Europe’s Challenges in 2012

MADRID – For more than six decades, Europe’s integration process has been steadily evolving. Each step, from the European Coal and Steel Community to today’s European Union, was taken with the common good in mind, and was based on shared values (democracy, human rights, and social justice) and goals (economic growth, prosperity, and the consolidation of Europe’s international prestige). In the coming year, the result – the common rules and institutions that we Europeans have painstakingly forged – will be tested like never before.

In 2011, Europe’s foundations began to tremble, as the eurozone’s sovereign-debt crisis, set in motion by the global financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008, moved from the eurozone’s periphery to its core countries. The EU’s resilience – indeed, its very survival – is being called into question at a time of profound geopolitical transformation, in which a stronger Europe is essential.

Global power is shifting towards Asia and the Pacific. New – and newly influential – non-state actors have appeared, in some cases (for example, terrorist organizations) jeopardizing states’ capacity to guarantee national security. Nuclear proliferation is a growing menace, as shown by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent report on Iran. Progress on other crucial global issues – particularly energy security and climate change – has been disappointing. And the scourge of poverty and famine – most vividly urgent today in Somalia – continues to offend the very idea of civilization.

All of this stands in stark contrast with the predictions of a peaceful, predictable, and safe “post-historical” world that were popular at the Cold War’s end. The Arab revolts, unthinkable a year ago, now challenge a regional order that has prevailed for more than a half-century. The Japanese tsunami has called into question the future of nuclear energy worldwide. And, perhaps most remarkably, the relative global decline of the United States, the world’s economic and security anchor since 1945, became unmistakable in 2011, reflected in political polarization and paralysis – and punctuated by a credit-rating downgrade.