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Europe’s place in tomorrow’s world

Europe's place in tomorrow's world

How can European Union leaders boost the long-term security and prosperity of EU members while advancing a European vision for the future in an era of intensifying rivalry between the US and China? That's a subject of hot debate inside the EU these days.


Should Europe…

  • Double down on strengthening traditional transatlantic relations in hopes of containing China's growing power to set new trade and technology rules, and to buttress support for "Western values" of human rights and individual liberty?
  • Engage both newly dysfunctional Washington and ever-more-assertive Beijing?
  • Strengthen Europe's strategic independence from the US and China?

For the moment, the answer looks to be "all of the above."

The EU is clearly hoping that President Biden will boost US-EU relations. As part of his "America First" approach to foreign policy, and warning that US allies take American taxpayers for suckers, former president Donald Trump proved willing to question the value of NATO and to slap tariffs on European steel and aluminum.

It's no surprise then that after Biden's November victory, the European Commission quickly issued a report titled "A new EU-US agenda for global change," which called for greater transatlantic cooperation on trade, digital regulation and data privacy, strengthening NATO, screening foreign (particularly Chinese) investment, and limiting China's ability to set new technology standards.

And yet… As I wrote last Friday, European allies are all too aware that Trump and his defiantly unilateralist approach to traditional US allies remain popular with enough Americans that Europe could face a less friendly face in Washington again very soon. There is also recognition in Europe that China remains strong and resilient — and will continue to offer important commercial opportunities for European companies.

That's why the EU was also quick to sign a major investment deal with China, once Biden's victory persuaded China to offer important last-minute concessions. Beijing wants to avoid a united US-EU break on the expansion of its global influence on trade and tech. While the Biden team hoped Europe would hold off on the agreement, EU officials saw it differently and were willing to set aside deep concerns about China's recent push to limit democracy in Hong Kong and its use of Uighur Muslim slave labor in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Germany's Angela Merkel has publicly rejected calls to contain China in favor of pragmatic engagement.

But change is coming to Europe. Merkel will soon exit the stage, and France's Emmanuel Macron will become, at least temporarily, Europe's most prominent voice. And Macron, like many French presidents extending back to Charles de Gaulle, is a forceful champion of European strategic independence. His vision of European "collective security" would give the EU a robust defense capability outside NATO, easing dependence on the US for European security. Macron's recent high-profile debate on the subject with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer underlines his ambition. There are also those who want to strengthen the euro for greater use as an international reserve currency to relieve deep dependence on the dollar.

For now, realism will prevail. Despite decades of differences on important question, the EU has no more powerful military and trade ally than the United States. NATO boosts Europe's security at low cost to European taxpayers. Yet, the commercial opportunities offered by China and Beijing's growing global influence will only expand. Macron will soon be far too distracted by next year's French elections to change skeptical minds on strategic autonomy.

For now, debates within the EU will continue the all-of-the-above approach, but Europe's dilemma isn't going away.

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This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics in Washington, DC:

Another stimulus bill is about to pass the Senate. Why won't the minimum wage be going up?

Well, the problem with the minimum wage is it didn't have the 50 votes it needed to overcome the procedural hurdles that prevent the minimum wage when traveling with the stimulus bill. Clearly support for $15 an hour minimum wage in the House of Representatives, but there's probably somewhere between 41 and 45 votes for it in the Senate. There may be a compromise level that emerges later in the year as some Republicans have indicated, they'd be willing to support a lower-level minimum wage increase. But typically, those proposals come along with policies that Democrats find unacceptable, such as an employment verification program for any new hire in the country. Labor unions have been really, really fixated on getting a $15 an hour minimum wage. They may not be up for a compromise. So, we'll see what happens.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."

Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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