Our common interest: Why Europe's problems need global solutions

The European Union flag and other flags at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The bloc is set to appoint its new leaders in the coming months. Photo by: European Parliament / CC BY-NC-ND

We are, once again, at a watershed moment for the European Union.

At the end of 2014, the EU and its new leadership could find itself in a stronger position, ready to play a more prominent role in the world and looking after its own interests while recognizing that those interests are reinforced by an international outlook that actively promotes stability, democracy and sustainable development.

The European Union and its member states could be working toward a shared vision of global cooperation, pooling expertise and resources — or they could find themselves at cross-purposes.

This year of change comes against the backdrop of an EU that is substantially weaker now than it has been at other points in history, struggling to emerge from a crisis, with 26 million people out of work, 124 million people at risk of poverty and social exclusion, and a rapidly ageing population. The rise of populists and euroskeptic political parties has altered the European political landscape, while on the international stage, the EU continues to struggle to assert itself as an influential global player.

Member states’ interests and foreign policies are not always aligned. Global problems in an interdependent world grow deeper, while global governance continues to erode — and yet the “rise of the rest” means that the EU cannot afford to disengage from the rest of the world and turn inward.

Addressing global problems is in the bloc’s self-interest. Greater welfare and equality beyond Europe contribute to achieving economic growth, foster investment and improve governance, all of which have positive spillovers in EU migration, asylum, economic, trade and security objectives. A sustainable environment in Europe will only be achieved if decisive progress is made in tackling climate change. Security in Europe will only be guaranteed if peace can be maintained in other parts of the world. Prosperity, sustainability and peace in the world also depend on actions in Europe.

The status quo is no longer an option for the EU. With new leaders to be appointed at the helm of the bloc’s institutions in the coming months, there is a window of opportunity to change step, renew ambition and foster joint action.

2015 will offer two key opportunities for the EU to show leadership on the international stage: the global agreement on a new sustainable development framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals and a global climate deal. Beyond 2015, there is a need for efficient EU collective action on the key substantive planks of a global agenda: effective global development cooperation with a stronger focus on reducing inequalities, more equitable trade and tax arrangements, a more coherent approach to conflict, and much stronger action on climate change.

The potential gains from cooperation have never been greater. Peace, prosperity and sustainability in the world as a whole are essential if Europe is to thrive. Now it’s time for a European consensus on a global development agenda.

Paul Engel, head of ECDPM, talks about the implications of a joint Memorandum for the 2014 European Leadership during a meeting of directors of the European Think-Tanks Group.

What do you think? Will the EU be able to rise again and help shape the post-2015 sustainable development agenda? Please let us know by leaving a comment below or sending an email to news@devex.com.

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About the author

  • Melissa Julian

    Melissa Julian is communications manager at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, and also represents the European Think Tanks Group made up of ECPDM, German Development Institute, Fundacion para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior and Overseas Development Institute. Julian has worked on communications around EU-Africa relations in Brussels for over 24 years.