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09/03/2013 | Readying Europe for This Global Age

Carl Bildt

Europe is taking the necessary economic steps to ensure peace within its own borders. But, as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt writes, Europeans cannot have peace at home if it has turmoil just beyond its borders. Europe must rise to the challenge of helping to create as large a sphere of well-governed and reasonably prosperous states around it as possible.


Next year, it will be 100 years since a fateful shot in Sarajevo unleashed those guns of August, which were made famous by Barbara Tuchman and the then-British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey.

Looking out from his magnificent office, Grey saw the lamps go out over all of Europe and wondered when they would come on again. What followed was decades of destruction, dictatorship, division and darkness.

For all the progress achieved in Europe since then, there have also been substantial setbacks. Quite late in the century, we could not prevent a decade of conflict from erupting in the Balkans, much as had been the case near the beginning of the century, with all the human suffering that followed.

Let us not forget the positive, though. What at the time of German reunification was still the European Community changed into the far more ambitious European Union, due to having 28 member nations, including the accession of Croatia this summer.

What we have done is to provide an anchor for open societies, open economies, the rule of law and freedom for the 100 million people living in Central and Eastern Europe. These values had been denied to them for two full generations and sometimes much longer.

The change has been nothing short of astounding. Take the Polish capital Warsaw.

Not that long ago it was a grey city in an oppressed country with a decaying economy. Now, it is a bustling and colorful metropolis in a rapidly growing economy of a country with its new free voice in the councils of Europe and the world.

At the same time, we have been struggling — and still are — with getting the mechanisms of deeper economic, financial and monetary integration right, notably within the eurozone area.

But for all the present doom, I find it important to point out that decisive steps have been taken. Substantial reforms to budgets, labor markets and public administration have been agreed upon by national parliaments.

Deficits are being reduced. The burden of debt is gradually being tackled. The labor market reforms will show positive results, even though they do take time to come to full fruition. That is not political ineptitude — rather, it follows the economic textbooks.

We simply need to understand the asynchronicity of the laws of economics and the media. The latter always focus on transmitting the pain to the public at large, which is undeniably associated with these measures.

The pain is immediate, and the payoff always comes later. The pain is news. The positive result, when it materializes, is by definition old hat and therefore not a "news" item.

Call me a Europe optimist, if you will. The economic turnaround battle will be won.

That is why, in my view, it is important not to overemphasize the eurozone's current troubles. They are important, but there is a larger agenda to be aware of.

Simply put, we Europeans cannot have peace at home if we have turmoil just outside our door. And here we face huge tasks in the decades ahead.

Seeking peace is now (thankfully) no longer about ourselves. It is primarily about how secure our neighbors are. We need to create as large a sphere of well-governed and reasonably prosperous states around us as possible.

After the integration of the 100 million people of Central and Eastern Europe, we now have the 100 million people of Southeastern Europe knocking on our door. Turkey, with its vibrant economy and society, is the most important of these countries.

Towards Europe's South, we face a Levant in turmoil and tragedy. The civil war in Syria kills hundreds every day. The Middle East peace process is neither a process nor on the road to peace. Egypt is struggling vehemently with its future.

And, immediately South of the Sahara, the Sahel region's fragility was recently vividly illustrated in Mali.

Helping to stabilize these regions and countries is a momentous task. We are talking about stability-promoting and state-assisting efforts that will have to be sustained for decades in order to have any chance of success.

All of the tasks on the European agenda today are steep ones — reforming our economies, strengthening our integration, developing our institutions, and strengthening our neighborhood by promoting integration, rule of law and prosperous economies.

There is a common theme that runs through all of these tasks and makes them part of a package: They are critical to make Europe truly ready for this global age.

That is what our contribution to global stability is all about. Those who see the EU as self-contented, merely reactive or even evasive and not ready to shoulder its responsibilities could not be more wrong.

The Globalist (Estados Unidos)


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