This year’s pandemic has shaken the world order and forced solutions that go further than previously thought possible in the system of Western democracy. Who among us could have imagined schools closed for many months or cancelled elections? The future shape of the world will be decided by those who best respond to this crisis. But what is this recipe for the future? Will our democracy, as it gains resistance to the coronavirus, also become resistant to the processes that threaten it, such as extremism or the coming economic crisis? Or, maybe, will democracy suffer even more because “democracy cannot function if people are to stay at home”, as the sociologist Ivan Krastev claims? Is Europe responding effectively to this challenge? Will we return to the old order? Is the crisis a chance for a (radical) change?
Unprecedented social protests are taking place in Belarus; a tragic explosion in Beirut has caused a deep political conflict and a humanitarian crisis; rising tensions between Turkey and Greece over gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these crises challenge, in various ways, the stability and security in the EU’s neighbourhood, requiring adequate responses from the bloc. Has the EU, newly self-defined as a ‘geopolitical’ actor, faced up to the challenge? What is the EU’s leverage in the conflicts of a significant importance for its interests? Is the EU’s unified foreign policy just a pipe dream or the reality?
Weeks-long lockdown, job destruction, uncertainty about the future, many governments’ tempation to introduce laws that violate civil liberties, entrenchment of already existing divisions and social and economic inequalities – all these are social consequences of the pandemic. How have societies reacted? Has the wave of protests in the US sparked a new discussion about racism? Do the unprecedented protests in Belarus have anything to do with the pandemic? How do ideas and methods cross borders? How are they adapted in new contexts? Are citizens and activists able to work effectively across borders?
Though the memory of the so-called migration crisis slowly fades, its root causes have not been fixed. People escaping war, famine and persecution are still trying to reach Europe, while the Mediterranean continues to take its deadly toll. Over five years, Europeans failed to answer key questions: what role do borders play in modern word? Who may cross them? Are we even capable and willing of turning back people seeking a better life? How can we strike a balance between protecting against threats, humanitarian aid and increasingly powerful national egoism?
We are already experiencing the economic effects of the pandemic: state budgets bursting at the seams health care spending increases, significant damage to many sectors of the economy and cultural institutions as a result of the closure of workplaces, shops, schools and theatres.
And, apparently, the worst is yet to come. How should Member States and EU institutions respond to the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus? Can the Reconstruction Fund be a breakthrough for the European economic model? How will it be constructed be and will it allow us to achieve climate goals? What role will further digitization play? How can we ensure the EU’s competitiveness on the global stage in the face of a changing balance of power and an impending crisis?
Though the gap in the power of Russia and China widens, their cooperation is going on increasingly smoothly. The countries conduct military exercises together and exchange technology, filling each other’s blind spots. At the same time, Beijing is increasing its economic presence and becoming a player in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood – it’s stance is, however, not always in line with Moscow. How will these relations evolve in the coming years? What will their impact in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood be? How can Europe respond to challenges arising from these processes?
Donald Trump’s election in 2016 disrupted the entirety of international politics, a shock most palpable in Europe, up to this point trusting in American guarantees. Trump’s reelection would cement the US’ new orientation as a self-interested state hostile to multilateral institutions, while his challenger’s, Joe Biden, victory would result in an attempt to repair and restore the old international order – but are the Europeans willing to trust America again?
The debate, scheduled little over a day after the announcement of the results of the 2020 presidential election, will be an opportunity to discuss its consequences for international affairs and for Europe’s future as a global power. How will the victor shape American foreign policy? Can Europe achieve a degree of strategic sovereignty and insulate its global standing from the vagaries of American politics? How can we make the transatlantic relationship more resilient?