Geographies in Depth

Q&A: Carl Bildt on the future of Europe

Carl Bildt
Co-Chair, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
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European Union

An interview with Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden, on challenges facing Europe in 2016

Is Europe in decline?

No, but the European Union is facing a number of serious challenges that force the different governments to act together in ways they are perhaps not always are prepared for. The Greece crisis was one example, the Ukraine crisis another, and now of course we have the refugee challenge. What I see is a Europe that is actually forged together by the joint crisis management it is forced into. But they must handle these acute issues in parallel with handling the more long-term challenges of economic transformation.

Is the greatest challenge facing Europe economic, social or geopolitical?

Essentially it’s political. I believe that while the driving force behind a vision of a more federalist Europe has faded, the necessity of actually working together on acute issues forces the countries together, and drives integration forward in a more pragmatic way. In today’s world, all European governments are too small to handle the challenges they face on their own, and – sometimes, somewhat reluctantly – they understand this.

carl-bildt-brexit

What should be the top priorities for Europe’s leaders in the coming 12 months?

Apart from the acute refugee crisis and its foreign policy dimensions, I would point to three large issues of long-term significance: the TTIP trans-Atlantic trade talks, the digital single market and the capital markets union. Moving forward on these key areas would also increase the chances of handling the Brexit (Britain’s exit from the EU) risk by demonstrating that the EU actually works on core issues. The importance of that issue can’t be stressed enough.

Name one thing that happened in the past 12 months that has renewed your optimism for the future of the region.

The fact that we have actually stopped Putin in Ukraine. His ambitions were clearly to move forward with his Novorossia and carve up the country completely, by military means if necessary. But the EU and the US demonstrated coherence and strength in supporting Ukraine and forcing Putin to stop. He still isn’t respecting the Minsk agreement, so we must stay the course, but he is no longer advancing. He had to throw himself into Syria instead to sustain his muscular image, but I very much doubt that this will do Russia any good.

How do you think Europe’s position in the world will have changed by 2020?

Well, the position of everyone in the world will of course have changed by 2020. How? The UK question is of course by far the most important. If we were to face first the break-up of the EU and then the possible break-up of the British Isles, Europe as a whole would be much weakened in the world on virtually every issue. There would also be profound concern in Washington, disbelief in Beijing and Delhi, and jubilation in Moscow.

The Summit on the Global Agenda 2015 takes place in Abu Dhabi from 25-27 October

Carl Bildt, the former Prime Minister of Sweden, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe

Image: A rainbow appears as a pedestrian crosses one of the Golden Jubilee Bridges in London January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

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