Europe in 2030: four alternative futures

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Series Details Policy Papers No 2, 2017 (26.12.2017)
Publication Date 26/12/2017
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The Elcano Royal Institute is a think-tank for international and strategic studies that analyses world events and trends from a Spanish, European and global perspective.

The Elcano Royal Institute's Working Papers are longer documents of an academic nature - usually between 12,000 and 15,000 words long, with footnotes and bibliographies - on current international affairs of relevance to Spain or on different aspects of Spain's foreign policy and security.

Europe’s future is not what it used to be. Ever since the global financial crisis broke out nearly a decade ago, Europe has been hit by one crisis after another. There has been a debt crisis, an economic crisis, an Arab Spring gone bad, a Ukraine conflict, a migration and refugee crisis, a subsequent wave of populism and nationalism running through much of Europe and a Brexit crisis. And now there is a Trump crisis, putting vital transatlantic ties into question.

Granted, the mood seems to have changed recently. Economic growth is back. And the election of Emmanuel Macron as French President has brought a fresh, energising approach to discussions on the future of Europe. This could well create new political momentum to tackle some of the structural challenges faced by Europe. However, whether the new drive will lead to changes beyond the level of the symbolic remains to be seen. There are deepseated, fundamental divisions in Europe over economic philosophies, foreign and security priorities and migration.

As the fulcrum of global power shifts away from Europe and the Atlantic, and given the ongoing uncertainty about the future of US foreign policy and engagement in Europe, the European order looks increasingly fragile, as do the institutions that embody that order. Beyond Europe proper, conflict and geopolitical competition are back and globalisation – with its vision of benign, harmonious global governance – appears to be under threat.

With the future becoming increasingly uncertain, there is a renewed interest in scenarios: how might the future look like if trends that are already visible today prevail and lead to massive changes? What if events suddenly change the course of history, as occurred in 1989? What is the purpose of European integration? What is it supposed to achieve or, for that matter, prevent from happening? What does a successful Europe look like? And a failing one?

At the Elcano Royal Institute’s Brussels office we have decided to contribute to the ongoing debate about Europe’s long-term future with a number of scenarios.

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