Editor’s note: The article was first published on Der Hauptstadtbrief. Rudolf Scharping is a former defense minister of Germany. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
Europe needs realism based on values.
The internal structure of Europe must be shaped in a way that enables the continent to meet our common challenges, as Europe has become rather small in this re-shaped and fast-developing world. After around 1989 and 1990, some saw “the end of history” with the triumph of the West. Europe, especially Germany, turns out to be the greatest beneficiary of it.
In fact, Europe was once the largest economic zone, accounting for 30 percent of the world’s economic aggregate. However, that percentage has dropped to nearly 15 percent now. During the same period, America’s share has decreased from 20 percent to less than 15 percent. On the other hand, Asian economies, China in particular, have been on a steep upward trajectory. Measured by purchasing power parity, China is currently the world’s largest economy.
But does this represent a threat? No, quite the opposite. For some peoples in the Far East and Africa, this is first of all a blessing. Economic prosperity means a roof over head for many, better education and health systems and growing incomes. In short, more and more people can have a better life, being free from hunger and hardship. Europe should think about politics more from the perspective of people’s wellbeing.
At present, people living in Europe account for only 7 percent of the world total, and will decrease to 5 percent very soon. A generation later, Asian and African residents will make up 60 percent and 22 percent of the global population respectively. For instance, Nigeria alone has nearly 400 million residents, more than the U.S. and nearly on par with Europe. Statistics from the Brookings Institution, a well-known American think tank, show that the European middle-class contributed 27 percent of global consumer spending in 2020 (four times as much as its share of the global population). By 2030, the think tank reports, this percentage will drop to 20 percent, while that of the Asia-Pacific region will register a growth from 43 percent to 57 percent.
Population, economic growth and purchasing power alone of course do not define future challenges and opportunities. The global challenges of climate change, the threat of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist attacks could only be tackled through international cooperation.
Europe is an active player in the World Trade Organization, but what about in the United Nations? What about in other international institutions such as the International Labor Organization? Where there is purchasing power, there should be production. This is why the decision made by Volkswagen under Carl Hahn to set up manufacturing in China had ground-breaking significance. The same applies to many German and European companies.
What about the norms and standards that made international division of labor and common prosperity possible? Europe, especially Germany, is still a front-runner in this area, but the need for further cooperation with emerging economies is urgent. Europe lacks initiatives in this regard as we are too focused on ourselves instead of the world. To develop a global vision, Europe, especially Germany, must move away from the “moral appeal” and head towards value-based realism.
To cite but one example. We want to stop using fossil fuels, but obviously Germany has neither the land nor sufficient wind and solar power to provide for itself. Moving fossil fuels out of the equation means Germany will need four times the amount of electricity it needs now to support the economy. We still need imports, as we always do, and this is also the case with raw materials. A comprehensive European strategy for industrial energy partnership with a focus on, for example, north Africa, does not exist yet. Unfortunately, for Europe and Germany as a whole, we are always better at saying goodbye than welcome.
Europe can and must brace up for itself and for the future. Its internal system must be efficient enough to meet the enormous opportunities and challenges the world presents to Europe. The world will not wait for a Europe trapped in an endless cycle of self-discovery.
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