Strengthening Europe’s Democratic Identity and Security in a more Autocratic World

Strengthening Europe’s Democratic Identity and Security in a more Autocratic World

Author: Michael Emerson


Much attention is rightly being paid to the well-documented tendencies in most of the world’s regions for autocracy to have been gaining some ground in the last two decades at the expense of democracy. Europe has not been immune from the impact of the several megatrends and profound systemic shocks that seem to have been favouring these autocratic tendencies – namely climate change, the Covid pandemic, Western macroeconomic shocks and above all the roles of China and Russia as autocracy’s superpowers. But paradoxically these same, extremely heterogenous disorders have seen the EU also responding with unprecedented initiatives, strengthening its powers and competences. However, Putin’s attack on Ukraine mounts the case for further steps, notably for the EU’s further enlargement now to be cast as a security project, to be supported by major advances in military defence capabilities under the heading of a European Defence Union. The gravity of the threat to democratic Europe from the autocratic superpowers could then result in a strengthening of an integrated Europe to a degree going beyond what has so far been politically feasible.


In his book entitled ‘Mahomed and Charlemagne’, the eminent Belgian historian, Henri Pirenne, famously argued how the rise of Charlemagne and Europe’s Christian identity over a millennium ago would have been inconceivable without the Arab aggression . Identity was standing for the coalescence of society’s perceptions of its beliefs and values, enhanced to the point of enabling a previously impossible mobilization of power to defend itself against the external threat.
The question today is whether democratic Europe, and the EU in particular, can shape up its democratic identity and geo-political power to the point of stopping Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and countering an erosion of European democracy threatened also by China’s powerful international presence. Can the current circumstances, with its multiple crises and responses by the EU, crystalize a sufficiently strengthened sense of European democratic identity to enable the organization of the political and military means to defend itself – first of all against the aggressive Russian autocracy on its doorstep?