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Where Will Europe Fail and Where Will it Succeed?

October 18, 2021

Speaker: Erhard Busek, Former Austrian Vice Chancellor; Chairman, Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe – IDM
Chair: Veronica Anghel, Adjunct Professor of International Risk at SAIS Europe, Bologna, Italy

Part of the BIPR’s European and Eurasian Studies Series, Professor Veronica Anghel begins the seminar by warmly introducing former Vice Chancellor Erhard Busek to a hybrid, in-person and online audience.

Busek begins his remarks by way of a brief recap of his illustrious career in government, including navigating Austria through the EU accession process and working to promote development and stability in the Balkans regions. Moving to the seminar’s main theme, he first describes what he sees as Europe’s principle success since the second world war: integration. He notes that pulling Europe closer together after years of strife was no easy task, and that we witnessed such long term cohesion, with the recent exception of Brexit, is a remarkable achievement for the continent.

For Busek, Europe’s most pressing contemporary failure is how that drive for European integration has diminished. The slipping allure of Europeanism, for Busek, is why we see EU power decline on the international stage and what causes counterproductive competition between member states for influence. Busek blames this failure on the lack of a European narrative. He says that member-states are too proud of their differences – politically, culturally, and historically – when they ought to be investing in a cohesive vision of Europe. He terms this phenomenon differentiation. If he was able to, he mentions, he would put every European leader in a room together and not let them out until they had created a coherent European narrative.

Lacking this ability, Busek turns to a few solutions to reinvigorate the drive for European unity. He describes how the COVID-19 crisis was an excellent example of Europe coming together as a continent to cooperate, rather than compete, on research, medical care, and economic stimulus. However, he notes, one cannot make a politics out of disaster response alone. Europe, according to Busek, should not just respond in unison to a series of crises, but should be proactive in its cooperation. He references his time working in the Balkans as a model, where he helped to develop a common understanding of history across the region in order to build stability through unity. Busek also describes education as a field for increased cooperation, advocating for an expansion of ERASMUS and the Jean Monnet Programme to stimulate European academic exchange.

The conversation now shifts to a discussion of values within the European Union, particularly in light of generational changes. Busek sees young people in Europe as wanting for moral orientation, but lacking the institutions traditionally available to provide such guidance. While he does not have a precise prediction, Busek wonders if this disequilibrium will become a breeding ground for ideological radicalism, on both sides of the political spectrum.

The seminar comes to a close with a brief discussion of the recent resignation of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Former Austrian Vice Chancellor Erhard Busek, after offering some words of praise toward his country’s former leader, ultimately defends his decision to resign, noting that the Austrian people had come to see that perhaps Kurz wanted nothing to do with politics besides hold onto power.