Five reasons for (cautious) optimism about the EU’s future

The European Union (EU) is confronting a series of potentially existential threats, including the refugee crisis, ISIS terror, Russian adventurism, and Brexit (the potential exit of the U.K. from the EU).  I hosted Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at Brookings to get his fundamentally (but carefully) optimistic take on how he and his fellow EU leaders can meet those challenges. Here are five reasons for optimism that emerged from our conversation: 

  1. Take the Fight to Daesh.  The PM made clear Europe’s determination to take on the terror and refugee issues at their source in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.  Just this week, the Czech Republic upped its commitment to the international coalition, announcing that it will send a team to train Iraqis using U.S. made L-159 fighter jets (also sold to Iraq by Prague).  With transatlantic leadership, these efforts are starting to bear fruit in the decay of ISIS.
  2. Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste. As part of addressing today’s refugee crisis, Europe is exploring multi-lateral efforts to construct a common European border service, integrate refugee populations, and promote internal security.  The process is painful, but filling these gaps will make the European Union stronger.
  3. Stand Strong With Ukraine.  Some predicted that European unity against Putin’s expansionism would not hold.  Instead, the EU and the United States have maintained their resolve in enacting sanctions.  That has strengthened the EU, but as the PM pointed out, now Ukraine and its supporters must make sure that state moves towards good governance and functionality. 
  4. Taking the Exit Out of Brexit.  The PM predicted that the U.K. would not exit the EU.  When I pressed him on why, he acknowledged that there were elements of wishing and hoping in that forecast, and that the vote comes at a tough moment.  But I share the PM’s hopes—the U.K. is not one to leave friends when times get tough.
  5. Never Forget to Remember.  The PM and I spent a lot of time discussing the ups and downs of Central Europe’s experiment with democracy over the past century.  He and his Czech colleagues—of all mainstream political parties—are acutely aware of that history, and that too gives me hope that it will not be repeated.

Immense challenges can destabilize and divide—but they also present opportunities for new collaboration and cohesion. If addressed in partnership, Europe’s current trials can ultimately strengthen the ties that bind the EU together.  

Watch the full discussion here.

Andrew Kenealy contributed to this post.