It’s hard to imagine that 100 years have passed – or only 100 years – since the Paris Peace Conference brought together 27 nations to shape the future after World War I to set the terms for peace. This attempt to create an international order that would prevent further wars was not successful, as two decades later the continent witnessed World War II and the Holocaust, one of the greatest human catastrophes in history.
One can speculate about the reasons for the failure of the post-WWI order, including the consequences of the 1929 financial crisis, the shortcomings or perceived unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles, the decision of the United States not to join the League of Nations, and the failure of the aforementioned conference to successfully put in place conflict-prevention mechanisms. But one thing is certain: Europe’s disunity and the absence of a new framework departing from the traditional power-based approach to foreign relations on the continent played a major role in allowing for the catastrophic events of the 1930’s, ultimately leading to WWII.
The European Union grew out of the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, where the idea of “victors” in war was put aside in favor of creating a cooperative and interest-based arrangement. Europe and other world powers had a second chance to create a more stable global order by being more inclusive, creating shared interests and values and establishing a robust rules-based and clear international legal framework. Likewise, the United Nations was created to be a stronger and inclusive international forum at which countries could air their differences, rather than on a battlefield.
Foundations are an important part in the chapter of European story, which over the last 70 years began to take a vastly different course compared to the days of the Paris Peace Conference.
The establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 created a nucleus for EU peace and stability. The European Economic Community in 1957 united the six founding European counties economically and politically. In the shadow of the Cold War, the countries of Europe began a revival with the full support of the US. When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989, the EU was the central framework to achieve European reunification based on the pillars of democracy, security and shared prosperity.
The European project has evolved over times and needs to constantly adapt to respond to new realities and the demands of European citizens. There have certainly been some difficult times across the globe – a resurgence of unilateralism and “grim passions,” nationalism, xenophobia, racism and antisemitism. Yet the EU and its core values and principles have demonstrated to be far more resilient than what many thought.
There were those who expected that the 2016 Brexit referendum would trigger a domino effect, with other countries following suit the British example. This did not happen. Quite on the contrary, the other 27 EU member states showed remarkable unity in negotiating the UK’s withdrawal agreement. The EU reiterated this unity and stands ready to define, together with our British friends, the future shape of our relationship – which should be as close as possible in full respect of our principles, including a level playing field.
The EU project remains highly relevant today and attractive to other countries which, like us, have suffered too many conflicts in their histories. The current interest of the Western Balkan countries is an indication that the EU remains attractive to our partners in Europe. The European Union offers a unique international model for peace, stability and prosperity.
With this unity in place, now we face new challenges that require urgent action, such as climate change. Our goal is to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and slowing down global warming and mitigating its effects. This is a task for our generation and the next, but change must begin right now.
THE EUROPEAN Green Deal is also a growth strategy. It will cut emissions while also creating jobs and improving our quality of life. It will run through all our policies – from transportation to taxation, from food to farming, from industry to infrastructure. With our Green Deal we want to invest in clean energy and extend emission trading, but we will also boost the circular economy and preserve Europe’s biodiversity.
The European Green Deal is not just a necessity; the transition to climate neutrality will be a driver for economic growth, new business models and markets. European companies of all sizes understand that everyone has to take care of our common home. They also know that if they discover the sustainable solutions of tomorrow, this will give them an advantage. The transition will bear significant costs, but the cost of non-action is much greater. The EU will mobilize €100 billion for a Just Transition Mechanism while the European Investment Bank intends to support €1 trillion in investment in climate action and environmental sustainability in 2021-2030.
The world has become more complex and more contested. New and unconventional security threats have emerged or grown stronger: cyberattacks, terrorism, disinformation, as well as the reemergence of armed conflicts on European soil.
We need to improve our defense capacity if we want to influence global events and protect our interests. Bolstering our joint defense capabilities and investing smarter is the way forward. A strong NATO and a strong European defense are complementary, as more cooperation on security and defense will advance Europe’s strategic autonomy in the long term. And if we care about peace and security inside Europe, we must deal with peace and security abroad.
While technology, science and connectivity open new horizons, they also create new challenges. Exploitation of big data will boost the economy, but only if citizens trust their privacy is respected and feel safe to share, and this is the reason behind the EU General Data Protection Regulation. Likewise, artificial intelligence will bring clear benefits, but will require an adequate normative framework to ensure that citizen rights are respected.
New technologies – just like food insecurity, climate change, environmental degradation, global security, trade and local and regional conflicts – can be effectively tackled only with efficient global solutions. Adoption of the EU Green Deal is a strong message from the EU. But even if EU is climate neutral by 2050, we only account for 9% of global emissions, and that figure is falling. After the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference’s (COP25) unambitious results, EU global leadership remains crucial to tackle climate change. We need to reinforce global cooperation on climate action. This is a serious foreign and security policy challenge with geopolitical impact.
For the EU, engaging in a multilateral system based on the respect of international law, cooperation and partnership is a matter of both values and pragmatism. This cooperative approach remains the most efficient way to serve our collective and national interests, as decisions taken in a multilateral framework have proven to be more democratic and inclusive, which makes them stronger and more sustainable.
For this reason, we must continue to strengthen rather than weaken multilateralism. Multilateralism is not an ideal – it is about concrete measures for our prosperity and security. It is about creating the conditions for our economies to grow. It is about free and fair trade, about avoiding war through mediation and dialogue, and about respect. We need to reinforce global cooperation on all these subjects.
It is not too difficult, looking back 100 years, to discern that a framework based on values of equality and human rights, and common interests of economy and security, is infinitely preferable to frameworks of victories and defeats, strong and weak countries.
This has been the secret of our success. The EU is a relatively young political project, but it is already learning from its own experience. It has to continually adapt to deliver to its citizens and to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Emanuele Giaufret, European Union Ambassador to Israel
Published in the Jerusalem Post on 1 January 2020