The Future of the European Union

The Future of the European Union

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Charles A. Kupchan, senior fellow at CFR and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, discusses the future of the European Union.

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Charles A. Kupchan

Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Professor of International Affairs, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government, Georgetown University


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website,

We are delighted to have Charles Kupchan with us to talk about the future of the European Union. Dr. Kupchan is senior fellow at CFR and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government. From 2014 to 2017, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for European Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council in the Obama administration. Dr. Kupchan was also director for European Affairs on the NSC during the first Clinton administration. And prior to that, he worked in the State Department on the policy planning staff and has also served as an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University. He is currently in the process of writing a book on the intellectual and political history of isolationism in the United States.

Dr. Kupchan, thanks very much for being with us today. This call is timely. We just saw last night for the second time the British Parliament rejected Theresa May’s plan to exit the European Union. So can you talk about where we are and if it’s the beginning of the end of European integration?

KUPCHAN: Happy to join you and the others today, Irina. And as usual, you have impeccable timing because I’m sure you knew several months ago when we scheduled this that Theresa May’s Brexit plans would go down in smoke and fire last night. You know, it is dramatic. And nobody really knows what’s going to happen over the next few weeks. But clearly the British political system is a meltdown of sorts. And it’s conceivable that the Brits could go over the cliff, that is to say, to leave the EU in a few weeks without a deal. I think that’s unlikely, but it could happen.

I think the implications of Brexit for Europe and the project of European integration are much less dramatic than they are for the U.K. itself. The U.K. is in a very bad place. It is going to take a major hit economically. It is going to take a major hit geopolitically in terms of its influence, its standing, its voice. But I think for the European Union, it is clearly a reputational setback. There will be some cost economically because of the flow of trade that is likely to be disrupted. But it’s not a kind of—a death blow. And it’s not the beginning of the unraveling of the European Union. And in that respect, I think in some ways it’s best to put what Brexit represents in historical relief.

And that is that, you know, we’ve been looking at a 200-year period of history, starting at 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and running through today, in the two Anglo-Saxon nations have been the major architects and defenders of what you might call modernity—a liberal, internationalized, globalized order. First, under Pax Britannica, and then after December 1941 under Pax Americana. And these two countries, the U.S. and U.K., have been responsible for building a globalized liberal world than any other two powers. And both of them are now going through political contortions of a sort that we haven’t seen. The Brits are tied up in knots and will remain so probably for years because of Brexit. And the United States right now is backing away from the very order that it spent so much blood and treasure to build. And so in some respects, the EU is the last entity standing that is still a stakeholder in this order.

In general, I think the EU’s political health is better than the health of its Anglo-Saxon partners, for two reasons. One is that the U.S. and the U.K. are dominated by two-party systems. And the angry voters have only two places to go. In the U.S., the Democrats, the Republicans. In the U.K. they tend to go either to the Tories or to Labour. And as a consequence, they have pulled the mainstream parties further to the left and right and depopulated the political center. Europe is better off in that respect—continental Europe—because they have multiparty systems. Center-left and center-right have been losing market share, but with a few exceptions they have remained in power. So the center is holding in the EU in a way it is not in the U.S. and the U.K. And I think that’s partly because the EU generally had better welfare systems than the United States and the U.K., which intensifies the socioeconomic dislocation in the Anglo-Saxon countries.

Now, before I would say, and therefore the EU has a clean bill of health, I would note there are members in which the center has not held—most notably Poland and Hungary. But also and in some ways most worryingly, Italy, because Italy is a founding member of the European Union. It has a very large economy, one of the largest in the EU. And as of the last Italian elections, the centrist parties did quite poorly. And now you have a coalition of the League—the Northern League and the Five Star Movement, which are anti-establishment populist parties. Not of a single fabric, because Five Star is more kind of left-wing populist, League is right-wing populist. But now you have a card-carrying, mainstream, leading member of the EU that has become quite anti-immigrant and very Euro-skeptic.

And the bottom line is that if it can happen in Italy, it can happen anywhere. It can happen in France. It could even happen in Germany, where we now have, number one, the Alternative for Germany, a populist, right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-EU party that is growing in strength, although modest. And also in—we are beginning to move into the post-Merkel era. Angela Merkel has been the chancellor for more than ten years. She has commanded not just Germany, but European politics. She’s on the way out. We don’t know what’s going to come after that. And then the other key country to keep an eye on is France, where on the one hand Macron is a phenomenon. He has taken French politics by storm and overturned the establishment. He is willing to lead on European issues in a way that no other European leader has stepped out in—literally in decades. He gave a speech at the Sorbonne when he first came into office, and then he wrote a letter last week calling for a European Renaissance, where really is trying to articulate a vision of where Europe goes from here.

The big question mark is: Is he going to be a success in France and in Europe? And right now, it’s simply too soon to tell. The French economy has been sputtering. His public opinion has taken a hit, particularly confronted with the Yellow Vest protests coming from rural areas. So right now I would say the jury is out on whether the center will hold in France. I would say I’m cautiously optimistic, but we need to see where the European Parliament elections turn out. They’re coming up in late May. And that will be a good indication of where we are. My best guess is that what we will see is the populist, anti-EU, Euro-skeptic parties do well, but not so well that they begin to change the shape of the European Parliament or its leadership. I would expect there to be a broader governing coalition in the Parliament that would consist, most likely, of what’s called the EPP—the European People’s Party—along with—they will likely be the largest party. But then along with the social democrats, the liberals, and probably the greens. Those four parties might be the ones that form a governing coalition in the next parliament. But we do—I do expect to see the Euro-skeptic parties gain in strength.

So right now I would say we are in what I would call a holding pattern. I think that one has to take seriously the proposition that this could be Europe’s high-water mark. If we don’t see the center hold in France and Germany, then I do think that we may look back at this as the time in which the project of European integration stumbled. I doubt that is going to be the case. I am guessing that Europe will recover its forward momentum, and that there will be a swing back of the pendulum toward the political center. And I also expect that to happen in the United States as well. But it’s all quite tentative.

The final comment I would make is what’s the European agenda moving forward? I would say in some ways the agenda in Europe is exactly the same as the agenda here. And that is that by far the most important priorities are at home. And I would even say the most important geopolitical, strategic priorities are at home. They are the future of work, making sure that average Americans and Europeans are earning a living wage as technology and artificial intelligence kick in. Number two, immigration. Immigration is the third-rail of politics in Europe and in the United States—both sides of the Atlantic need working, credible immigration policies that people have faith in. And third, socioeconomic integration. Our societies are facing unprecedented inequality, fragmentation along ethnic, religious, socioeconomic lines. We need to address those questions. So, first, second, third, fourth, fifth priorities are all at home. And I think that on both sides of the Atlantic the agenda is quite similar.

And then for Europe, I think the next steps forward on integration are, number one, to deepen eurozone governance. Number two, to move forward on a more capable and smart European defense policy. Yes, spend a little bit more, as President Trump would like, but most importantly rationalize spending. And third, in general, try to re-legitimate liberal politics, in part by standing up to the Polands and Hungarys of the world, which are clearly heading down an illiberal path, but also doing as much as possible on that first agenda—bringing growth back to Europe, demonstrating to average European voters that the European Union can deliver. I think I’ll stop there, and let’s open it up.

FASKIANOS: Charlie, as usual that was both succinct and informative. We appreciate your analysis. Let’s open it up to students for their questions.

Operator, are you there? Charlie?

KUPCHAN: I’m here.

FASKIANOS: You’re there. OK.

KUPCHAN: I don’t hear the operator.

FASKIANOS: Well, I don’t hear the operator either.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take our first question from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

Q: Hello. My name is Mazer el-Taibi (sp).

I wanted to ask about the far-right spread in Europe. Is it intrinsically anti-cooperation, or is it just anti-EU with its current policy?

KUPCHAN: It depends. It’s a very good question. And I—you know, if we talk about the far-right in France, you’d have to kind of dissect the National Front, or what they call the National Rally from some of the Yellow Vests. What’s going on in Austria or Sweden is different than what’s going on in Italy. But in general, I would say that they are, number one, anti-immigrant. And they embrace a vision of European civilization as a kind of backward looking one—that is to say, primarily Christian with dominant ethnic majorities. Most of the populists have gained power by running on anti-immigrant platforms. That’s certainly true of the National Front in France, and Mr. Salvini in Italy. Also true in Central Europe.

And then the second key feature is that they are pro-sovereignty. In some ways, a similar agenda to Mr. Trump here in the United States. America first, France first, Italy first, Poland first. And that is part of the problem when it comes to European integration, because the EU is a post-sovereign entity. Countries that are member states have passed a certain level of sovereignty to Brussels. That’s one of the reasons that the Brits are in the process of leaving. And so one of the conversations that we will see, especially if you get more far-right representation in the European Parliament, is how can we adjust European institutions? How can we make sure that the union continues to function, both in a supra-national and an intergovernmental way, but also make Italians and others feel that they, to some extent, are taking back a certain—a certain level of destiny, of fate when it comes to the nation-state. And that’s a conversation that is going to be difficult and is going to run for quite a long time.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Our next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take our next question from Georgetown University.

Q: Can you hear me OK?


Q: Thank you. So my name’s Maddie (sp). I’m a student with the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program.

I have a question about the EU’s use of the Article 7, and whether that’s at all going to be effective in deterring Poland and Hungary from current efforts to violate rule of law, just given the fact that it would require the support of four-fifths member states. Do you see this as a viable solution, and what other solutions might be more suitable to the situation?

KUPCHAN: Well, they—Article 7, for those of you that don’t know it, has to do with a mechanism through which the rights, and the voting rights in particular, of member states can be suspended through a unanimous-minus-one vote for countries that are deemed to be behaving in ways inconsistent with European rules and norms. And both Hungary and Poland have embraced policies that the EU has deemed to be inconsistent with the rule of law. And it takes the form of stacking the courts, purging the civil service, taking over the media, doing things that we consider to be inconsistent with the norms of liberal democratic societies. And one of the questions is what kinds of punishment can be threatened? How can the EU get leverage?

And one answer is to invoke Article 7, which has happened in the sense of saying we are beginning the process. Is it likely to lead to a situation in which punishment is meted out? Unlikely. And that’s because, as you correctly pointed out, Hungary would likely block unanimity when it comes to Poland, and Poland would block it when it comes to Hungary. But we have already seen the courts in Europe push back against Poland on one particular law, that has to do with the age, the retirement age, of constitutional court members. And Poland did back down. The other thing that I think is cooking is that Mr. Orbán, who is the leader of Hungary of the Fidesz Party, has been in the mainstream center-right grouping in the European landscape, EPP. I’m not sure he’s going to stay there. There’s a move afoot to see him pushed out. That is another form of punishment.

So I do think we are seeing political isolation of Poland and Hungary, but I doubt that you’ll actually get to the point where their voting rights are suspended. And then, you know, that does raise questions about is the EU being sufficiently tough when it comes to standing up to illiberalism in its own family.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take our next question from Fordham University.

Q: Hi. Can you hear me?

KUPCHAN: Yes, I can.

Q: OK. Hi. So my name is Patrick Wrigley (sp), and I’m a sophomore at Fordham, and I’m an international studies and Spanish double major.

And my question is, because I’ll be writing an international studies thesis on Hungary descent into illiberalism, is what do you believe—what do you believe that the future of Hungary’s influence on the rest of Europe will be? Because obviously Orbán, as we’ve discussed, has descended his country into authoritarianism, which he basically claims is an illiberal state, and it doesn’t have to be liberal to be a democracy. But now, he’s obviously facing expulsion from the center-right bloc of the EU. But on the same token, he’s certainly encouraging far-right parties in Europe and has made a number of friends who also subvert democratic norms in the manner that he does, such as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

KUPCHAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s in some ways the $6 million question, in the sense that we don’t know which way the wind is going to blow. We do know that an ill wind is blowing. And it’s blowing pretty strong. And that’s because Orbán has gotten stronger over time. He has been openly dismissive of liberal democracy. He has done things that just about everyone would agree are inconsistent with liberal norms. But he maintains a great deal of sway over Hungarian politics. We will see sometime soon, because there are elections coming up in Poland, whether the same is true of Law and Justice. There, it looks like there could be a swing of the pendulum back, but it’s unclear. The opposition parties in Poland are somewhat disorganized and, at this point, not fighting an effective campaign.

In other parts of Central Europe—Slovakia, Romania—we do also see these populist right-wing tendencies. Corruption is also a big part of it. And I think it’s just—it’s difficult to say which way things are going to tilt. You know, as I said, I’m still heartened by the fact that with the exceptions that we’ve been talking about, the center is holding. And in most countries, mainstream center-left and center-right, either separately or together, are able to govern. But they are shrinking. They are getting less and less market share over time as a trend line. And so we just need to wait and see whether that stabilizes or whether we are going to be heading in the same direction. And a lot of it does have to do with how the opposition fares.

You know, I think one of the reasons that the British are so tied up in knots now is that the Labour Party hasn’t really offered centrist Brits a serious alternative to Brexit, in part because they moved so far to the left. Here in the United States, we’re now going to exactly the same debate. Should the Democrats run on a far-left agenda? Or should they go to the center and try to win back the white working class? The socialists in Germany, the socialists in France, they are all in trouble and they are all facing this same basic question. So I think we need to see how this—how this plays out.

But that’s why I do think that probably the number one and two priorities for Americans and Europeans are the big debate about the future of work and the big debate about immigration. If we don’t tackle those two issues, I think we may be looking back at 2019-2020 as the year in which mainstream centrist politics was unable to hold its anchor.

FASKIANOS: So, Charlie, I neglected to mention all of the books that you have authored, or the one that you’re currently working on, including your most recent one, No One’s World, that you published a few years ago, and then End of the American Era, back in 2002. So are we now at the point of seeing the end of American supremacy, what you’ve been talking about and arguing in your work—your research over the—you know, your career? Is it coming to pass?

KUPCHAN: Well, yeah, it’s interesting, Irina, that in 2019 we are having this conference call about the big geopolitical issues of the day and we’re talking about ourselves. We’re talking about Europe, populism on both sides of the Atlantic, is the center going to hold. And frankly, I think that’s as it should be, because I think if we don’t get our collective houses in order, if we don’t recover political equanimity, if the Atlantic border doesn’t hold, then the other questions that we need to talk about—whether it’s the rise of China, whether it’s Russian meddling and efforts to crack Western solidarity, whether it is turmoil in the Middle East or terrorism, we’re definitely not going to be able to tackle those, because we need to have our lights on.

But the short answer to your question is that, yes, we are moving into an era in which—and I don’t think it’s just the American era. I think it is the Western era, because the West has been dominant really for the last 300 years, going back to the era of the reformation. That’s when the pendulum swung from the south and the east, from Asia to Northern Europe, and eventually to North America. And it’s in the post-reformation era that the West has dominated. That’s coming to a close, right? The West used to be around 80 percent of global GDP. That number is now about 48 percent, and it will continue to decline.

So even as we talk about the West, is it going to get its mojo back, we do have to realize that we are headed into a post-Western era, and a world in which sometime in the next decade or two China will emerge as a peer competitor of the United States, arguably in a way that the United States has never had. Yes, there was the Soviet Union, but when it comes to China and their likely trajectory on technology, on AI, they may well be a full-service superpower in a way that the Soviet Union was not.

FASKIANOS: Well, we are in an era now where we’re seeing in this administration the American first approach. And a view—a worldview that alliances aren’t really that important. So in order to get our houses in order, do we need to be working more with our allies? Or is it something we can do on our own?

KUPCHAN: You know, I think that it is instructive or illustrative that even though Mr. Trump has support on some of his policies when it comes to, let’s say, immigration, building the wall with Mexico, protectionist policies to stand up to what he thinks are bad trade deals, other issues of that sort, he’s pretty much out there alone when it comes to walking away from allies. Seventy-five percent of the American people believe the U.S. should either maintain its commitment to NATO or increase its commitment to NATO. Congress has been passing one resolution after another, basically saying to Mr. Trump: We disagree with you when it comes to our allies. Secretary Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned in part because he broke with the president on this very question. The United States desperately needs allies in the world and they need us. We need likeminded partners.

So on this—on this front I do think that the president is quite isolated. And that’s one of the reasons that even though there is trouble afoot when it comes to our core alliances in Europe, our core alliances with Japan, South Korea, I think they’re actually in pretty good shape because they have very deep roots, not just in—among the foreign elite, but in American society more broadly. The American people get it. They understand, despite what Mr. Trump is saying, that if the United States goes it alone, it’s going to find the world a very lonely place, and a very dangerous place.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take our next question from Arizona State University.

Q: Can you all hear me all right?

KUPCHAN: Yes, loud and clear.

Q: OK. Wonderful. Yeah, so I—you know, I was curious, because—so I’m a second-year student at Thunderbird School of Global Management. And so, you know, we’re sort of talking about—you know, we’re talking about Brexit a lot, just like everybody else is in the field, But I was—you know, I was really curious about something that you said, because you said that you’re projecting centrist policies eventually to win out. And it sounded like that’s what you were saying, both in the U.S. and also in some aspects of European politics. But I was curious on that because of two different points.

One of the points: When we see more liberal or open-minded policies, for example, in Germany, accepting refugees, that drives radicalization on the other side of the political aisle. And then when I look at American Democratic candidates, for example, they’re farther left this cycle than they were last cycle. So I’m curious, like, what you think will actually stabilize or would be able to stabilize a more centrist policy to win out?

And then sort of the second component of my question is, you know, how specifically would future of work and immigration to be able to drive centrist politics’ popularity, instead of drive us away? Because it seems to me, like, especially on immigration issues, that’s—that has caused more radicalization than it’s quelled in terms of the immigration debate in the U.S. or in Germany, for example. So I was curious if you could speak to any of those points.

KUPCHAN: Sure. Good questions, all.

You know, I have to be honest with you. When I say that I think that there will be a swing back to the center, that is—that is wishful thinking as much as it the basis of analysis, maybe even more wishful thinking than analysis, in the sense that I think the center is in trouble. You know, there has been, over time, here in the United States, especially since 1994, a systematic depopulation of the center. Not so much in the American electorate, but in American politics. And that’s partly because of our primary system and campaign finance system. But if you just did an ideological map of members of Congress, there aren’t many centrists left, particularly in the Republican Party. So I’m not someone who is going to tell you that, yeah, it’s all going to be fine and we’re going to wake up tomorrow and moderate, reasonable, deliberative people are going to take back the reigns.

And, you know, I’m glad that you raised some of the specific issues that you did, because one of the reasons that Mr. Trump is president is that he asks questions that Americans want to hear. He asks questions about, you know, what are people going to do in the Rust Belt, who used to be making $30 an hour in a union job and are now making $8 an hour? You know, if you’re raising a family, you cannot live on $8 an hour. Mr. Trump is right that our immigration system is broken. We don’t know who’s coming. We don’t know who’s going. There are people separated at the border. He’s also right about foreign policy. You know, I have to be honest with you. I’m a—you know, I’m a centrist. I’m a Democrat. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing in Afghanistan. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing in Syria. I think we should get out tonight.

And so there is a lot to what President Trump says that resonates with the—with the American people, myself included. And I would like to see Democrats or Republicans, both are welcome to do this, to kind of colonize the pragmatic center, pick up some of the agenda that President Trump has rightly put front and center, and—but to come up with the right answers, right? The right answer is not to build a wall on Mexico—the border. It’s to come up with firm but fair immigration policies. The right answer to the future of work is not to open another coal mine in West Virginia or a new air conditioning plant in Indiana, right? That’s not going to fix the problem.

So the president is asking all the right questions. We need reasonable, centrist, pragmatic Democrats and Republican—and I would say the same thing about Europe—to come to the center and provide answers that reasonable, centrist Americans and Europeans want to hear.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take our next question from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

Q: Hi. Can you hear me?

KUPCHAN: Hello. Yes, I can.

Q: Hello. My name is Hassan (sp). I’m from King Fahd University.

My question is, how would Brexit influence the national unity of the United Kingdom? Thank you.

KUPCHAN: It’s a timely and urgent question, Hassan (sp), in the sense that the country is very polarized over Brexit and is likely to get more polarized as it moves forward, no matter what happens because if the Brexit people win out there are going to be about 50 percent of the Brits who are unhappy. If there is a second referendum and the stay campaign wins, half the country’s going to be very unhappy. And then you’ve got the whole question of whether the U.K. will hold together.

One of the toughest issues confronting Brexit is how to move the Brits out of the EU without building a frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland. What if a frontier emerges between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.? Is Northern Ireland going to want to leave? The Scottish voted by a very wide margin to stay in the EU. Will there be a move to Scottish independence after Brexit? There could well be. So I think that if the U.K. does in fact leave, which I expect it will, it will raise questions over the next decade or so about whether the United Kingdom is going to survive in its present form.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take our next question from UCLA.

Q: Hi. This is Benedicta (sp). I’m an exchange student at UCLA. I study at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

And I have a question regarding the future integration of the EU, whether you believe that going forward we’ll see a movement toward a multispeed integration or, in the light of Brexit, more centralized integration, especially since, well, it seems like the solutions to a lot of those problems that the EU faced should be more integration, especially the fiscal problems.

KUPCHAN: Interesting issue you raised, Benedicta (sp). And since you’re from Denmark, you probably know that the EU is also—is already, to some extent, multispeed, in the sense that some countries, including your own, have opt-outs. Some countries are in the eurozone and some countries are not. Some countries have exceptions on a few things, and other countries don’t. And so I expect Europe to get even more multispeed over time. And I think that’s a—that’s a good thing, because if the EU needs to move at the pace of its slowest member, it’s in trouble. And I do think that you want to have the ability for a vanguard of states to move more quickly, more deeply on integration than those that want to remain less loosely affiliated.

And that, to some extent, may make Brexit easier moving forward, because if you have countries that are in various states of affiliation, as Norway is, as Switzerland is, as Turkey is, then maybe the Brits can find a way of reattaching without being a full member. And I also think that it’s very important that Europe move ahead on defense integration, in part because of Mr. Trump and fears about the Europeans being on their own now that Mr. Trump has insulted the NATO alliance so regularly, but also because I think Europe needs it. Europe needs it because there may well be in the Balkans, in North Africa, in the Caucasus some kind of event that requires the use of military force. And Europe needs it to, I think, drive forward the integration process.

Not a European Army, but an army of Europeans, in which Europeans fight together, live together, have their units integrated. And that’s going to be comfortable for some countries and not comfortable for other countries, because defense is the last redoubt of sovereignty. And the way to make that happen, in my mind, is to do it in a multispeed way. Right now it’s occurring under what’s called PSCO, Permanent Structured Cooperation. And that is, as you—as you said—rightly said, a way of creating the flexibility for countries to participate or not participate as they see fit.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take our next question from Georgetown University.

Q: Hello. Yes, this is Burhat (ph). And—

Q: I don’t think they can hear you.

Q: Can you hear me?

FASKIANOS: Yes, we can.


Q: OK. I’m in the Master’s of Science in Foreign Service.

I had one initial question. I don’t know if this is allowed, but I have, like—as you spoke, I had more and more questions. I have three different questions, all of them related to Europe. So my first one is, in this new world, as you said, where China will be a hegemon more—or, at least in the same situation as the U.S., what would be the role of Europe in this new era, or what should be the role of Europe? My second question is when you spoke about the future of work. I would like to—like, if you could further speak about this, and about the risk of automation to employment, and what solutions should the EU present to this problem, to this risk?

And the third one is a bit more complicated. You probably know about how the former Catalan leaders, both President Puigdemont and Vice President Junqueras both ran as candidates to the EU Parliament on the next elections in, like, a way to internationalize the Catalan conflict. However, do you think this would wake-up regional nationalisms around the EU and cause—or cause divisions in government coalitions or tensions, as it already happened in Belgium? That would be all. Thank you very much.

KUPCHAN: On the first question, I think overall that the EU needs to start punching at its weight. It punches below its weight when it comes to areas outside of Europe. You know, I’m not—I’m not saying that the Europeans should have, you know, six aircraft carriers that they should put off the coast of China, but I do think that the EU needs to get more involved in global affairs, including in East Asia. And it’s worth—you know, it’s worth pointing out that China is coming its way. Belt and Road stretches right across Central Asia into Europe, particularly into Southern Europe. And investment, infrastructure, trade, these are all issues that the Europeans are dealing with.

Right now, Huawei is a huge issue because the United States doesn’t want the Europeans to use the Chinese company for 5G because they see it as a security threat. So there are lots of issues having to do with trade that are—trade and investment that are coming. And right now, I don’t think we have a clear U.S.-European policy. And one of the things that I lament about President Trump’s trade stance is that he should have reached out to Europe and created a coalition of like-minded states to deal with China, rather than picking fights individually with North American partners, China, and the Europeans. And so I do think that part of the Atlantic agenda has to be dealing with a rising China.

On the future of work issue, I have no idea. If I had a good answer to your question, I would not be a poorly paid senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Georgetown. I would be, you know, the CEO of a—of a company that knew what the future of work is and how we’re going to solve this problem. But I do think it is—it is—you know, it’s urgent. It’s happening. You know, when I read these technologists and think about a world ten years from now in which Ubers have no driver and truck drivers don’t exist anymore, and when you go to a fast food restaurant you order from a robot, and the robot makes your burrito, I do—you know, what are people going to do?

I’m confident that we’ll figure that out, because the world has made it through these kind of fundamental changes in the mode of production. But at my mind, that’s at the root of the great disorientation, fear and uncertainty that we feel today. But, you know, I don’t—I don’t have the answer. All I can tell you is that it’s an urgent question. You know, to the degree that I would say—you know, offer any thoughts, it would be, well, where are the jobs? And the jobs are in data processing, the jobs are in health care, the jobs are in service industries. Let’s find a way to make sure that those sectors are headed to parts of the country where people need jobs. And we need to do a much better job of retraining, vocational training, make education cheaper, make sure that Americans and Europeans, and everyone else, are educated for the jobs of the future.

On the last question, you know I think that the Catalan question is a very difficult one. I understand where the Spanish government is coming from, in seeing the referendum and the move to independence as constitutionally—or the findings of the constitutional court. Fortunately, I don’t—I don’t think we’re about to see a contagion of regionalism in Europe. But it is—it is certainly possible, because obviously Scotland, you mentioned Belgium, the Walloons and the Flemish. It’s there. But I’m not someone who is in favor of these issues. I mean, we have enough problems when it comes to immigration, and future of work, and populism. We don’t need, it seems to me, right now to tackle questions of succession. I’ll leave it at that.

FASKIANOS: Charlie, President Trump recently announced his 2020 budget, which will probably have—not pass in Congress. But among his cuts was a 24 percent reduction at State and USAID. And it would be great if you could talk a little bit. I mean, we’ve seen over the past two years the gutting of the State Department. We do have these relationships that we need to work on, and things happening around the world. Is it possible to get done with even more reductions at the State Department? And who are people calling there?

KUPCHAN: Well, I think this is another case where Congress and the American people know better than the president, in the sense that, you know, his efforts to whack the budget for diplomacy and for foreign assistance haven’t been so successful, and I doubt that they will be successful moving forward, especially now that Congress is—that the House is in the hands of the Democrats. And you know, it doesn’t—it doesn’t make a lot of sense in that. You know, the U.S. is in and of the world. We’ve been that way ever since 1898. And you can—you can argue that we are overextended, we need to pull in, we should get out of the Middle East. As I said, I’m not a big fan of staying forever in Afghanistan and Syria, but if we have a lighter footprint abroad in a military sense, that makes it even more important that we have a stronger footprint abroad in terms of diplomacy assistance and the private sector, because the U.S. does have a lot of interests in the world.

And as I said, I think the trend line is positive not negative, despite the budget proposal. Mr. Pompeo has turned things around after a very tough Tillerson era. Morale is picking up. People are heading back. There isn’t the same rate of departure from the State Department. So I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re not going to see the budget for diplomacy and assistance gutted.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take our next question from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

Q: Hello. Is my voice clear?

KUPCHAN: Yes, it is.

Q: So I don’t want to be pessimistic, but the EU is facing several issues, including the Greek crisis, the rise of the nationalists, right-wing groups, and Brexit. So are we witnessing a sign of the dissolution of the EU? Is that a sign of failure? Are we going to see more candidates that are requesting more authorities, more independence from the EU?

KUPCHAN: Well, I think that it certainly could go that way. Now, as I tried to indicate, there are winds blowing in different directions. There are signs that the populists are going to get stronger, and the center weaker. There are signs that the center may regain its dominant position. It’s difficult to say right now. But, you know, I am cautiously optimistic that the pendulum is going to swing back, and that in the main—the main EU countries, the pro-EU sentiment will prevail. And, you know, it is, I think—yes, there is this kind of move towards sovereignty, towards taking back rights from Brussels. But I do think that Europeans need to keep history in perspective.

The formation of an integrated Europe is one of the great accomplishments of our time. To drive from France to Germany and not stop, and not change money, and not see a border guard is a miracle. If you think about how many people have died along that border in wars, that that border is today geopolitically irrelevant is literally revolutionary and it is a miracle. And if Europeans let that go, if they try to bring borders back to life and bring the nation-state back to where it was in the 19th century, it would be a historic mistake. So I hope that they keep that big—that big poster in front of them as they make decisions and vote in the coming months and years.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I think we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And we’ll take our next question from St. Edward’s University.

Q: Yes. I wanted to talk about the higher education sector in the EU. What’s your estimate about the general health of the universities across the EU countries? And related to that, what’s your estimate of the European Union Research Council? It has been very well-funded in the past. Is that likely to continue?

KUPCHAN: I’m afraid I’m a little bit out of my depth. I’m not a specialist in higher education in Europe. I do visit European countries regularly. I was a graduate student in the United Kingdom. I have many colleagues at universities across Europe. And so my impressionistic sense is that higher education is doing quite well in most member states. Yes, there are some hits that have been taken, particularly in the U.K., because of austerity. The U.K., assuming it leaves the EU, is also going to be losing some of the important research funding that comes from the EU. And that—and that will hurt. But, you know, the U.K. has some of the top universities in the world. And that is unlikely to change as a consequence of Brexit.

And the only—the only other comment that I’d make here is that the Erasmus Program, which is a program that allows students from one EU country to study in another EU country, has been, I think, a remarkable success. And it does create a richer educational environment and allows students to get to know their neighbors more effectively. And it is, I think, one of the kind of quieter aspects of the European project that has—that has been very successful. And hopefully, hopefully, will continue to help build a European identity that is strong enough to make people feel like they are not just Germans, or Italians, or Spaniards, but Europeans as well, because that sense of common purpose, of common identity may be needed to keep the union together through these kind of very strange, worrying times in which—in which populism, anti-immigrant nativism seem to be—seem to be threatening some of the things that many of us have come to cherish of the last part of the 20th century.

FASKIANOS: Well, with that I’m afraid we are out of time. But, Charlie, thank you so much for today’s conversation. It was very insightful, and we appreciate your analysis and, of course, the service to the country and, you know, at our university, and here at the Council. So thank you very much for all that you do. And thanks to all of you for your questions. Again, you can look—watch, go read Charlie Kupchan. He’s published in Foreign Affairs. Come to our website,, for more insights. We hope you will take advantage of all of this.

Our next call will be on Wednesday, April 3, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time with Shelia Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies here at CFR. And she’ll talk about Japan’s defense priorities. And I hope you all will follow us on Twitter at @CFR_Campus. Visit for new resources and upcoming events, as well as go to Foreign Affairs, our magazine that we publish. And it has a lot of wonderful content online. So you should take a look at that as well.

So thank you for today’s call. Thank you, Charlie Kupchan. And we will talk again soon.

KUPCHAN: Thank you, Irina. And thanks to all of you for participating.


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