The European Union contains the former global powers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom and numerous other former colonial powers such as Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands along with many other countries in Europe. For the purpose of this article, it is considered to be a unit, but please see "points against the rise of an EU superpower".
Demographic power as a unitEdit
- Demographically, the EU has a population of 456 million, ranking it third behind China and India. Eurostat (PDF File) This does not take into account possible future enlargements. The largest of which, Turkey, would boost the EU population by 70 million people. However, the EU's population is exhibiting nearly zero organic growth and this is also true of the majority of new countries being considered (Turkey being the exception). By 2050, current growth rates would have both the United States and Indonesia passing the EU community in population.
Political power as a unitEdit
- Stable Governments - Politically, the constituent nations of the EU possess some of the most stable political systems in the world; this is in part due to the fact that stable government is a prerequisite to joining the EU. This said, new entrants to the European Union, especially in Central Europe have problems with corruption.
- UNSC - France and the United Kingdom both have permanent seats in the UN Security Council, with Germany part of the Group of Four vying for a permanent seat in the Security Council. Including non-permanent members, it is currently possible that five of the fifteen total seats of the Security Council could be taken by EU members. This, however, does not mean that the EU as a whole will necessarily speak with one voice, although there is currently a movement to abolish the seats of France and the United Kingdom in favour of a single European Union seat.
Cultural power as a unitEdit
- History - Culturally, the European Union member states have phenomenal cultural influence. This is due to each of the member countries having such a rich and separate history and cultural identity and the spread of these cultures through colonialism and imperialism.
- Global cities - The EU contains two of the four global cities, London and Paris, this is a testament to the advanced development and cultural influence of Europe.
- Influence of Membership - The EU also has possibly the world's greatest so-called soft power. Just the possibility of membership of the union can inspire impressive changes in its neighbours. For example, it is considered that the EU's soft power was one of the causes of revolution in neighbouring countries such as Ukraine (see the Orange Revolution).
Economic power as a unitEdit
- Size (GDP)- Economically, the EU wields clout and possesses the largest economy in the world when combined; in 2004, it had a GDP (PPP) of $11,723,816 million according to the IMF and $12,020,939 million according to the World Bank. According to the CIA Factbook's figures for 2005, the EU still has the world's second largest economy, when combined, after the USA.
- Trade This has led the EU to wield much power over other nations, recently starting trade disputes with China over its textile exports and the United States over alleged subsidies of Airbus and Boeing.
- Space Exploration - several EU member states together run a common space programme, the European Space Agency, although this organisation is not EU sponsored. It has designed its own successful rocket class, the Ariane rockets and has its own spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana. Although no European nation (excluding the then Soviet sphere) ever joined the space race, there being no political will at the time to spend the money required to send people into space, it is likely that if the EU and ESA wished to send people into space, they could. The ESA has also sent probes to many other planets, including Mars and Saturn's moon Titan. The European Union is also setting up its own global positioning network, Galileo to rival the American controlled GPS and Russian controlled GLONASS.
Military power as a unitEdit
- Please note that the EU's military power does not currently function as a unit in any major sense, but this may well be beginning to change, although it is of note that there is much debate on this issue, and that some EU member states hold strong views on defence neutrality (in some cases, this is a constitutional issue)
- Size and Spending - if one were to take the EU member states armed forces and assume that they were EU controlled, then it is argued that the European Union would have armed forces stronger than the next few countries put together; although weaker than the United States. European Union member states defence spending is US$193 billion, compared to the United States' US$390 billion: but both of the two (assuming the EU member states spending is grouped for the purposes of comparison) are still far ahead of the next nearest country, China, whose expenditure estimates range from US$35.4 billions (SIPRI) to US$90 billions (DoD). N.B. Problems in making comparisons of defence spending figures include: (i) some EU member states neutrality policy, (ii) some EU member states (e.g. Italy) whose defence spending figures include expenditure on internal security / policing matters - there being no comparable spending included in the US defence spending figures, and (iii) differences in the presentation of subsidies to industrial concerns for defence purposes - e.g. France includes expenditure to EADS on the A400M project in its defence expenditure, whilst the US tends to support similar defence issues through taxation, and therefore there are differing corresponding figures for such defence expenditure in the US figures.
- Technology - European Union member states have some of the most disciplined armies in the world, and their technology levels are comparable to those of the United States. Indeed, the two share extensively military technology, intelligence, tactics and strategy.
- Nuclear Power - Two European Union member states also have their own substantial nuclear arsenal of approximately globally deliverable 550 nuclear warheads, divided between France and the United Kingdom. Whilst these arsenals are smaller in simple numerical terms than that of either the US or Russia, either arsenal is sufficient to devastate any conceivable adversary, and therefore can be said to be a credible defence deterrent. Of note is that other member states have strong positions on nuclear weapons - for example in Germany public opinion is strongly opposed against any participation in the operation of any nuclear weapons force.
Points against the rise of an EU superpowerEdit
- No Unified Military - The EU does not fulfil all criteria for superpower status, because it does not currently have a unified military force, amongst many other substantial reasons. As an example, the forces of the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy participated in the invasion and/or occupation of Iraq beginning in 2003. The governments of France and Germany condemned the invasion. This problem of unity is caused because there is no common foreign and security policy without unanimity amongst member states, and the means to project power externally remains controlled by member states. Whether or not such powers are assumed by the EU and removed from EU member states is a subject of much debate - indeed there is currently no official proposal for this although many people have long term aspirations for the EU to have these powers. Political and military fragmentation presents the greatest limiter to the EU's status as a single superpower.
- EU Integration? - This status would likely depend on further progress in European integration and federalisation, if that were to be the direction agreed for the EU as a whole. The repudiation of the new European constitution by the voters of founder nations and other EU member states viewed as having broadly positive positions on integrationist ideas, France and the Netherlands, in 2005, undermined plans for closer integration. With comments made by Austria's presidency, the constitution may be resurrected, although there is continuing debate as to the feasibility of this - the Dutch government has in particular indicated dissent for any proposal to present substantially the same proposals a second time. The former German government favoured putting the EU constitution to France repeatedly until they say "Oui", which is viewed by some as undemocratic. Future political developments will determine the place of the EU in world events.
- Aging - Demographically, the EU has a fast aging population, comparable only with Japan, presenting prospective problems concerning sources of labour, economic growth as well as welfare expenses. This could be partially offset if Turkey eventually accedes to the EU.
- Unification => 1 UN Seat - Unification of all powers in foreign policy and defence matters under the Common Foreign and Security Policy would mean that it is likely that only one permanent seat in the UN Security Council would be controlled by the EU by some means. This may lead to the EU's political influence lessening somewhat.
- Economic growth - Though the EU currently has an economy just as large as the US, its annual economic growth rate is only 1.7%. In comparison, the US is growing at 3.5%, China is growing at 9.2%, and India is growing at 7.1%. Unless this improves, the EU's share of world economy is likely to decrease in future.