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The great power of scramble – Global trends and the role of Europe

  • Rome
  • 26 October 2022

        The war in Ukraine represents a major point of discontinuity in prospects for a future international power balance teetering between the order ensured by a system of shared rules and a scenario of disorder marked by a tense democracy/autocracy standoff.

        In this sense, the Chinese Communist Party Congress that recently granted Xi Jinping a historic and more robust third mandate inevitably complicates relations between the West and Beijing. The competition between China and the United States for technological supremacy could further encourage Xi to forge pragmatic alliances such as those it already has with Russia.

        Moscow’s international role and its capacity to sustain the war effort in Ukraine remain, in any case, among the principal unknowns of the future. However, new equilibria are also being determined by other major actors such as India, which maintains relations with Russia as well as membership in the strategic technological Quad alliance. Moreover, the Global South is a terrain contested by the main powers more in terms of interests than democratic values, and there are many democracies joining New Delhi in the margins of the confrontation between the Russian autocracy and Western democracies. In Europe and the United States too it is going to be important to watch the evolution of the health of democratic systems and how governments exert their sovereignty in balancing national interests and collective threats. Meanwhile, the war seems to have helped Europe regain cohesion on important decisions by reinforcing transatlantic relations. NATO, having rapidly recovered from its supposed “brain death”, has resumed its position as a cohesive and efficacious actor, not least by attracting new members.

        Nevertheless, security concerns in Europe are predominantly in the field of energy. The continent is aware it has to overcome its dependence on Russian gas despite the convenience over a long economic phase. Europeans have had to confront energy shocks in the past, but this time there are new options being offered by renewable sources. While gradual decarbonization has provided a solution to economic and environmental problems, in recent months the Green Deal has also begun to supply the main leverage for increased energy security.

        The route is an obligatory one, primarily due to the existential and geopolitical threat stemming from climate change; since this is complicated by the need to rapidly revolutionize a world built over two centuries on the consumption of fossil fuels, technology and finance are going be decisive. Yet, major results are also emerging from a cultural change that is encouraging individuals and businesses to invest directly in energy self-sufficiency.

        Europe must, however, be wary of replacing dependence on fossil fuels with a new technological dependence on those components needed to produce green energy. That means working on value chains within the logic of a strategic autonomy that already began to emerge clearly in the early phases of the pandemic. To that end, it is essential to relocate strategic production as well as to strengthen free trade agreements, all within a framework of reinforced European trade protection.