Opinions European elections

The Geopolitical Significance of the European Democracy

, by Andrea Colli - ordinario presso il Dipartimento di scienze sociali e politiche
The upcoming vote is crucial for the EU as it faces significant geopolitical shifts and seeks to maintain its influence on the global stage

In a few weeks, millions of European citizens will participate in a significant democratic exercise by casting their votes. Some may view this event merely as a duplication of domestic polls, an insight into the voting preferences of the national electorate. This view is mainly inward-focused, failing to recognize the broader importance of the upcoming election as a crucial moment for the Union itself. 

The current international landscape is marked by an increase in the proliferation of aggressive behaviors among political actors, with which the EU must confront.  

The future Parliament, as a cornerstone governing body of the Union, will face challenges different from those encountered in the past. Moreover, a Parliament elected by a substantial majority of European citizens will be well-equipped to address the pressing issues of the present. What are these challenges? 

Geoeconomic Leadership 

The European Union has demonstrated remarkable prowess in cultivating its economic centripetal force. Even post-Brexit, it continues to boast a unified market of approximately 450 million consumers, attracting interest from economies worldwide. Its dependence on importing energy products has proven lucrative for its partners, while the EU's enterprises have thrived, benefiting greatly from the recent hyperglobalization. 

One of the EU's notable achievements has been its management of consensus among Member States to drive expansion. Two decades ago a wave of accessions brought ten new countries – primarily from Eastern Europe and the Baltic region – into the fold in a largely successful political endeavor. 

Indeed, the EU has effectively pursued its goal of becoming a premier geoeconomic power, channeling significant efforts into bolstering its most valuable asset: the Common Market. The European Parliament and Commission have diligently worked towards enhancing the efficiency of the Union market, resulting in its full integration concerning the circulation of goods, people and capital – a feat made possible through the adoption of the single currency. 

From Geoeconomics to Geopolitics 

All these accomplishments have unfolded within the unique geopolitical landscape of the US-led unipolar post-Cold War World Order. However, in February 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech at the Munich Security Conference openly challenged the dominance of the United States (and the West) in international relations, along with NATO's aggressive posture in Europe. Although this speech initially sparked significant attention, it was soon overshadowed by the two-year Great Recession following the US subprime crisis. Nevertheless, Putin's address marked the onset of a profound transformation in the architecture of global international relations, driven by the emergence of great powers seeking a revision of the existing world order. 

According to many analysts, a multipolar power structure is supplanting the post-Cold War unipolar order. This transition comes with inherent disorder due to the proliferation of power centers. Some of these consequences directly impact the security of the European Union, necessitating urgent action and a profound reevaluation of the Union's identity – from a geoeconomic leader to a geopolitical protagonist. 

In contemplating a multipolar order as the next status quo in international relations, one must consider the "nature" of the competitors.  

The first notable aspect is "size." Revisionist powers all possess continental or sub-continental dimensions (in essence, they look like modern empires). The United States, Russia, China and India each boast substantial territory, market influence, resource endowment, spending capacity and (real or potential) human capital. None of the individual European Member States can rival these competing powers in terms of size. 

Secondly, great powers possess well-defined identities. Nations like Russia and China invest significant efforts (sometimes employing coercion) in fostering a shared national consciousness. Post-colonial India also possesses a distinct identity, as does the United States. In contrast, Europe's identity remains fragmented, often hindered by lingering nationalistic tendencies. Identity encompasses various aspects, including a unified foreign policy and a collective defense strategy – elements lacking in Europe's current framework. 

Thirdly, out of the aforementioned competing powers, four out of five (the US, India, Russia and the EU) have recently held or will hold elections. However, the quality of democracy extends beyond the mere right to vote, as evidenced by various cases among these powers. In this regard, the EU stands as a unique example of shared support for democratic values within a multipolar structure where liberal democracy is not universally embraced. 

The forthcoming European Parliament will grapple with these and further challenges in the foreseeable future. As European citizens, it is incumbent upon us to provide the necessary political support to address these complex issues. 


Professor Andrea Colli will be one of the speakers at the Geopolitical Debate on 30 May, co-organized by the Institute for European Policymaking at Bocconi University and by the magazine Le Grand Continent, hosted by Egea. If you are interested, please register here


Bocconi University
Department of Social and Political Sciences
President of ASSI

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