Europe, We Have a Problem!
Surely many people will remember the famous story about the Apollo 13 spaceship which almost killed three astronauts in April 1970 because of technical problems. The astronauts saved themselves thanks to their professionalism and to the self-denying and highly professional activities of the support team that was on the Earth. Several movies have been devoted to this subject, the best known of which is Apollo 13 (1995). Many people will also remember the phrase which the astronauts expressed when admitting that there were serious problems: "Houston, we have a problem."
You may wonder what this has to do with Europe. The sad fact is that the big European Union ship is facing serious problems that are deep, hereditary and life-threatening. I am not exaggerating this, because clear facts suggest that Europe has the same serious leadership problems that affected the spaceship. Resources are disappearing quickly, and there is critically little time to address the problems. Unlike Apollo 13, this time we are facing a far greater catastrophe. There are approximately 500 million passengers in the EU ship, and Europe is one of the central pillars of the global economy. If this ship were to sink, then the scope of the problems might be inconceivable.
It is possible right now to rescue the situation, but the biggest problem is that no one is particularly worried about upcoming problems. It is no the case that no one sees them, but alarmists are seen as people who disturb peace in the otherwise cosy and comfortable company. It is clear that the political elites of member states and the leaders of the EU see the problems, but solutions are delayed, bureaucratically stiff and most often ineffective. The latest amazing project for the EU was the implementation of the euro in most member states. True, this idea, too, has become stuck, because several new and old member states are not using the euro. Among them are countries such as Poland and Sweden, both of which have serious economies. Since the introduction of the euro, the EU's success story has obviously become stuck. As an organisation, it has limped from one crisis to another one. The financial crisis, the subsequent euro crisis, tectonic demographic changes in new member states, the upheaval in Ukraine, the refugee crisis, the Brexit decision, the bankruptcy in Spain that is demonstrated by the Catalonian crisis. What do all of these issues have in common? The EU was unprepared for each of these crises, solutions were delayed and often ineffective, and some of the problems remain unsolved to this very day. Even the most passionate supporter of the idea of the EU should understand that the EU ship is facing serious leadership problems.
The sad fact is that the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker often behaves oddly even at public events, and that suggests that he is more interested in good drinks than in far-sighted and courageous solutions. People in normal societies who like to drink a lot of alcohol are not allowed to drive cars, but this kind of person runs the European Commission at the highest level of Europe. When you ask those who are responsible for this situation, they will avoid your gaze and babble something that makes no sense. That means that the EU spaceship is being run by a pilot whose previous brilliance has become very sooty. That did not happen recently. The problem has been seen for many years. Juncker is the only vivid, but not only example of not particularly effective leaders in the European Parliament and the European Commission. This is just another bit of evidence about management problems at the top level of management in the EU.
One reason why leaders in the EU and member states are in no hurry to see and resolve problems related to the fact that the symbolic EU spaceship is flying in a stable and comfortable way at this time. Sometimes it trembles or swings, but generally speaking, danger is indicated only by alarm lights in various leadership panels. While everything is fine, Europeans choose to ignore these signals. The EU is one of the world's economic superpowers alongside the United States and China. It is fairly safe to claim that Europe is the best place in the world for people's lives. The wealth, quality of life and stability of Europeans are much better than, for instance, rank-and-file Chinese people. In general terms, Europeans are not as wealthy as Americans, but social stability and security are much better. The anticipated lifespan of people in EU member states is far longer than is the case with Americans. In new EU member states, the lifespan is comparable to the lifespan in the United States, but it is also becoming longer. According to lifespans, the Americans are in the 30s or 40s of the world's list. Health care in the EU's member states is far more effective than is the case in the United States, even though spending as a percentage of GDP is lower.
The same can be said about internal security and stability. In 2004, the American journalist T.R. Reid released a book titled The United States of Europe in New York, arguing that "yes, Americans put up enormous bulletin boards which say 'Love your neighbour,' but they murder and rape their neighbours at a proportion that would shock every European nation." This is vividly seen in statistics. The number of prisoners in the United States exceeds average European indicators approximately 3.5 times more. If we are talking about social security and protection, then the average European is far more protected. New families in the United States cannot even dream about new support for families with children that is the norm in man EU member states, including new ones.
Sometimes we hear the claim that Americans do a lot more effective work. Research, however, shows that the effectiveness of Europeans is not lower than that of Americans if it is calculated in terms of hours spent at work. In some countries, it even exceeds the level of Americans. The distinguished British and American scholar Tony Judt once wrote with reason that Europeans purposefully chose to work less, earn less and live better lives. In Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Judt writes: "They (the Europeans) had safer lives and, partly for this reason, longer lives, enjoying better health (in spite of the fact that they spent less) and had fewer people who lived in poverty."
In general terms it can be said that Europe has achieved a respectable or even amazing level of welfare in societies. There are still fairly substantial differences between new and old member states, but major investments are being made in so-called equalisation funds so that the differences are reduced. In many cases there has been obvious progress. You make say with reason that this dramatic introduction about a spaceship that may fall to the ground and cause a global cataclysm. This is where we find hidden traps in which Europe has been captured. Good news, stability and welfare have caused alertness to fall asleep. While there are resources, no one is particularly worried about the undeniable truth that the current model of welfare societies is very expensive and requires enormous resources to maintain it. It is clear right now that these resources may end rapidly in the foreseeable future. The truth is that that is already happening. This is a very dangerous diagnosis when considered together with stiff and ineffective governance. No spaceship will fly for a long time without appropriate piloting and resources.
Europe has always been impoverished when it comes to natural resources when compared to other economic superpowers in the world. It simply does not have such resources. The time when resources could be obtained from subjected colonies ended long ago. Beginning in the latter half of the 20th century, Europe has been based on highly developed science and a developed synergy between democracy and market economies that allowed effective mega-corporations to become stronger. These companies earned good money in global markets and continued to create wealth that ensured the welfare of Europeans and their comparatively very high and rich level of life. A dangerous trend, however, appeared at the beginning of the 21st century. European companies are obviously losing the race when it comes to global competition. Among the world's ten richest mega-companies, only two are found in Europe -- the Volkswagen company in Germany and the Dutch-British oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell.
An even more dangerous situation relates to so-called future companies -- giant IT and Internet enterprises. Europeans are basically absent from this list. Europeans were once creators and earners, but now they have become consumers. That would not be a bad thing, but the biggest problem is the fact that enormous financial resources are flowing from Europe to other economic superpowers. What is more, this does not only have to do with everyday IT technologies which Europeans have lost because of the competitive battle. Europe is very much behind when it comes to the development of quantum computers, which are the future of technologies. Among the most powerful quantum computer projects, the vast majority are found in the United States and China. Scientists argue that these future technologies will substantially change the development of IT technologies and make it possible, in fact, to ensure revolutionary changes in the development of science as such. This will also have a fundamental influence on economics, cardinally changing various markets, including the market for energy resources. True, the EU has planned to invest approximately one billion euros in the development of quantum computer projects and to develop them over the next few years. There is no denying, however, that Europe is lagging behind in this regard.
To a certain extent, this is only logical. If we look at the world's most intellectual power stations (the best universities), then we see that only two or three of the best universities are in Europe. What is more, two of them will soon be outside of the EU, because they are in Great Britain, which has decided to leave the EU. Among the ten best universities in Europe, seven or eight are in the UK. There is obvious stagnation in the world of higher education in Europe, and that inevitably led to the aforementioned loss of economic competitiveness and backwardness in science. To be sure, this creates the justified question about how Europe plans to uphold the high standard of living in its welfare society.
The next problem is a reduction in human resources because of a long-lasting demographic problem. For many decades, the birth rate in Europe has been far below the replacement level. There is an average of 2.2 children in each family. In 1960, there were four working people per pensioner in France, but in 2000 there were only two. Given current trends there will only be one in 2020. Among the developed EU member states, the worst situation is in the economic engine of Europe -- Germany, where the aging of society is very serious. An even worse situation exists in many new EU member states. In Latvia and Lithuania, the situation is almost catastrophic. During the next few decades, the rapidly shrinking number of working people will have to support the rapidly increasing mass of pensioners, which will create an all but impossible burden of social costs. Critics will say that this is nothing new and that this has been the situation for a long time. That is true, but there is no denying the fact that leaders in the EU and its member states have reacted to this problem in a delayed and ineffective way.
The next terribly dangerous challenge relates to expected global upheavals in Africa, which neighbours Africa. The first serious signal came in 2015, when approximately one million refugees literally broke into Europe. The truth is that the problems could be anticipated, because enormous refugee camps with millions of refugees had existed for many years in places that were close to Europe. The EU was perfectly well aware of this, but it nevertheless proved to be completely unprepared for the crisis. That, however, is only the start of what may happen in future. UN data show that there are approximately 1.2 billion residents in Africa at this time. By 2050, or 32 years from now, it is expected that these numbers will double to 2.5 billion people. Climate change only promises suffering for Africans. Hundreds of millions of them are currently suffering from droughts and a lack of water and food. Political anarchy and extensive corruption remove any hope that the Africans can deal with these problems themselves. In most cases, conflicts in Africa are caused specifically by a lack of resources. Where could these more than one billion people find a rescue?
This does not have to do with the extensively discussed conflict between the Islamic and Christian worlds or the so-called conflict of civilisations. This will be a humanitarian catastrophe, and religions and cultures will, as always, be used as a smokescreen behind which territories and resources are redistributed. That is precisely the way in which all global conflicts have erupted. It is as simple and dangerous as a Molotov cocktail. The only thing is that this time it will be gigantic. Hundreds of millions of people will be caught in the traps of ecological changes. They will simply need an escape so that they can be rescued. Here we must remember once again that European resources will be much smaller as Europe tries to maintain the model of a welfare state. Given that most flows of money will have moved to far more dynamic superpowers, Europe will find it hard to finance appropriate defence. The truth is that this is already a fairly large problem for member states.
This article only lists a few of Europe's largest challenges and dangers. It goes without saying that the answer to the European Union's thorough and basically existential problems is no simple thing. Here we can again compare the situation to the Apollo 13 spaceship. The European Union really is a very complicated structure, and its problems are also very complicated. We need high-level astronauts to deal with these problems, we need a consolidated support team that is made up of the very best professionals. They need to work quickly and effectively in a real crisis regime. This, of course, means very little to simple Europeans and rank-and-file voters. It seems that citizens of EU member states do not really see any chance of influencing these processes. That is seen by the traditionally low turnout in member states when it comes to European Parliament elections. This, however, is basically the only opportunity to rescue something.
The next European Parliament election will be in 2019. In the name of the future of Europe and our own rescue, we must elect the most capable and professionally capacious political professionals to the next European Parliament. They must be all but selected units from each member state as a rescue team. The same can be done at home. Each political party must make sure that its national representatives at EU institutions can do the best work in the name of our future. This also applies to structural reforms, because otherwise the rescue mission may fail. The catastrophe will cause harm not just to a few astronauts, but instead to all Europeans.
Each conscientious European must hear the warning right now -- Europe, we have a problem. They must act, because this will not be done by Americans, the Chinese or the Indians. Their job is not to save self-confident, boastful and elderly stiff Europeans who are prepared to give advice to everyone else while not being in any hurry to act themselves.
Otto Ozols is a Latvian writer and publicist, the author of the 2011 Latvian best-seller 'Latvieši are everywhere', other books - 'Theodorus. Dance with an Elephant-fish' and 'Uncomfortable truths.' Books are also translated into English, Russian, Swedish, Macedonian.Has published over 400 articles and essays on politics, economics and culture in biggest medias in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Catalonia and other places.