Working against the trend towards a US-China duopoly will likely be well-received by nations in the global south – a move that can also enhance Europe’s ties on a broader scale.
During President Macron’s state visit to China this past April, a spotlight was turned onto Europe’s evolving role in a global setting that continues to shift and evolve. Upon his return, Macron raised concerns that the escalating rivalry between China and the United States may force Europe into a bloc led by the US, effectively stripping Europe of its self-determining capabilities. To preserve these, Macron suggested that Europe should seek to become a “third power“, a role that would help Europe avoid falling under the sway of either the US or China.
For the European Union to solidify its place as a third power, it must forge a unique ‘third way’ approach towards international relations. Integral to this strategy is the formation of alliances with nations of the global south, which also tend to reject a duopolistic world order shaped by the power struggle between the US and China. This alliance is achievable if Europe recognizes its own assets as a potential third power and revamps its approach to engaging with the global south.
Failure to do so may lead Europe down the path of vassalisation – a continuous subjugation to the US. This failure to distance itself from the US positions the EU, in the eyes of the global south, as a complicit partner to the United States’ strategy of creating alliances for an emerging global order. Many leaders of the global south perceive this duopoly as an attempt to coerce the non-aligned world into aligning with either the US or China, a scenario they vehemently oppose. Considering Europe’s colonial history and its struggle to recalibrate relations with the global south to a footing of equality, Europe’s incorporation into a US bloc could be a significant blow to its relationship with countries of the global south.
Europe’s ‘Third Way’ Strategy
Declaring Europe’s intention to carve out a ‘third way’ in the global order, as an alternative to the duopoly, could cultivate a significant common ground with the global south. This third way arises from Europe’s understanding of its vulnerability to the ambitions of both China and the US in a duopolistic world order. Transforming this awareness into policy could establish a joint perspective on the international order with the global south, providing multiple benefits for Europe. European policymakers should consider this path for three primary reasons.
Firstly, in terms of global order, Europe could recast itself as a more natural ally to the global south than China. For years, China has effectively marketed itself as the advocate of the global south, categorizing Europe and the US as joint caretakers of an increasingly inequitable global order that has arisen since the post-1989 unipolar era. By characterizing the West as protectors of a hegemonic global order, China has assumed control of the multilateral reform agenda with its demands for more inclusivity for the global south. This is despite China simultaneously promoting alternatives to the global order like the BRICS and the New Development Bank. Although it presents these organizations as focused on the global south, they unquestionably provide strategic depth for China.
China’s aspiration for global leadership is a fundamental aspect of the duopoly. As China inevitably builds its own sphere of influence, its credibility as the champion of the global south will face increasing scepticism. Europe can step in with its ‘third way’ at this point. This move will effectively overturn China’s long-standing narrative by proposing a more plausible geopolitical argument for alignment between Europe and the global south.
Secondly, the ‘third way’ provides a clear purpose that can aid Europe in mending its waning relationships with the states of the global south. This approach could replace the colonial baggage-laden charity paradigm and empty pledges of respect among equals, with a tangible demonstration of the global south’s importance to Europe’s strategic interests. This concrete intent could accomplish more in terms of reconciliation than countless apologies for past European transgressions.
Finally, the ‘third way’ expands Europe’s influence in both directions – towards China and the US. Europeans can challenge China’s outsized influence in the global south, while becoming both less reliant and more valuable to the US. This new approach doesn’t mean a complete break from the transatlantic alliance; instead, it indicates a diversification and maturation of Europe’s international relations in tune with the new era.
Strengthening Europe-Global South Relations
The common geopolitical challenge that both Europe and the global south face can lay the foundation for enhanced relations between them. However, strengthening this alliance demands more than a mere proclamation of intent. Concrete actions that serve mutual interests are needed to forge durable ties.
The global south’s significant vulnerability to worldwide risks – ranging from pandemics to economic turbulence – and its fundamental quest to secure economic development should be integral to any discussions of forming new alliances with Europe. A focus on promoting greater equality in vital multilateral organizations such as the UN Security Council and Bretton Woods institutions will also be crucial.
Backing for European priorities would make up the other essential part of the dialogue. However, given the historical backdrop, Europe should approach this dynamic as a courtship first, followed by negotiation. This implies that the announcement of shared objectives should not necessitate an immediate exchange on high-stakes issues such as support for Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent trip to Africa serves as a great example of this approach: investing in future prospects without the immediate anticipation of reciprocation. If endorsed by Germany, and coupled with France’s ongoing robust engagement with Africa, the ‘third way’ approach could become a reality as a pan-European policy.
Are you an entrepreneur, a start-up or a SME with the goal to start up between or in Africa and Germany? Then our team will happily assist you on the legal side! We are specialized both in supporting multicultural businesses in Germany, in supporting African businesses in Germany and in supporting businesses across various African jurisdictions. While our support starts with providing help on immigration and relocation matters, it does not stop there – taxes, tech, intellectual property…You heard us! Contact us today to find out more!