Themes and Subjects

Europe and the World

The European Union has established a number of institutions, including the Office of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs that allow it to speak with a unified voice in important international institutions such as the United Nations or the G8 summits. Combining the strength of some of the world’s leading economic powerhouses with the unparalleled access to developed markets in the EU and EEA states, it is widely regarded as one of the world’s superpowers.

However, to what extent is it possible for Europe to have a shared opinion on international affairs? The 27 members have been divided on questions such as how to deal with civil war in Libya and Syria, the status of Kosovo or the Palestinian bid for UN membership. In light of the recent consensus on the military intervention of Libya, the question is whether Europe’s nation-states have a uniform set of international policy goals and pursue them together rather than separately.

The previous century saw superpowers rise not only on the strength of their economy but also on the might of their military forces. Like the US and the Soviet Union before, China is an economic and military stronghold. Should Europe pursue to project hard power in order to solidify its place in the new multipolar world order?

From the Debatabase

Society and Culture

One of the main objectives of the European integration process is the creation of a European identity. To which extent has Europe succeeded to overcome its turbulent past and reach the point where commonalities across borders overcome national differences?

To begin with, the question should be whether or not Europe should even strive to achieve that common cultural identity. Groups, either national or regional, fear that the European project threatens their traditional way of life, their values and their ability to continue as a distinct group.

On the other hand, there are many who argue that those values come in conflict with the social progress that European nations have achieved in the past century, or that those differences are what lead to conflict and bloodshed.

The two may coincide; Scotland is moving towards independence on the basis of its differences with England, Wales and Northern Ireland – but European integration is at the heart of the pro-independence movement.

Can Europe build a common identity and should it strive for one?

From the Debatabase

International Migration

The Arab Spring saw thousands of people abandon their homes and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach the European Union to avoid the violent conflict in their areas. The Italian island of Lambadeusa was at the centre of this flight, with iconic images of the local community helping refugees in makeshift camps being broadcast around the world.

However, there was intense political debate about whether or not these people had a right to come to Europe in the first place. Other states pressure the ones on Europe’s external borders, such as Italy, Spain and Greece, to tighten their controls on illegal immigration. The Evros river, the easternmost land border of the European Union, sits now next to a security fence designed to keep immigrants out.

Europe has a long and proud tradition of multiculturalism that is now facing increased opposition, not only from far-right fringe groups but also from leading politicians who call for a review of the way their states guard their borders. The question is whether Europe can continue being welcome to migrants and still achieve the social cohesion necessary for its continued prosperity, or if it should further close its borders to those that seek to be part of it.

From the Debatabase

Solidarity in Europe

The financial crisis has made the widening economic gap between the rich and the poor within individual European societies and across the European Union as visible as ever. The policy responses include austerity measures that try and limit government spending, but also minimize the amount of support that the less well-off communities can receive.

Minority groups in a number of places have started to suffer from stronger rejection by the majority, evident through the expulsion of Roma communities from France or the increase in xenophobic attacks on minorities across the EU. The crisis has given far-right populists the opportunity to blame the financial misgivings of their states on the presence of immigrants, gaining seats in parliament and, more worryingly, government cabinet seats.

Should Europe aim to achieve a uniform standard of living across its member states to ameliorate those differences across EU countries, or should it try and limit government spending across the board, aiming for a long-term economic recovery with consequences for those in need today? How can Europe counter the populist arguments and help minorities in Europe be accepted by the majorities in their societies?

From the Debatabase

‘Old’ and ‘New’ Europe

The Iron Curtain was the border of Europe up until the fall of Communism and the advent of the new republics in the East. Europe responded to this by expanding from 12 to 27 countries, a most of which are post-communist states.

There are two areas that Europe has not managed to complete the expansion process however. The Western Balkans are still largely outside the EU club, with Macedonia and Serbia standing as candidates despite the name dispute with Greece and the debate on Kosovo’s legal status.

On the other hand, Turkey has been a candidate for decades without achieving any significant progress towards membership. Its bid is complicated by the fact that it is a country that would soon be the largest in Europe by population and, unlike all other member states, is predominantly Muslim.

How can Europe address the question of integrating ‘New’ Europe into its structures? Where should Europe set its borders, at a time where countries like Georgia and Armenia see the European flag as a symbol of democratization and hope? Can Turkey ever become a member of the European Union, breaking the current opposition to it on the levels of EU states and societies?

From the Debatabase

The future of European Democracy

Many European citizens experience a great distance with proceedings in the European Union. They find it hard to follow what is happening in the EU and hard to comprehend what they do find out about political processes. Turnout for European Parliament elections tends to be quite low. Many people do not feel adequately represented in Brussels and talks of a democratic deficit have been ongoing for the past decade. 

Equally, many citizens feel that their national representatives are not connected to them either. Politicians are seen as representing their own interests, or that of the party, rather than seeking the best solutions to everyday problems of citizens. The rise of new parties in general and populism in particular all across Europe is testimony to the general feeling of discontent with the current functioning of European democracy.

The European Union has responded by creating the European Citizens' Initiative and by granting more powers to the European Parliament. States have responded by increasing the number of referendums, and by setting up new initiatives to involve citizens in politics. On the other hand, the economic crisis has propelled technocratic appointments that temporarily sidestep democratic rule in Greece and Italy.

Is there truly a democratic deficit in the EU that needs combatting? Are referendums a good way to involve citizens with politics? What do you think of the European Citizens' Initiative? What should the European Parliament have the power to decide on? And how should it be elected?

From the Debatabase