People make their own history; but not under conditions of their own choosing.
Europe is the smallest continent. After the war, it was also a ruined land that had deprived itself of agency by wanton destruction and the spilling of blood. Above it, the two great flanking powers of the 20th Century now towered supreme.
The Cold War created an environment, almost like a pseudo-vacuum, that allowed Europe to step back from international geopolitics. While the world around us moved and changed, Europe scrutinized itself, and Europeans focused on their social and economic problems. In the measure that there was overarching political debate, this was mostly related to the international standoff of the Cold War.
It is in this vacuum that the European project was born, and while it might seem normal to us, a given, in truth it is not: it’s ambitious, indeed one of the most complex propositions of international developments I can think of this side of the redrawing of the world map during the Cold War. Focusing on this project domestically was perhaps healthy during the postwar years. But it will not do anymore.
This is true even today: in cultural and political conflicts, or the great questions of our age, Europe is rarely a pathfinder, but this is deadly dangerous to our European ideals and values when it comes to the international arena. What has happened, and is happening, in our relations with Russia and with Turkey serves as a stark reminder that the lull is over: the vacuum is gone, and we are not living in the postwar order anymore.
The European project cannot survive if we refuse to engage with the world writ large. We need a coherent strategic vision. We need to clearly and honestly think of our role in the world, what we want it to be and how we are going to play that role, and the required institutional clarity to make it happen. More than anything, we need to speak as one.