The European Union is 50 years old this year (2023). By any standard, it is a remarkable achievement that so many countries have come together, and stayed together, working peacefully, for so long.
The union, however, forged as a coal and steel alliance, has many issues it needs to address as it faces into the next fifty years.
The war in Ukraine has exposed Europe’s vulnerability in matters of defence. It has also possibly, revealed a belief, an expectation perhaps, that America would always be there to defend Europe in a time of crisis. America has been hugely supportive of Ukraine. However, its close alignment with Europe will change in the future because of global politics, as well as pressures from its own citizens.
The question of a European Army, a closer alliance or integration with NATO, possible conscription in the event of a future war, all need to be debated now so that countries have a clear roadmap for the future.
The issue of energy security really became obvious when Russia invaded Ukraine. This issue highlighted the European dependence on external sources for its own energy needs. The EU has spent a lot of time in recent years talking about food security (a very important issue), but now needs to look to security across multiple verticals to ensure that it can, indeed, stand on its own two feet in the future.
The question of values and whether or not there is such a thing as a European value-set must also be debated. A shared value, which needs no debate, is the belief in democracy. If this is universally agreed by members, then there needs to be a very real debate about what democracy looks like, and what steps other members are prepared to take to make sure that the club, to which all members pay their dues, is truly democratic.
There is also a question of a wider value set. The member countries are disparate and, as the EU continues to enlarge, will become even more diverse. While it is admirable that the block will continue to grow, it raises issues around a wider cultural value set that need to be debated. Issues around same-sex marriage, the education and status of women, the need for transparency in elections, respect for all religions etc.
The EU has been very good at presenting a united ‘face’ to the world, but this may well be an optical illusion. The tough debates are only now beginning!
Views in this article were informed by a debate, chaired by Alex Whie SC, which included Patrick Honohan (former governor of the Central bank of Ireland), John McGuirk (editor of Gript), Suzanne Lynch (journalist), Lucinda Creighton (CEO Vulcan Consulting) and Dermot Murnaghan (former Sky news presenter). JKF Summer School 2023.