EU may become a superpower, if it implements reforms and overcomes the crisis

Although the European Union is not a traditionally understood state, it possesses characteristics of statehood. As a hybrid of a classic international organisation and supranational organisation, it does not have a counterpart in history1. The formula of a neomedieval union2 that based its universalism mainly on common values and soft power would be a realisation of the vision of the EU’s founding fathers3. However, the creation of a similar union on a multinational continent requires greater effort that would be needed to build similar unions in places with fewer cultural and political differences. This is caused in part because of the fact that the EU’s organisational complexity must take into account the structural differences between states and define the union’s interests through the harmonisation of different national interests that are often at odds.

Especially in recent years, the European Union has been losing its attractiveness in the eyes of its citizens4. At a time of growing Euroscepticism, internal weakness of the EU itself and a threat of war at its eastern borders (Ukraine), it is worth noting that a united Europe can still become a global superpower. This may be its last opportunity in history.

Views of the EU on the decline everywhere except Poland. Percentage of respondents reporting a positive opinion about the EU

Source: Own calculations based on data from Pew Research Center

The EU’s potential can be seen if we approach it like all other countries in the index. If the EU were to become a federation with one government, then the power of such an arrangement would hypothetically exceed the US. The EU’s power would reach 18.16 points compared to US’s 16.22 points and China’s 12.49. The EU, being for now a cultural superpower, globally perceived as an attractive place to live, could become a global military and economic superpower. Thanks to a properly managed integration, the weakening EU member states would gain a tool of international influence, which they never had in history.

30 most powerful countries in the world according to the State Power Index (in points) and the potential of the European Union

The result of each country is a portion of the total value of 100 points received by all 168 countries combined. The European Union's result is counted as a sum of all member states since 1991, based on the number of members in a given year.
Source: Own calculations

In the EU, there are three large countries with a similar number of points: France, Great Britain and Germany. Germany has announced higher military expenditures and in the coming years it may outpace Great Britain, which has a worse economic forecast resulting from Brexit.

Interestingly, Brexit illustrates two phenomena—one unfavourable, and second paradoxically favourable from the point of view of EU’s future. The negative phenomenon is the “free rider problem” known from game theory, were a beneficiary of some common good with low cost avoids paying for it, while continuing to benefit from it5. Great Britain has for decades benefitted from the international sphere of peace from Dublin in the west to the Finnish and Polish border in the east, along with the fruits of a long-term geo-economic stability.

It was to be expected that the bystander effect will occur in this country, especially since such an effect appears a priori. The lower the bystander cost, the more frequently it will occur. Great Britain is at the centre of western civilisation, having Europe to the east and the US to the west. This is why the Pax Europeana covering Great Britain from the east was assumed by a majority of Britons as permanent enough to say “no” to the EU. Great Britain will be able to benefit from this peace on the continent even outside the EU. In the future there is, however, a risk that other countries in Western Europe where Euroscepticism is growing, such as France, will want to take advantage of the bystander effect—even if it seems to carry low costs to member states.

On the other hand, Brexit illustrates the European Union’s great success: the microsystem of international security and stability created by it has become so comfortable and natural that Britons have come to believe in the delusion of is eternity. It is indeed thanks to the EU that we have in Europe a historically unique period of international peace.

Interestingly, unlike the countries at the western edge of the EU, Euro enthusiasm dominates its eastern borders—in polls conducted in selected EU countries by the Pew Research Center in 2016, Poles are the biggest euro enthusiasts6—so the citizens of a country on the EU’s eastern border, experiencing geopolitical pressure from Russia. The Hungarians—also belonging to the eastern part of the EU—are just behind the Poles.

EU favorability varies widely in Europe. Percentage of residents declaring a positive and negative opinion about the EU

Source: Own calculations based on data from Pew Research Center

In what direction should the EU head to strengthen its international position and move closed to realise its potential, which we are measuring in this report? Wrong political decisions related to migration and migrants may be responsible for the recent growth of Euroscepticism: according to Pew Research, 94 per cent of Greeks, 88 per cent of Swedes and 77 per cent of Italians are critical of the policy in this area and in none of the countries where the poll was conducted does the support for this policy exceed 31 per cent7.

Issues associated with migration will continue to affect the image of the EU in member states, especially considering the rising perception of a terrorist threat and the growing alienation and radicalisation of some of the migrants in the EU8. Pretending that the problem does not exist could soon lead to the collapse of the European project. Because of this, a long-term, further EU integration toward a more pronounced entity on the international arena will require an answer to the question about the EU’s cultural identity: whether in additional to equality and tolerance, the EU has common moral, cultural and spiritual values? How to counteract the growing alienation of some of EU residents?

At least five concepts about the future of Europe is currently considered, with each having its pluses and minuses9. Because of the disturbing trend of Euroscepticism, it may be beneficial to first focus on actions supported by a majority of EU citizens: deeper integration in the area of defence, security—including energy security—and foreign policy. Three out of every four EU citizens support further integration in this area10.

For now, the road to further integration in these three spheres is still far away. The European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2016 report11, which analyses differences between EU countries and evaluates their joint actions illustrates this problem well. The authors analysed the international problems the EU had to tackle in 2015 to evaluate the common thinking of the member states and the effect of their actions on the international situation. In each issue, they assigned labels to each country, depending on their willingness to support the leading decisional trend to solve a given problem (“leader”/“slacker”)12. In total, 12 situations requiring EU intervention were measured13. Germany played the “leader” role the most often (8), while Poland and Lithuania were the “slacker” the most often. (3).

Poland’s example was quite interesting—it was deemed a “leader” and “slacker” the same number of times (3). It received the first label for unilaterally seeking sanctions against Russia, supporting the Eastern Partnership and helping Ukraine. The second came from its reluctance towards military interventions outside Europe, reaction to the migration crisis and human rights violations in China14.

Leaders and slackers among EU member states in terms of foreign policy

Germany 8
Netherlands 5
Sweden 5
UK 5
France 4
Lithuania 3
Poland 3
Austria 2
Czech Republic 2
Denmark 2
Estonia 2
Italy 2
Latvia 2
Bulgaria 1
Finland 1
Luxembourg 1
Romania 1
Slovakia 1
Spain 1
Lithuania 3
Poland 3
Belgium 2
Bulgaria 2
Croatia 2
Cyprus 2
France 2
Greece 2
Malta 2
Portugal 2
Romania 2
Slovakia 2
Spain 2
UK 2
Czech Republic 1
Estonia 1
Finland 1
Germany 1
Hungary 1
Latvia 1
Luxembourg 1
Netherlands 1
Slovenia 1

Germany’s leadership role can be clearly seen in this list. It is able to set the tone for most of the debates on international topics. There is also a difference of group interests (especially related to security) between the West European countries and the eastern wall. For example, when it comes to the Eastern Partnership, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Sweden were labelled “leaders”, while France and Germany were labelled “slackers”15.

Ultimately, in 2015 the EU’s reaction related to the migrant crisis turned out to be a collective failure, while the EU was unanimous in the question of sanctions against Russia or relations with Iran.

According to the report, EU is failing the exam not only in foreign policy, but also in internal security policy—in 2015, it displayed a lack of unanimous willingness to invest in procedures to increase security after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Ultimately, the most problems with the lack of cohesion turn out to be caused by the primacy of national interests, the entanglement of decision makers in internal politics (seen as more important) and the different cultural values among the countries. The report’s authors state: “The crisis facing Europe illustrated its limits as a union of values, as a project for spreading stability, and as a club from which members derive mutual support in times of need”16.

  1. See P. Musiałek, Państwo, suwerenność i miasta w nowym średniowieczu [in:] G. Lewicki (ed.), Miasta w nowym średniowieczu, Wrocław 2016.
  2. Ibid., cf.
  3. See W. Bar, Sprawy beatyfikacyjne Roberta Schumana i Alcidego De Gasperiego w aspekcie ich waloru eklezjalnego, “Roczniki Nauk Prawnych” 2016, nr 3.
  4. B. Stokes, Euroskepticism Beyond Brexit. Significant opposition in key European countries to an ever closer EU, Pew Research Center 2016, June 7.
  5. See J. Hampton, Free-Rider Problems in the Production of Collective Goods, “Economics and Philosophy” 1987, Vol. 3, p. 245–273; D. Hausmani, M. McPherson, Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy and Public Policy, Cambridge 2008, p. 92, 240.
  6. B. Stokes, op. cit.
  7. Ibid.
  8. See A. Zięba, D. Szlachter, Countering Radicalisation of Muslim Community Opinions on the EU Level, “International Studies. Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal” 2015, Vol. 17, No. 1.
  9. European Commission—Press release, Commission presents White Paper on the future of Europe: Avenues for unity for the EU at 27, Brussels 2017, March 1.
  10. European Commission, Standard Eurobarometer 83 (Spring 2015) and 82 (Autumn 2014), op. cit.
  11. European Council on Foreign Relations, European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2016, 2016.
  12. The “slackers” and “leaders” labels do not apply to the final strategic advantages for the EU resulting from a given decision.
  13. Ibid. p. 148-149.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid. p. 48.
  16. Ibid. p. 13.