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Sick Old Man Europe fumbling for relevance in a grown-up world

Muhammad Amin

Europe is incapable of producing the weapons it needs for its defence because its industrial base is too fragmented, European Council President Charles Michel has declared.

Speaking at a vaingloriously named meeting, “the Copenhagen Democracy Summit”, on Tuesday he said EU leaders’ commitments to invest more on defence would not be enough. A strategic reworking of the continent’s industrial base was also needed, he said.

He did not expand on what was needed to fix the base. European manufacturing has battled to bring down its labour costs and has been decimated by decades of cheaper, better imports from China and other Asian economies.

“Fixing the base” would probably take decades of labour and billions of euros in government subsidies to nurture and protect any attempts to resuscitate a fledgling base capable to competing on the world stage, observers have warned.

 French President Emmanuel Macron  in April warned Europe was facing an existential threat  that demanded a “credible” security plan that broke dependency on the United States and was capable to standing up to Russia.

He also called for a new era of protectionism, something which has been an anathema of global trade theory for decades now.

He warned the US and China have a complete disregard for global trade standards, urging the European Union to wake up to this reality.

“It cannot work if we are the only ones in the world to respect the rules of trade – as they were written up 15 years ago – if the Chinese and the Americans no longer respect them by subsidizing critical sectors,” he said.

“Our Europe, today, is mortal and it can die,” he said. “It can die, and this depends only on our choices.

“Over the next decade… the risk is immense of (Europe) being weakened or even relegated,” Macron warned.

Macron called for a “powerful Europe” that “is respected,” “ensures its security,” and reclaims “its strategic autonomy.”

Diplomatic sources warned political and economic rivalry as well as disagreements over who would ultimately have to pay for a major reorientation of Europe’s “industrial base” meant such a future was still many decades away.

Such rivalry is already close to the surface – Macron railed against far-right nationalists in Europe who, he claimed, wished to stay in the “European house” but “without paying the rent” or following the “cohabitation rules”.

Macron said he would seek “bids” from European allies in the coming months – indicating he sees France as the power broker in mix – and that Europe also needed its own cyberdefense and cybersecurity capabilities.

That would prevent a situation where the US was able to eavesdrop at will on EU leader’s secret phone calls. Europe was shocked to learn in 2015, that from 2012 to 2014, the NSA used Danish information cables to spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany, including former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbrück.

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