Since the early 1990s the case for Europe has run out of steam. Peace and general prosperity have seemed secure; and glib presentations of globalisation suggest that the European Union is an inward-looking protectionist bloc, superfluous to the new realities of a genuinely global economy. Even the EU's achievements in this period have been understated - as with the creation of the Euro as a new common currency - or seen as weakening the Union's common purpose - as with its enlargement to the former Stalinist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe.
Poor political leadership has exacerbated this perception. Since the end of the Presidency of Jacques Delors, in 1994, the European Commission has been weak. The European Central Bank has been dominated from its inception by monetarist orthodoxies and obsessions with low inflation. And the decision to choose aged and arrogant French aristocrat Valery Giscard d'Estaing to lead the drafting of a new constitution - potentially a process leading to political renewal - has backfired badly.
All this has delighted Eurosceptics of both left and right, who are eager to write off the EU as a failed experiment. And nowhere has this been more evident than in Britain, where the pro-European voice is much diminished, and anti-European press hysteria rampant. Yet Eurosceptic glee is misplaced. The harsh reality today is that the only way for Britain to have an effective say on the major issues facing the modern world is through its involvement in the European Union. The development of a coherent strategy for the future of the EU is thus a key task for those on the progressive wing of politics. This article suggests a possible route map.
The geopolitical case for Europe
Substantial changes are occurring that reinforce the progressive case for Europe. The most important of these is the swift demise of the unipolar world. US dominance is in decline, and the world economy shows the growing presence of the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and above all China. Iraq has shown the limits of American power. And on the African continent it is China that is calling the shots. Though the US neo-conservatives remain both dangerous and in power, their Project for the New American Century can no longer be realised.
The second underlying change is the growing recognition of the unstable and volatile nature of the type of deregulated, financial capitalism that the neoliberal Washington orthodoxy has unleashed. In world currency markets it is the Euro which is the stable currency, while the dollar sinks as the underlying weaknesses and trade deficits of the domestic US economy become more evident. These developments could yet herald wider political changes, which may challenge the neoliberal orthodoxies which have held in thrall many European governments, new Labour in particular.
This is linked to a third trend - growing public unease at the widening social inequality that has been unleashed by this model of deregulated capitalism. For a generation neoliberals have led an unrelenting ideological assault on social Europe and the principles of equality and social justice. Now, the chaos in the financial markets and the shameless greed of its leading proponents is opening political space for those arguing for a more progressive social agenda.
The fourth key change has been the shift on climate change. The growing international recognition of the dangers of 'boiling the planet' should not be underestimated. Furthermore, this is an issue which the public knows 'in its guts' that you cannot tackle on a national basis: the 'local' and the 'global' go together.
The fifth, deeper, factor relates to topics that are the 'underbelly' of globalisation. Here, the two most substantial are those of population movement and crime, both of which are much easier in a more globalised world. Unlike the consensus on the environment, however, there is no gut public recognition that these issues need to be tackled in partnership with other countries. …