It is fashionable to regret Europe's absence in the unfolding of international crises. Recent events in the Middle East confirm this withdrawal and Europe's voice is missing.
Whether in Iraq, Libya, Yemen or Afghanistan, Europeans are not the global players that some would like to see.
Absurd reasoning might legitimately raise the question of what the same commentators would like Europe to do. Are the major powers themselves really running the show? Would Europeans want to engage in conflicts by sending troops or taking strong action? Would they be prepared to oppose Russian revisionism or Turkish aggression by using armed forces? Would they want to be the gendarmes of a world that no longer has any? Nothing is less certain, if at all appropriate or effective!
The fact remains that Europe is too self-effacing on the international stage. And that it therefore risks having situations forced upon it that are contrary to its interests or principles. Let us try objectively to weigh up the disadvantages and advantages.
There is a great risk that Europe will not be able to respond to the policy of fait accompli, now practised by its main ally and its actual or potential rivals. Russia and Turkey seem to be competing in aggressive acts, which are limited but made possible by American disinterest. Our great ally looks elsewhere, forgets even our existence, decides in disregard of our interests when it is not openly against them. China is not to be outdone in its occupation of maritime zones, even though it has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. The international order is being dismantled whilst European unification has been built on the rule of law. New, more primary and more brutal power relations are emerging, which certainly require a little more "virility" in the expression of a more assertive European policy. Opportunism seems to be prevailing over strategies that have been built up over time.
The future of the world has not been decided uniquely in Europe for several decades now; it is regrettable, but it is a fact. The European position does, however, offer some advantages.
There is no doubt that Europe occupies a special place. It is not just the plaything of events that are decided elsewhere. Its Soft Power remains powerful and financially generous, and its messages, values and principles continue to attract people to a planet in which public opinion now counts for more. Its stability is a strength. It is predictable and secure.
Europe is valued by populations, especially on the outside. This is more frustrating for the leaders of its Member States, who still too often reason on a national level. It is true that it fascinates more on the outside than on the inside. People want to live in it and immigrate there gladly. It protects people, fosters an enviable form of democracy, provides a form of cohesion that makes its model one of the best places on the planet to live, whatever the eternal malcontents it accommodates may say!
Built against the very idea of empire, it struggles to assert itself in a world of powers, but that gives it an advantage. It has fewer enemies than all other protagonists and can express itself on all subjects, even the most difficult kind; its weakness sometimes makes it a reference, for want of being a voice that is heard. It may be alone, but it is united in its plea for a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, for a political solution in Libya, for negotiations that it alone organises between Russia and Ukraine, etc...
What it lacks most is not military force, economic power or diplomatic know-how, but the ability to unite its main Member States in taking strong and courageous decisions quickly.
The crises of the moment, far from marginalising Europeans, place them in the position of being able to appease them, contribute to resolving them or oppose them legally or morally. Provided that the major European powers are united, they are in a position to stand for a vision of a peaceful, multilateral, law-based world which, without them, would no longer have any defenders and thus have more influence than one might think over delicate situations.
Reason would have it that Europeans should seek first to make the most of this asset, by showing themselves to be more united internationally, before trying to regain a place that the world no longer accords them. It is at this price that their interests will be best defended, and their convictions best promoted. It is at this price that they will make themselves indispensable.