STOCKHOLM/MADRID – When Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament last November, he compared the European Union to a grandmother – pleasant and rich with experience, but lacking the vitality and energy of the past. It is high time, Francis argued, that EU leaders shed their dozy image, recognize the strategic challenges that Europe faces, and forge a clear policy for tackling them.
Admittedly, the pope’s characterization was alarmingly accurate in some respects. But, despite its seeming lassitude, Europe retains significant strengths. It is a hub of high-level thought and innovation; it is home to some of the world’s most competitive regions and industries; and, perhaps most impressive, it has built a community and market encompassing a half-billion people.
But the world is changing: the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly influencing global developments, economic and otherwise. The Trans-Pacific Partnership – by which the United States and 11 other countries would create a mega-regional free-trade zone – would most likely accelerate this shift (all the more so if China eventually joins). Though the TPP faces no shortage of hurdles to clear before an agreement is finalized, its potential to augment Asia’s economic power cannot be underestimated.
Europe must work to secure its position in the new world order – beginning by enhancing its own trade and investment ties with the US. The problem is that, as the TPP negotiations progress, talks on the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have become so deeply mired in domestic controversies that the entire project may well be scuttled.