European Elections, Geopolitics, and Transatlantic Relations: In Conversation with Dr. Peter Hefele

In the complex landscape of global geopolitics, the European Union finds itself at a critical juncture, grappling with multifaceted challenges ranging from internal divisions to external pressures. Against this backdrop, The Kootneeti Team recently interviewed Dr. Peter Hefele, Policy Director at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and an esteemed voice in European affairs.

Dr. Hefele’s insights shed light on the intricate dynamics shaping the upcoming European Union elections, the evolving role of Germany in European unification efforts, and the nuanced interplay between European nations and external actors, particularly concerning China and Russia

From the geopolitical flashpoints surrounding Ukraine to the intricacies of European elections and the shifting sands of transatlantic relations, Dr Hefele’s analysis provides a nuanced understanding of Europe’s strategic calculus. With a laser focus on the intersection of global trends and regional realities, he unpicks the threads of geopolitical intrigue, shedding light on the forces driving Europe’s geopolitical agenda.

Here are the excerpts:

Answer: It’s not a dominant topic at the moment. We have other pressing issues, such as migration, the war in Russia against Ukraine, and economic concerns like high inflation and uncertain prospects for the future. Of course, China’s role in the European economy is significant, but it’s not the primary focus of the election campaign. This is something that has been addressed in the past with certain de-risking strategies, and we will continue to manage it. However, it’s not the main concern for European voters. For example, if we talk about beer, I used to work at National Steel and was critical of beer imports.

This shows how certain issues, like economic restructuring, resonate more with voters. China’s impact on European policy has been somewhat overestimated. A few years ago, we established the 70+1 format, particularly in Central Asia, where European countries aligned themselves. Many have since withdrawn, showing that our engagement with China is not as influential as perceived. Our focus has shifted to competition in other regions like Africa and Latin America.

Our limited role in these regions is due to past mistakes, such as the lengthy negotiation process for agreements like the BRI. Our own policies sometimes contradict our objectives, making it difficult to achieve our goals. To address this, we need to make ourselves more attractive and open our markets. Despite the importance of trade in development, Europe faces challenges due to its protectionist tendencies, particularly in sectors like agriculture. The recent debate over carbon mechanisms, such as the CDM, highlights the complexities of balancing economic interests with environmental concerns.

Answer: In the case of Ukraine, it will be very important because there’s a possibility that Ukraine may become a member of the European Parliament. We closely monitor domestic developments as they are essential prerequisites for EU membership. This involves detailed assessments of reforms needed in the political, economic, and legal systems.

However, we understand that during times of war, implementing reforms can be challenging. Regarding other elections, particularly on the national level, there are many significant elections happening. Spain recently had elections, and there are also numerous local elections, adding to the dynamic political landscape. Additionally, we are closely observing the United States, as its elections have global implications. While elections in countries like India or Indonesia may not directly impact Europe, the US elections are of great importance. However, the context in Europe, especially during times of conflict, may shape how we perceive and respond to these international events.

Answer: Even before the elections, there’s already a significant impact, as seen in discussions about the US’s commitment to NATO and its relationships with other countries. Regarding the US elections, it’s crucial to respect the American voters’ decision, as foreign interference is unwelcome. Many of the issues currently debated are not new; there’s been a longstanding call for burden-sharing and increased defence spending by European nations.

While Europe has made some progress, there’s still much work to be done, particularly in areas like intelligence capabilities and military research. Coordination among European nations has been lacking, leading to inefficiencies in defence spending and project implementation. However, Europe’s defence capabilities must be strengthened, as relying solely on the US for protection is not sustainable. European nations need to take more responsibility for their own security and address challenges in their immediate neighbourhood, such as the Mediterranean region.

This includes engaging with neighbouring countries and offering them perspectives beyond crisis management. Open markets and economic development are crucial for stability in these regions, as failure to provide opportunities for the younger generation could exacerbate issues like migration and political instability. Simply transferring money or expecting neighbouring countries to solve problems on their own is not a viable strategy. Instead, there needs to be genuine cooperation and mutual respect. Additionally, Europe needs to strengthen its own border management to address security concerns effectively.

Answer: Germany is currently facing challenges that directly impact the European Union’s progress. While historically Germany and France have been seen as the driving forces behind European integration, the landscape is evolving. Central and Eastern European countries, despite being EU members for two decades, are gaining more influence.

The traditional roles of Germany and France in the unification process since the 1950s are shifting. It would be unwise to rely solely on these two countries for European integration. Instead, we need to involve other nations and explore what kind of integration is desired. There’s no consensus within Europe on the path forward. Some advocate for greater centralization of decision-making processes in Brussels, but this is met with Euroscepticism in many member states. It’s essential to carefully consider which aspects require centralization and which can be managed at the national or subnational level. Europe’s diversity requires tailored solutions that consider local conditions.

Strengthening the competencies of the European Commission and Parliament while respecting the principle of subsidiarity is crucial. This approach ensures that decisions are made at the appropriate level and addresses the diverse needs of European nations.

Answer: The issue is quite complex and has multiple sources. Primarily, it stems from challenges related to migration, integration, and failures in addressing these issues effectively. However, it’s not solely about migration; it’s also about people feeling disconnected from the political decision-making process.

Euroscepticism arises when citizens perceive decisions being made by distant entities without their input, contributing to the rise of populism. While populism isn’t necessarily the solution, it reflects dissatisfaction with the current political system. Established parties are struggling to integrate diverse voices, leading to the emergence of new parties and splintering within the political landscape. This phenomenon isn’t limited to Germany but is evident in other European countries as well. The rise of parties like AfD, which question prevailing narratives and processes, underscores the need for mainstream parties to address key issues such as migration, integration, and economic concerns. Failure to do so could perpetuate the rise of populist movements.

It’s imperative for centrist parties to listen to citizens, engage in meaningful dialogue, and offer viable solutions to complex challenges like energy transformation and social issues. This requires a vision for managing transformational processes and convincing the public of the path forward. Additionally, addressing these issues often requires cooperation and common regulations at the European level, as they transcend national borders and require collective action.

Answer: There are indeed countries, like Hungary, that have aligned with Russian interests to some extent, although it’s not pervasive across all European nations. While there are strong forces advocating for a different approach within these countries, they do not represent the majority. Support for Ukraine remains strong both among European governments and their citizens.

Despite economic considerations, Europe maintains solidarity with Ukraine. However, Europe alone cannot solve the problem, especially if Russia were to escalate the conflict further. The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s ability to react when faced with existential threats. Ukraine is seen as part of Europe’s security architecture, and defending its sovereignty is essential for Europe’s autonomy and global influence. The world is closely observing Europe’s response to this crisis, which has implications beyond the region.

Answer: The future of energy security in Europe is complex, especially concerning Germany’s reliance on external sources, which is unlikely to change significantly in the short term. Wind energy is expected to play a dominant role, particularly in northern European countries. However, certain disadvantages exist, particularly in southern Europe, where wind resources are less abundant.

Europe will continue to rely on imports for the foreseeable future. Efforts to enhance the efficiency of European energy markets and achieve decarbonization through technological breakthroughs are underway, but significant challenges remain, particularly in the transportation and steel industries. Transitioning to hydrogen as a replacement for coal in the steel industry is a complex process requiring substantial time and investment. Despite these efforts, European companies face challenges due to high energy prices compared to global competitors.

Additionally, with rising global energy demand from countries like China, India, Indonesia, and Africa, Europe must navigate changing markets and increase the production of non-fossil energy sources to meet future challenges.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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The Kootneeti Team

This report has been written by The Kootneeti Team. For any feedbacks/query reach || Twitter: @TheKootneeti

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