Before addressing this workshop’s theme directly, I would like to offer perhaps ceremonial but nonetheless sincere apologies for any words I might mispronounce. I will do my absolute best to express my view on the concerned topic in a clear and relevant way and hope that this address will meet your expectations.
The very title of our workshop raises questions: how is the world changing? And how are we supposed to define and evaluate the strength of our Union? Do we refer to our military strength in a world of constant crisis and increasing tensions? Or are we rather referring to our strength in a more general way, therefore including social and cultural notions, as well as economic and structural factors?
Recent events in our contemporary history, such as the rise of international institutions and the fall of the USSR, led us to think that our socio-political model, what we often refer to as liberal democracy, would in the future go unopposed and thus, that we had entered the era of post-strength: we had nothing to conquer, nothing to defend. But we were partly mistaken and those certitudes we had, those certitudes we carefully built and looked after, now represent the first obstacle that we, as progressives, need to overcome.
To some of us progressives, strength is a dirty word, so deeply linked to centuries of barbarity, violence and martial crimes that we felt as if turning our back on this very notion would be enough to gain the moral high ground. Yet, other thinkers from our ranks thought differently and dared express a paradoxical evidence of theirs: the less we’re willing to use our strength, to more we should improve it. Does the Union need to improve its strength from a quantitative point of view? Apart from NATO’ arbitrary goal of dedicating 3% of one nation’s GDP to its military budget, one can hardly accurately define the limit below which strength begins shrinking. But there definitely are things to improve from a qualitative point of view, especially in term of industrial cooperation, strategic thinking, and interoperability of our forces.
And yet, there’s still one more thing that I ought to say to this assemble: our Union IS strong. And it needs to use its strength. Not to invade countries, not to conquer lands, not to submit people, but to defend its own interests. We now have to deal with a US president turning into a warmonger-in-chief; we now have to deal with countries considered “western” leaving international institutions and disregarding international agreements without having to suffer any kind of diplomatic or political retribution. More than anything else, those realities are to be met with a European response: The Union needs not only to be strong, but to act in a strong, independent way as well. If not, History will severely judge us: we will enter history books as “the power who refused to be powerful” and peoples will only remember this: we could have changed the world – but we refused to.