Europe at a Crossroads

On March 6, IES hosted a lecture by Ruth Jacoby, a leading Swedish diplomat who served for the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and whose posts included Ambassador to Italy and Germany. Given her unique perspective on and familiarity with European affairs, her lecture offered a wealth of insights into the wave of right-wing populism that has swept across Europe.

To begin her presentation, Jacoby claimed that the culmination of events such as the Russian invasion of Georgia, Ukraine, and Crimea; the 2008 Great Recession, the Greek banking crisis, and the ongoing fighting in Syria has thrown Europe into a widespread state of pessimism and uncertainty. With many new challenges to face in the coming months, including ongoing Brexit negotiations and upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Jacoby explained that Europe has reached a juncture beyond which the European Union and national balances of power could drastically change. Following Jacoby’s provision of this context, the packed room of 50 attendees engaged in a lively question and answer segment that lasted for the majority of the event. Featured most prominently among the topics covered were populism, globalization, the threat of the Islamic State, and Brexit.

While the discussion jumped from country to country, Jacoby described with specific expertise the problems facing the Nordic region, including her home country of Sweden. Jacoby repeatedly encouraged the audience to answer questions before offering her own opinion, sparking stimulating conversation and, at times, even small debates. This fostered an atmosphere of open discourse and participation, an impressive feat considering the substantial number of people present. Although many, if not all, of the crises facing Europe were thoroughly discussed, it was difficult to propose a clear-cut solution for the continent. Jacoby noted that each country and region must act in a way that is specific to their own values and norms; a multi-faceted approach, therefore, is critical. There is no “quick-fix” to the crises that have materialized across Europe, but, she argued, a multilateral and careful attitude would prove most successful.