Modern Europe

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Modern Europe is a British-based think tank which in the wake of the EU referendum decision recognises that “we cannot turn our backs on Europe – we are part of Europe.” It seeks to identify the issues facing Britain as it ends its membership of the EU and debates its future relationship with the wider world. Modern Europe believes that the country’s immediate and long-term national interest requires Britain to forge a positive relationship with our European partners and to play an active leadership role in shaping the development of Europe. In years to come another generation may well want to forge a new relationship from the pieces left behind from the 45 years of British membership (1973- 2018) with the EU and so no bridges should be burnt.

Foreign Affairs, Defence & Security Mission Statement

The rules-based international order that underpins Europe’s security has come under renewed Russian threat as America turns towards the Pacific. The effect in Europe of this medium-term shift in global politics has been rendered acute by President Trump’s lack of full hearted support for the Western Alliance which has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. Risks are being heightened by deliberate Russian military harassment of Western Europe and manipulation of Western political systems to undermine the rule of law and promote divisive nationalism.

The understandable longer-term US shift in attention toward the Pacific by itself warrants a greater European contribution to the defence and security of its own neighbourhood. Russian tactics and the erratic American response makes it urgent.

Ours is a rich and skilled continent, but our defence and security effort doesn’t match either our capacity or the challenge we face. Excluding Russia, Europe earns 23% of the world’s GDP¹ but is responsible for only 16%² of defence spending. Our ability to act in our own defence, deter political encroachment and project power in support of the international order is too limited. Moreover, we are only just beginning to understand how much our domestic political institutions require reinforcement from ensuring the existence of media that distinguish truth from falsehoods; the effective enforcement of anti-money laundering and anti-corruption laws to the operation of free and fair elections.

The big and urgent challenges European democracies face oblige us to reassess the adequacy of our commitment to the defence of our fundamental values. In NATO we have an effective institution for defence cooperation but not all relevant European countries belong. We need a forum with wider membership to forge cooperation in Europe. It needs to be capable of addressing current challenges that are felt domestically as well as internationally, working with existing institutions and contributing to securing a strong Atlantic Alliance for the long term.


¹ World Bank, GDP at current US%, World Bank, 2017
² SIPRI, Military expenditure by country, in constant 2015 US$, 1949-2016, Stockholm, 2017.

Reflections from Poland

On 17th and 18th February I was in Warsaw, Poland, to participate in the European Democrat Students conference about the future of Europe. Representatives were young people from all parts of the continent and key speakers included senior Polish politicians as well as several from other countries, notably Germany, Spain and, of course, the United Kingdom.

Brexit certainly featured on the agenda and helped to shape all discussions but the main questions being asked were about the rule of law, liberal democracy, foreign policy and security, and implications flowing from decisions by the Trump Administration. It is always refreshing to hear from young people about such issues, especially as they grapple with the rapidly changing political circumstances across the globe.

Warsaw, in many ways, is an appropriate place to have such a conference. It was the German invasion of the Poland which finally provoked the Second World War and this calamitous and appalling conflict was the principal catalyst to the formation of the European Union. Moreover, Poland was closely associated with the events which brought an end to the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Being so close to a resurgent Russia, Poles are much more concerned about threats to their liberal democracy – in comparison to us, something a fledgling – and, more obviously, security and defence. It was, therefore, interesting and reassuring to note their guarded but still optimistic attitude to US Vice-President Mike Pence’s unambiguous statement committing the Trump Administration to supporting NATO and also the promising but, as yet, untested agreement between Russia  and Ukrainian.

In contrast, representatives from countries further away from such diplomatic tensions were less concerned and, consequently, even ambivalent about such matters of their national defence expenditure. As pressures to increase defence capacity mount, this distinction is likely to be under the spotlight and potentially controversial.

I visited Poland frequently over a decade ago. Then there was copious amounts of hope linked to the stunning economic growth being achieved at the time but this weekend I sensed that the now noticeable ‘smog’ over Warsaw – caused by unbridled fossil fuel use – could be a useful metaphor for prevailing political situation facing the country today.

Neil Carmichael

2017 – The Year of Known Unknowns

Many of us over Christmas might have been quietly hoping that the political turmoil will subside as Brexit, our own new government and President-elect Trump’s preparations for office all settle in and signal a “new norm”. Instead, there are still plenty of likely political shocks and unsettling events to ensure 2017 is as turbulent as 2016 has already been.

Geert Wilders and his populist Party for Freedom currently top the opinion polls in the run up to the Dutch General Election in March. Wilders has long advocated a Dutch “Nexit” from the EU, although the UK’s current Brexit trauma may serve as a warning to a country with a longer and happier relationship with the EU. In the same month our Prime Minister has pledged to give notice via Article 50 of our intention to leave the EU.

In May the French Presidential elections take place. Nobody seriously expects the incredibly unpopular Socialist Party to win so the race is likely to be between Republican candidate François Fillon and National Front leader Marine Le Pen. But the complexity of the first round still includes a strong challenge from the centrist Emmanuel Macron. Again, this process could be a catalyst for more political and economic chaos.

Later in 2017, comes the German Federal elections. Angela Merkel is running for a fourth term as Chancellor but is unlikely to enjoy a repeat of the stunning performance of her CDU/CSU alliance; more probable is a coalition with the Greens and, perhaps, the FPD, if they secure sufficient numbers. A significant upset in Germany would have serious consequences beyond Europe.

The political map of Europe will look very different by the end of 2017 – but coupled with the “known unknowns” of a Trump Presidency, which leaves a question mark over NATO and the security of its Eastern states and borders, many of the certainties of liberal democracy post 1989 are under real challenge.

In this ever changing world being ready to ‘batten down the hatches’ is a precaution many would think is wise. However, turning inwards and forsaking the UK’s responsibilities to our continent and the wider world will be a huge injustice to our next generation who will have to live and work with the consequences of the dramatic political upheaval of 2016/17. Modern Europe believes we cannot turn our backs on Europe – for we are part of Europe. What happens on the continent in the next 12 months will have a profound impact on our lives and reinforces our firm belief that despite the referendum in June we must seek to continue to promote and foster good relationships between the UK and our neighbours, the EU member states.


Welcome to Modern Europe

Modern Europe is not just a new organisation here in the UK, but is a new kind of organisation, specifically tailored to promote the UK’s international relationships and influence – and to ensure that UK policy makers and politicians of the centre and centre right have opportunities to learn from their peers. In the many other democratic nations with whom we have friendly relationships – relationships are critically important both to our economic well-being and also to our wider role in the world.

The organisation will not be party political and it will operate resolutely and clearly in the public interest and in the political mainstream, promoting international dialogue. In Germany, there are institutes affiliated to the major parties, which ensure that the politics of the Federal Republic are widely understood amongst current and future leaders in other democratic nations. Modern Europe is very much modelled upon the work carried out by the Konrad Adenuaer Stiftung (KAS) and I envisage that some of its work programme will be in partnership with KAS.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the Brexit negotiations, it remains the firm and settled policy of all the major UK political parties that close working and trading relationships with other European nations are of the utmost importance. Thanks to its unique place in the world, the UK already has excellent relationships outside Europe too, most notably, but by no means exclusively, across the Commonwealth. Those relationships will have to be extended and deepened in the era of Brexit.

Neil Carmichael