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Research Report

Europe in 2022:: Alternative Futures

Mathew Burrows
Frances G. Burwell
Foreword by Javier Solana
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2017
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 86
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. ix-x)
    Javier Solana

    The European project is in crisis. Growing economic inequality, populist gains in local elections and the promise of victory for nationalist candidates, US retrenchment, and demographic shifts stand in stark challenge to European cultural norms and values. In many ways, the future of the European continent is more uncertain now than ever before in the post-World War II period. With threats increasingly crossing and transcending national borders, governments are faced with the choice of closing theirs to the free flow of peoples and goods.

    These challenges are not new. I grappled with many of these issues throughout my years in...

  2. (pp. 9-12)

    Over the past few years, Europe has been buffeted by multiple crises. Beginning with the financial shocks of 2008, the European economy has suffered one debt crisis after another, as Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, and Greece have gone through difficult bailout programs, and, at times, seemed about to send the entire European economy into a tailspin. But, by the end of 2016, most had returned to modest growth and progress had even been made on unemployment. In Spain, for example, unemployment fell from 27 percent in 2013 to 18.6 percent in 2016.¹ Greece is still on the edge, with the...

  3. (pp. 13-28)

    Looking out five years, a few key trends will set parameters around which Europe can change in the medium term. These trends are, for the most part, immutable. They are unlikely to change significantly during the period under examination, and thus represent the constants that European leaders must address. They might be altered and refined a bit around the edges, but even focused attention by European governments is unlikely to change these trends in any serious way. The question for European governments is whether they can find suitable policy responses, and appropriate resources to respond, so that Europe arrives at...

  4. (pp. 29-50)

    If there are some immutable trends defining Europe’s future, there are also many uncertainties that will shape Europe’s responses and help determine where it finds itself in 2022. Some will be sudden shocks—“game changers”—that quickly reshape European perspectives and priorities, while others emerge gradually. Some variables will result from developments and decisions within Europe, and the most effective policy response will come from European institutions, national governments, and other players. Along with these domestic uncertainties, there will also be external variables, in which the actions of others will affect Europe’s future between now and 2022. The level of...

  5. (pp. 51-54)

    For all of these variables, perhaps the most important strategic consequence is whether they encourage—or discourage—Europe from acting in a more unified and effective manner. Will certain combinations of developments make it easier for Europe to grow a strong pan-European economy, with fewer barriers and more growth, more innovation, and more employment? Will certain variables make Europe a more unified foreign policy actor, whether maintaining sanctions on Russia, providing for a stronger defense (including against terrorism), or creating coherent polices toward instability to its south and east?

    When considering the likely impact of any particular variable, the answer...

  6. (pp. 55-60)

    Below is a set of alternative futures for Europe, based on the interaction of the megatrends and key variables. Although there could be an almost infinite number of scenarios, the authors have tried to outline five key futures, all within the realm of possibility in the next five years.

    In 2017, Europe begins to experience sustained economic growth and gradually reduced unemployment, even among younger job seekers. The growth rate still rarely exceeds 2 percent, but neither does it drop much below. Ireland, Portugal, and Spain have even higher growth rates, and become examples of successful post-crisis reforms. In France...

  7. (pp. 61-63)

    It is clear that the past will not be prologue in Europe’s case. For almost sixty years, Europe’s story was about an ever-expanding and closer union. That dream has not entirely faded, but new economic and geopolitical drivers are making it hard for Europe to go on as it has in the past without major adaptations. As Europe has economically lagged other regions, the social contract is under threat. In this age of globalization, governments are blamed for not ensuring the same quality of life as before for their citizens. Already, it is becoming harder to fund the liberal social-welfare...

  8. (pp. 74-79)

    The Atlantic Council’s forecast papers have often helped me think about key trends and developments and how they might be playing out in the future. The new study on Europe in 2022: Alternate Futures is an especially timely and valiant effort.

    It is true: The European project is facing the greatest challenge it has had to deal with since the European Union’s predecessor was conceived sixty years ago. Current political trends do not favor moderate Europeans: the center is clearly shrinking. Mainstream pro-EU parties of the center-left and center-right have to form coalitions, but their inability to deliver substantial economic...