BERLIN – If there is one historical episode that still makes most Europeans shiver, even after a century, it is the outbreak of World War I, the seminal European catastrophe, which began in the last days of July 1914. In fact, exactly one hundred years later, after two World Wars and a Cold War, those shivers are more pronounced than ever.
In view of Europe’s bloody history, the states that established today’s European Union opted for non-violence, the inviolability of borders, democracy, and the rule of law. They chose cooperation, even integration, instead of military confrontation, and economic development rather than power politics. But this “EU Europe” is now being thrown back in time and challenged, yet again, by the return of power politics on its borders and in its immediate vicinity.
In the East, President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin wants to change national borders by force and thus secure Russia’s reemergence as an imperial world power. Meanwhile, chaos and violence – most pronounced in Syria, Iraq, and Gaza – threaten to engulf the entire Middle East, challenging the territorial integrity of states that are largely a result of the World War I peace settlement.
Peaceful, postmodern Europe will find it difficult to cope with the challenges that the revival of power politics implies. The EU has more than doubled in size since 1989, when communism in Central and Eastern Europe collapsed; but EU Europe has not reached its final, politically integrated form. More important, it was not designed to meet the challenges of power politics; Europe’s old nation-states are too small and weak, while the EU’s common foreign and security policy remains insufficiently developed.