Europe today stands at a crossroads, and how Europe resolves its current crises will determine its role as a major player on the global political scene, in Asia and elsewhere. Up until the financial meltdown of 2008, the European Union enjoyed the spoils of a common currency while member states still had economic sovereignty. Now, the debt of poorer EU nations has the Euro on the brink of collapse, smaller nations hold the possibility of derailing any resolutions, and austerity measures shrink member nations abilities to spread their influence, both domestically and abroad. European leaders now need to step up and decide whether they want a stronger more centralized Europe, or to go it alone and keep their sovereignties intact.
If Europe believes that sovereignty trumps centralization, the Euro would cease to exist, and the EU would become a defunct entity. Economic growth would wither away due to increasing deficits. Austerity measures would cripple governments. Cash strapped, these nations would look out for relief. Some would go to countries on the rise like China with its vast cash reserves, others to the United States, still the largest economy and most powerful military. In time the larger powers would have divided the continent and the nations of Europe would be vassal states to nations they once colonized. Global economics, especially among the 21st Century Pacific powers, would work against Europe.
The future is not totally bleak however. There is still a chance for EU nations to set up a stronger and more centralized union. With a common currency must come a common economy; debts must be centralized and the 17 Eurozone economies must enter a full federal union. Only then could the Euro be a strong international currency, and set the EU to be a major player in the 21st century.
Europe could then represent a third option, after a US or China dominated hegemony, in the scramble for Asia. The EU could make a stand for maintaining good relations between the US and China; for instance, it could help mediate such issues as climate change to help both curb their pollution levels. The EU could support US claims on such issues as human rights and currency manipulation and a strong EU would help maintain economic openness in the region with China, its largest trading partner. A strong Europe would also help preventing the Asian-Pacific region from falling into two camps between the US and China much as Europe did in the Cold War. In short, the EU could become a balancer in Asia while maintaining its strong standing at home. While EU nations would lose some independence, the benefits would outweigh the losses with gains on two continents.
Centralization would bring about some harsh times in the beginning, but with wise planning and a forward-thinking outlook, it would lead to an inclusive “Pacific Century” of opportunity for Europe, as opposed to one of infighting.
Benjamin Brower is a freelance writer currently based in Southern New Jersey. He is a recent graduate of Gettysburg College with degrees in History and French who wants to pursue a career in international relations.