EU leaders increasingly speak the language of classical geopolitics: a language of hard power and military might. Appeals for the EU to become “more geopolitical” were already building over the past decade but have now been turbocharged by two crises: the Covid-19 pandemic first, and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These two breaking points in global order are pointed to as spelling an “awakening” of the EU to the challenges of a perilous world that no longer permit it to not “act geopolitically.”
Yet, to what degree have EU––and national––leaders been able to engage European citizens in the discussion regarding the EU’s geopolitical turn? Geopolitical imaginations have always married both internal and external dimensions and past geopolitical thinkers were keenly aware of this fact. Today’s EU leaders have not been able to offer convincing geopolitical stories in this regard––nor have they been able to ‘ground’ the Union’s geopolitical ambitions in the everyday realities of most EU citizens. Simply asserting that the EU must “become geopolitical” since “there is no alternative” is proving insufficient.
Examining a number of different European national contexts, Luiza Bialasiewicz argued that without a grounded and democratic geopolitics, other geopolitical stories will inevitably rush in to fill the void to help EU citizens make sense of the vertigo of the current moment. Such geopolitical stories include the conspiratorial geopolitical imaginations fed by extremist parties and movements, but not solely. They also increasingly manifest themselves across a range of issue areas and spaces: most visibly in urban contexts, where they have begun to frame various forms of contestation, including protests against refugee reception.
Luiza Bialasiewicz is Professor of European Governance at the University of Amsterdam and Academic Director of the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies.
Misha Glenny, IWM Rector, introduced the speaker.
Ayşe Çağlar, IWM Permanent Fellow, provided commentary.