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Make Europe Relevant Again

The competition between the US and China for technological supremacy has revealed Europe's fundamental weakness in the twenty-first century. A community of nation-states built around a shared project to ensure regional peace and prosperity is now surrendering its economic power and autonomy to foreign firms.

BERLIN – It is increasingly clear that the European Union was not built to be a global actor. The EU is a strictly European idea, designed to bring peace and prosperity to a region ravaged by centuries of incessant war. It was meant to mind its own business, leaving matters of global import to the two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Britain and France.

Under this arrangement, the EU achieved stability for its neighborhood. While other countries have pursued global political and economic strategies, we Europeans have relied on our shared history, democratic traditions, and moral compass in the service of fitful regional integration. But these strengths will not ensure Europe’s continued relevance. Economic change and technological advances (online platforms, artificial intelligence, automation, data monopolies, zero-marginal-cost distribution) are reshaping the global economy, upending longstanding power structures, and fueling political disruption within many countries.

This is where Europe’s true weakness is exposed. The EU and its member states have no effective response to the techno-political trends of our time. On one hand, the growth of supra-national corporations is reshaping standards across the global economy; on the other, China’s pursuit of technological independence (and then supremacy) is creating a schism in the world’s economic superstructure. These trends are somewhat contradictory, yet they have one thing in common: Europe is on the sideline.