ended with 9/11.
We all realized our vulnerability and had to accept the fact that the enemy is no longer a well-defined entity. This made the still ongoing war on terror a process with blurred spatial and temporal boundaries.
Meanwhile, China is gearing up to be the center of the new world order, and India and the Muslim world are also gathering strength.
In parallel, the soft policies of the West have lost much of their appeal. Amid all these changes, Europe can no longer afford to postpone difficult decisions. It must change direction on many fronts in order to preserve its values.
Europe can only have a future as an alliance of equal nation-states. It cannot survive as an overly bureaucratic empire ruled by specialists.
The strength of the continent was always in that – while often in conflict with one another – its nations were also always able to agree with each other and form alliances. This has made and kept Europe for five hundred years the place where everybody learns from everybody else, where life is best, where living standards are the highest, and where culture shows the most variety.
It is up to us to keep it that way, to achieve renewal through conservation. This is the task at hand. But it cannot wait for long.