When one looks at the map of European Union (EU) member states, it hardly seems like an especially large or diverse territory. Despite the continent stretching from the Arctic to the Baltic to the Black Sea, it comprises only 10,000 square miles. What happened to Europe?
This shortcoming is not at all surprising. The continent’s long history has seen two big changes: the introduction of centralized political structures in most countries and the rise of a globalised, technologically advanced capitalism that has spread its tentacles widely and rapidly. The European idea has also experienced two big setbacks: the first one being the collapse of the socialist regimes in the Middle East and North Africa that were supported by Europe’s own colonial powers, and the second one was to a large extent the fall of the Soviet Union that was supported by its major ally and patron the United States.
The first consequence of these developments is an overall decline of the world’s largest continent.
As for the second, that should hardly come as a surprise. Europe has a long history and it is a continent whose borders have always been formed by territorial conflicts. The first European war was fought mainly over the borders of the Balkans, an area that used to be under Byzantine rule. Over the centuries this region was occupied by various cultures that were not all equally divided up.
The Balkans, after being taken over by the Ottomans, were eventually transferred to the Austrian Empire and, after WWII, the territory of the former Yugoslavia was divided into regions that eventually became the European Union and its member countries.
The second consequence is that Europe’s geographic position has always had a direct impact on its economic life. The fact that every single country on the continent has an economic link to one of the others is an important lesson which European political leaders have forgotten.
For instance, the European countries have been at the forefront in the European drive towards ever greater integration. This is why the European Union should always aim at strengthening its economic links with the other members.
One could say that Europe’s economic growth is linked to the continent’s geopolitical position. It is the fact that the continent’s geopolitical importance was reinforced by the fall of the first Soviet Union that gave birth to the idea that the world has to become ever more connected.
The fall of the Soviet Union did not, however, completely change the world. European economic ties with Russia remain relatively weak. In 2008, as the situation in Ukraine cooled down, the then European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker