Would you like to live in China, Russia, Africa, a theocratically led area? Or would you dare to be a European in an area with history of ​​great artistic, literary, social and intellectual movements; an area where philosophy and humanism is practiced; an area that showed resilience after miseries; an area dealing with meaning and dignity; an area known for ​​'the Chariot'; and an area to play a pioneering role in the world. That would be the true essence: care for the soul and guide to the future. That is Europe and she can do it.


A fanciful reconstruction of Phidias' statue of Zeus, in an engraving made by Philippe Galle in 1572, from a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerk. The sculpture itself was made around 435 BC at the sanctuary of Olympia, Greece, and erected in the Temple of Zeus there. Ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework were materials used. The statue was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and was lost and destroyed during the 5th century AD with no copy ever being found.

A hazy poetic light illuminates her
home city of Tyre, further evoking
an idyllic antique world







The maiden Europa rests atop a white bull, unaware it is the god Zeus in disguise.
According to the tale in Ovid's Metamorphoses, soon the animal will abduct her across
the waves. Until then, she and her attendants festoon the seemingly innocent beast
with flowers, while her blue drapery flutters in the breeze.


setting Europe in motion | Europe after 1945 | Europe 1945 and earlier | EU, an economic monetary and political union of nation states and citizens | geopolitics and economics in a dynamic world | does the West still exist? Moving towards 2020 | from an Arab Spring to an European Autumn (July '13) | Germany | Spinelli Forum: Europe and nation states: friends or foes? | 3 Three Seas | wider Europe | Understanding Uneasy Nation-Building Process in Post-Communist Europe (Ivan Krastev) | The return of Europe (NEXUS Institute) | arts, culture and identity | trans-atlantic | social scopes | change (Aristotle's account, and Obama & Cameron account) | economic governance | Europe media | Europe geographically | the maiden Europe | etymology | Europe's origins | JE SUIS EUROPÉEN | technocratic Europe | Wars after 1945 | interview with George Soros

two hundred years in Europe viewed (click for a presentation) towards a democratic foundation of Europe's new economic and financial constitution The Nexus Institute brings together the world’s foremost intellectuals, artists and politicians, and has them think and talk about the questions that really matter. In doing so, the Nexus Institute places itself at the centre of the Western cultural and philosophical debate. In the best European humanist tradition, its annual Conferences and Lectures, open to all, have become a platform for informed intellectual debate on pressing contemporary issues humanities (literature, philosophy, identity, health, arts (architecture, music, dance), religion, movements, virtues, ethics, tolerance) discussions on federalism and economic governance, chaired by Giuliano Amato, prospects for the euro with views from Yves Leterme and William Kennard, and on how non EU-member states could bring their contribution to bear with Iain Begg.
Lords of finance: since end 2007, when the debt-issue was outlined, many experts let their knowledge shine on the origin, the development, solutions (including eurobonds) and future. There is talk of a breakthrough on common governance due to a policy of common financing of public debt.
Mozart and Salzburg Environment
The quest for European leadership
about energy The Sound of Europe
the world

Charter of Paris
for a new Europe
Paris 1990

Liberty and security Foreign and Security policy
Banking union: level of supervision, European deposit insurance scheme, ESM Digital agenda. I want the internet to do my homework. Community
Europe media

Letter of his holiness
Pope Francis on Europe

The Centre for European Policy Studies: Thinking ahead for Europe Greece Innovation policy Education, the key to individual life chances Security and defence


Europe geographically

Europe is one of the seven traditional continents of the Earth. Physically and geologically, Europe is the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, west of Asia. Europe is bound to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Mediterranean Sea, to the southeast by the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. To the east, Europe is generally divided from Asia by the water divide of the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, and by the Caspian Sea. Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (North America) than mainland Europe, is generally included in Europe. There is ongoing debate on where the geographical centre of Europe is. In terms of population, it is the third-largest continent (after Asia and Africa) with a population of about 11% of the world's population. The term continent can refer to a cultural and political distinction or a physiographic one, leading to various perspectives about Europe's precise borders, area, and population.

the maiden Europe

Europa is also, daughter of a royal couple, coming from Phoenicia, who lived during childhood near the land of the Biblical places Tyre and Sidon (now Lebanon) to the Mediterranean Sea. In Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess who was abducted by Zeus in bull form and taken to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon.
For Homer, Europe was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later Europa stood for mainland Greece and by 500 BC its meaning had been extended to lands to the north.

Europe is an open society and the birthplace of the Council of Europe (already coined in 1623) and the European Union.


In etymology one theory suggests the name Europe is derived from the Greek words meaning broad (eurys) and face (ops) – broad having been an epithet of Earth itself in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion. A minority, however, suggest this Greek popular etymology is really based on a Semitic word such as the Akkadian erebu meaning "sunset", cognate to Arabic maghreb, Hebrew ma'ariv. From the Middle Eastern vantage point, the sun does set over Europe, the lands to the west. Likewise, Asia is sometimes thought to have derived from a Semitic word such as the Akkadian asu, meaning "sunrise", and is the land to the east from a Middle Eastern perspective. For centuries, the Turks used the term Frengistan (land of the Franks) in referring to Europe. The majority of major world languages use words derived from "Europa" to refer to the continent.

Europe's origins

The origins of Western democratic and individualistic culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece, though numerous other distinct influences, in particular Christianity, can also be credited with the spread of concepts such as egalitarianism and universality of law. After the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of changes arising from what is known as the Age of Migrations. That period has been known as the "Dark Ages" to Renaissance thinkers. Isolated monastic communities in Great Britain, Ireland and elsewhere carefully safeguarded and compiled written knowledge accumulated previously. During this time, the western part of the Roman Empire was 'reborn' as the Holy Roman Empire, later called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The eastern part of the Roman Empire became known in the west as the Byzantine Empire.


"Europe is an incredible construction, much critized. Much too slow, very laborious on occasions but it is also an extraordinary achievement of the immediate aftermath of the second World War where countries had been at each other's throat and millions of people had died at the hands of each other for centuries. And to actually decide that in the name of peace and prosperity they were going to establish that free market zone where product, service and people can actually move, is something that should not be wasted at all. And it is a resilient construction and a resilient territory which is unfinished and which needs to be completed" (Christine Lagarde, 24 June 2016).

World War I, and especially World War II, ended the pre-eminent position of western Europe. The map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference and divided as it became the principal zone of contention in the Cold War between the two power blocs, the Western countries and the Eastern bloc. The United States and Western Europe (the United Kingdom, France, Italy, West Germany, etc.) established the NATO alliance as a protection against a possible Soviet invasion. Later, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany) established the Warsaw Pact as a protection against a possible U.S. invasion. See page for more developments after 1945.

By the explicit wish to eliminate the destructive tradition of nationalism, a unique collaboration emerged in Europe, based on ideals, realism and geopolitical conditions. The turbulent past of Europe put into motion the EU to prevent war between nation-states and to increase prosperity. At present days however, nationalistic and populistic aspirations are widely spread and hardly open anymore to diversity, inclusion, tolerance and reason. In 2015, various member-states hold national elections. In Greece, the radical left party SYRIZA won election. UKIP in the UK got their and left the EU 23 June 2016 and Podemos in Spain seem to get a lot of votes. National elections influence the direction of the European Union. However, protest parties are an inevitable consequence of further European integration. These are not necessarily anti-European, but oppose the established order. ECB is changing, a European investment plan is on the shelf, form of government and EU-budget is under discussion, the long desired energy union takes off.

Presentation 'Europe, a flowing river'


Three Seas
The countries involved in Three Seas share the same objectives: economic growth, security and a stronger and more cohesive Europe. To achieve these goals, cooperation is promoted for the development of infrastructure in the energy, transport, and digital sectors. 
Cooperation between the Three Seas countries and their partners will result in a stronger, more united and more internationally competitive Europe.


President Macron’s Initiative for Europe: A sovereign, united, democratic Europe (26.09.17)

Faced with the great challenges of our times, such as defence and security, great migrations, development, climate change, the digital revolution and regulation of a globalized economy, have European countries found means to defend their interests and values, and to guarantee and adapt their democratic and social model that is unique worldwide? Can they address each of these challenges alone? We cannot afford to keep the same policies, the same habits, the same procedures and the same budget. No more can we choose to turn inwards within national borders.

Contents: A sovereign Europe | A united Europe | A democratic Europe | What Europe for 2024?

Further readings:

- Franco-German non-paper on key questions and guidelines
- EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service : 'Preparing the Conference on the Future of Europe'


Since the advent of the new US administration policy priorities seem to have diverged. The European side continues to emphasize the importance of cooperation and a rules-based global system. Tensions have emerged as the two sides seem far apart in terms of the need to combat climate change or to defend fundamental rights accross the globe.
Moreover, Europe perceives China much less as a geopolitical competitor, and more as an important market. But the one area where the US and the EU seem in direct conflict is trade. A truce has been established, but will it last? Will it be possible to find compromises in other areas as well, to re-establish the long standing transatlantic partnership?
If Europe wants to be a global player, it has to satisfy values that can serve world-wide, it have to have the disposal of a strong economy, of a solid foreign policy and a of a proper policy for security, equipped with instruments to prevent conflicts and is a further integration of Europe needed to keep and to increase our prosperity and well-being. However, in reality, there is a different situation. There is a sovereign debt crisis, economic downturn and there are tensions within and between countries due to austerity and solidarity issues. Europe has become less stable and in fact there is a new reality. The IMF has aligned internal policies; greater scope for influence of emerging countries and less for 'old ones'. Furthermore, space is created for special attention to Europe.
'Europe is currently bound to the North by ....... Europe is the peace that came after ... Europe is the pardon between ... Europe is the return to freedom of ...... Europe is .... Europe is the .............. Europe is ...., it is ....... Europe is ..................

Can we live without all this?
Can we give this all up?

Oratio Esteban González Pons,
European Parliament Member


Barry Eichengreen lectured in November 2015 what lessons the Great Recession of now has for the interpretation of the Great Depression in the 30s. Friedman and Schwartz did not necessarily equal that only liquidity support was needed for banks. It is also become likely that even in the 30s it was necessary to recapitalize banks because they had become insolvent.
He talked about the still fragile state of the financial sector, risks that goes along with it and about solutions. "Risks have not been solved, but were moved and concentrated. Banks have still insufficient capital buffers. A more powerful approach is needed.
Repairing the euro is simple: Europe needs a normal central bank. In stead to be only concerned with inflation, the ECB in the mean time provides the financial system also liquidity as needed. Europe also must do something with its accumulated debt and with restructuring of Greece's debt"

Is the EU too centralized? The causes in the member states and the solutions in the EU? The majority of member states have no confidence in their own government and is therefore looking for a European solution. It is also a taboo to talk about other failing states, therefore the EU takes the "flight forward"; further European integration to camouflage the problems. Should the EU look much more to the bad apples in the EU, so that only then the system will become more resilient? The solution should be sought in strengthening the member states and reducing the pace of European cooperation. Are protest parties the result of a wave of willingness to change in the European population and exclusion of the member states by the EU? Glad protest parties fueling the debate on the EU, but will protest parties move toward the political center or will they blow the EU project? Those are the two possible scenarios, as protest parties come to power. But what about matters which fall at European level?

national elections and Eurosceptic sounds


Western Europe slowly began a process of political and economic integration, desiring to unite Europe and prevent another war. This process resulted eventually in the development of organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, which is one of the oldest international organisations working towards European integration, having been founded in 1949.
The Council has a particular emphasis on legal standards,
human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. It has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens.

The Council of Europe distinct from the European Union (EU) which has common policies, binding laws with twenty-seven independent member-states, based on the European communities and founded to enhance political, economic and social co-operation and integration. Think for example of 'Europe in the IMF (which institute was established in 1944 together with the World Bank) that would be very influential, because it would represent an even larger quota than that of the US'.


Europe is searching for direction. Economic boom has peaked and European integration seems to get in the way.

The European dream seems gone: there is a hugh debt, France reforms too little, Europe's periphery (Greece, Spain, Italy, Central Europe and Eastern Europe, Baltic States) is fragile, populism, nationalism, technocracy is in front and there are seccession desires (Scotland, Belgium, Catalonia). An unpleasant aspect are Russia's strategic games








An institute being a laboratory of ideas and innovative and practical solutions, a research centre, centre of expertise and opinion setter is the Thomas More Institute. The TMI network brings together political figures, corporate managers and European experts and analysts. The Institute's approach is based on the values defended in its Charter: freedom and responsibility, human dignity, the principles of subsidiarity and a market economy, as well as the universal values that are the common heritage of all European countries. TMI wants a Europe politically united and ambitious, powerful, interdependent and attentive to the rest of the world, proud of its roots, with faith in its cultures, that respects the principle of subsidiarity and a dynamic and competitive European economy.


It is fascinating to have knowledge of elevations and dark sides of Europe, to share views and perceptions about (apparent) prosperity, earnings and to reflect on the future of our space and our place. It seems European societies have forgotten the real significance of the elevations and achievements or did forget to use the password adequately. Only material prosperity (consumerism) was still pursued, which now also is at stake. And, if not enough, there will be loss of influence on becoming increasingly assertive parts of the world, making Europe the New World now more necessary than the other way around; roles are changing.
Paul Klee: Polyphony, 1932. See the lecture 'Route Europa' 26 March 2014, At the Palais des Beaux Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, the President spoke to a crowd of young Europeans about the relationship between the United States and Europe. He discussed the history shared by the two regions, and how best to preserve the values and ideals that are central to the relationship


The most violent breakup happened in Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. Four (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and FYR of Macedonia) out of six Yugoslav republics declared independence and for most of them a violent war ensued, in some parts lasting until 1995. The remaining two republics formed a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under the direction of Slobodan Milošević. Milošević presided over the Kosovo War, and was overthrown after his government was weakened by NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

The first war of the 21st century was a small war between Georgia and Russia from 8 to 22 August 2008 and has shattered any remaining illusions over the frontiers of the normative map of Europe. A small war, but one with massive implications. This was Europe’s first war of the 21st century, which has seen Russia acting in line with the European realpolitik models of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The rest of Europe drew profound conclusions from its dreadful history of the two world wars.

The European Union has become a space where war between its nations is inconceivable, where enmities were overcome with reconciliation and integration. This West European space, coming as close as conceivable in practice to the Kantian ideal zone of ‘eternal peace’, has expanded to the East. But Russia today is intent on redrawing the map of Europe between this Europe, which is both peaceful and democratic, and the other Europe in which its dictatorial leadership is ready to go to war in order to satisfy its hunger for hegemonic power.

Due to the get out of control of Euromaidan protests, the pro-Russian president Janoekovytsj lost the majority support of the Verkhovna Rada. This council dropped him off on February 22, 2014, and issued new elections. To this, protests broke out in several predominantly Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine. On the Crimean peninsula and in the Donbass Russian minded protest movements seized power and issued their own local referendums.
Countries in the 'Iron Curtain' are marked in red. Yugoslavia and Albania were communist, but isolated themselves from Russia, making them not part of the Iron Curtain.

Palais de l'Europe Supporters of the Russian annexation of Crimea at a rally in Red Square, Moscow, March 18, 2014
On March 17, 2014 independence in the Crimea was proclaimed and on March 18, 2014 Russia annexed the peninsula. The referendum is recognized by only two countries: Russia and Belarus. The other countries speak of an illegitimate annexation of Ukrainian territory, accusing Russia to encourage protests against the new Ukraine government to destabilize the country.
A few months later, on May 11, 2014 the Donbass pro-Russian protest movements proclaimed independence of the People's Republic of Donetsk and People's Republic of Lugansk, who united in the Union of People's Republics. This led to an open military conflict between Ukraine army and the separatist forces of the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk

At dawn of 24 February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion against the sovereign country Ukraine. Russian military vehicles crossed the Ukrainian border in several places.


it seems no exaggeration to say that it is a further continuation of an attack on liberal democracy:

    Document (with annexes) from the Russian Federation setting out its position regarding the alleged “lack of jurisdiction” of the Court in the case, 7 March 2022
Statement of the heads of state or government, meeting in Versailles, on the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, 10 March 2022

  Interview by Gregor Peter Schmitz with George Soros
The New York review of books published 24 April 2014 the article 'The Future of Europe' edited due to an interview by Gregor Peter Schmitz with George Soros. Parts of the following interview with George Soros by the Spiegel correspondent Gregor Peter Schmitz appear in their book, The Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival?, just published by PublicAffairs.Gregor

Peter Schmitz: The conflict in Crimea and Ukraine has changed the shape of European and world politics, and we will come to it. But let us first talk about a subject on which you’ve taken a critical position over the years: the crisis of the European Union: With regard to the euro, isn’t the worst over? George Soros: If you mean that the euro is here to stay, you are right. That was confirmed by the German elections, where the subject was hardly discussed, and by the coalition negotiations, where it was relegated to Subcommittee 2A. Chancellor Angela Merkel is satisfied with the way she handled the crisis and so is the German public. They reelected her with an increased majority. She has always done the absolute minimum necessary to preserve the euro. This has earned her the allegiance of both the pro- Europeans and those who count on her to protect German national interests. That is no mean feat. So the euro is here to stay, and the arrangements that evolved in response to the crisis have become established as the new order governing the eurozone. This confirms my worst fears. It’s the nightmare I’ve been talking about. I’m hopeful that the Russian invasion of Crimea may serve as a wake-up call. Germany is the only country in a position to change the prevailing order. No debtor country can challenge it; any that might try would be immediately punished by the financial markets and the European authorities.

Schmitz: If you said that to Germans, they would say: Well, we have already evolved a lot. We are more generous now and have modified our policy of austerity. Soros: I acknowledge that Germany has stopped pushing the debtor countries underwater. They are getting a little bit of oxygen now and are beginning to breathe. Some, particularly Italy, are still declining, but at a greatly diminished pace. This has given a lift to the financial markets because the economies are hitting bottom and that almost automatically brings about a rebound. But the prospect of a long period of stagnation has not been removed. It’s generally agreed that the eurozone is threatened by deflation but opposition from the German Constitutional Court and its own legal departments will prevent the European Central Bank (ECB) from successfully overcoming the deflationary pressures the way other central banks, notably the Federal Reserve, have done. The prospect of stagnation has set in motion a negative political dynamic. Anybody who finds the prevailing arrangements intolerable is pushed into an anti-European posture. This leads me to expect the process of disintegration to gather momentum. During the acute phase of the euro crisis we had one financial crisis after another. Now there should be a series of political rather than financial crises, although the latter cannot be excluded.

Schmitz: You say that current arrangements are intolerable. What exactly needs to change? What needs to be reformed? Soros: At the height of the euro crisis, Germany agreed to a number of systemic reforms, the most important of which was a banking union. But as the financial pressures abated, Germany whittled down the concessions it had made. That led to the current arrangements, which confirm my worst fears.

Schmitz: As we speak, European finance ministers are in the process of concluding an agreement on the banking union. What do you think of it? Soros: In the process of negotiations, the so-called banking union has been transformed into something that is almost the exact opposite: the reestablishment of national “silos,” or separately run banks. This is a victory for Orwellian newspeak.

Schmitz: What’s wrong with it? Soros: The incestuous relationship between national authorities and bank managements. France in particular is famous for its inspecteurs de finance, who end up running its major banks. Germany has its Landesbanken and Spain its caixas, which have unhealthy connections with provincial politicians. These relationships were a major source of weakness in the European banking system and played an important part in the banking crisis that is still weighing on the eurozone. The proposed banking union should have eliminated them, but they were largely preserved, mainly at German insistence.

Schmitz: That is a pretty drastic condemnation. How do you justify it? Soros: In effect, the banking union will leave the banking system without a lender of last resort. The proposed resolution authority is so complicated, with so many decision-making entities involved, that it is practically useless in an emergency. Even worse, the ECB is legally prohibited from undertaking actions for which it is not expressly authorized. That sets it apart from other central banks, which are expected to use their discretion in an emergency. But Germany was determined to limit the liabilities that it could incur through the ECB. As a result, member countries remain vulnerable to financial pressures from which other developed countries are exempt. That is what I meant when I said that over-indebted members of the EU are in the position of third-world countries that are overindebted in a foreign currency. The banking union does not correct that defect. On the contrary, it perpetuates it.

Schmitz: You sound disappointed. Soros: I am. I left no stone unturned trying to prevent this outcome, but now that it has happened, I don’t want to keep knocking my head against the wall. I accept that Germany has succeeded in imposing a new order on Europe, although I consider it unacceptable. But I still believe in the European Union and the principles of the open society that originally inspired it, and I should like to recapture that spirit. I want to arrest the process of disintegration, not accelerate it. So I am no longer advocating that Germany should “lead or leave the euro.” The window of opportunity to bring about radical change in the rules governing the euro has closed.

Schmitz: So, basically, you are giving up on Europe? Soros: No. I am giving up on changing the financial arrangements, the creditor–debtor relationship that has now turned into a permanent system. I will continue to focus on politics, because that is where I expect dramatic developments.

Schmitz: I see. Obviously, people are concerned about the rise of populist movements in Europe. Do you see any opportunity to push for more political integration, when the trend is toward disintegration? Soros: I do believe in finding European solutions for the problems of Europe; national solutions make matters worse.


Schmitz: It seems the pro-Europeans are often silent on important issues because they are afraid that speaking up might increase support for the extremists—for example, in the case of the many refugees from the Middle East and Africa who hoped to reach Europe and were detained on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Soros: Like it or not, migration policy will be a central issue in the elections. We must find some alternative to xenophobia.

Schmitz: What do you propose to do about it? Soros: I have established an Open Society Initiative for Europe—OSIFE for short. One of its first initiatives is Solidarity Now, in Greece. The original idea was to generate European solidarity with the plight of the Greek population that is suffering from the euro crisis and Greek solidarity with the plight of the migrants, who experience inhuman conditions and are persecuted by the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party. It took us some time to get the project off the ground, and by the time we did, it was too late to generate European solidarity with the Greeks because other heavily indebted countries were also in need of support. So we missed that boat, but our initiative has had the useful by-product of giving us a better insight into the migration problem.

Schmitz: What have you learned? Soros: That there is an unbridgeable conflict between North and South on the political asylum issue. The countries in the North, basically the creditors, have been generous in their treatment of asylum seekers. So all the asylum seekers want to go there, particularly to Germany. But that is more than they can absorb, so they have put in place a European agreement called Dublin III, which requires asylum seekers to register in the country where they first enter the EU. That tends to be the South, namely, Italy, Spain, and Greece. All three are heavily indebted and subject to fiscal austerity. They don’t have proper facilities for asylum seekers, and they have developed xenophobic, anti-immigrant, populist political movements. Asylum seekers are caught in a trap. If they register in the country where they arrive, they can never ask for asylum in Germany. So, many prefer to remain illegal, hoping to make their way to Germany. They are condemned to illegality for an indefinite period. The miserable conditions in which they live feed into the anti-immigrant sentiment.

Schmitz: Looking at other European issues, aren’t your foundations also very involved in the problems of the Roma (Gypsies)? Soros: Yes, we have been engaged in those issues for more than twenty-five years. The Roma Education Fund has developed effective methods of educating Roma children and strengthening their Roma identity at the same time. If this were done on a large-enough scale it would destroy the hostile stereotype that stands in the way of the successful integration of the Roma. As it is, educated Roma can blend into the majority because they don’t fit the stereotype but the stereotype remains intact. This is another instance where the European Commission is having a positive effect. I look to the European Structural funds to scale up the programs that work.

Schmitz: What do you think of Vladimir Putin’s recent policies with respect to Ukraine, Crimea, and Europe? Soros: Now you are coming to the crux of the matter. Russia is emerging as a big geopolitical player, and the European Union needs to realize that it has a resurgent rival on its east. Russia badly needs Europe as a partner, but Putin is positioning it as a rival. There are significant political forces within the Russian regime that are critical of Putin’s policy on that score.

Schmitz: Can you be more specific? Soros: The important thing to remember is that Putin is leading from a position of weakness. He was quite popular in Russia because he restored some order out of the chaos. The new order is not all that different from the old one, but the fact that it is open to the outside world is a definite improvement, an important element in its stability. But then the prearranged switch with Dmitry Medvedev from prime minister to president deeply upset the people. Putin felt existentially threatened by the protest movement. He became repressive at home and aggressive abroad. That is when Russia started shipping armaments to the Assad regime in Syria on a massive scale and helped turn the tide against the rebels. The gamble paid off because of the preoccupation of the Western powers—the United States and the EU—with their internal problems.

Barack Obama wanted to retaliate against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. He asked for congressional approval and was about to be rebuffed when Putin came to the rescue and persuaded Assad to voluntarily surrender his chemical weapons. That was a resounding diplomatic victory for him. Yet the spontaneous uprising of the Ukrainian people must have taught Putin that his dream of reconstituting what is left of the Russian Empire is unattainable. He is now facing a choice between persevering or changing course and becoming more cooperative abroad and less repressive at home. His current course has already proved to be self-defeating, but he appears to be persevering.

Schmitz: Is Russia a credible threat to Europe if its economy is as weak as you say?
Soros: The oligarchs who control much of the Russian economy don’t have any confidence in the regime. They send their children and money abroad. That is what makes the economy so weak. Even with oil over $100 a barrel, which is the minimum Russia needs to balance its budget, it is not growing. Putin turned aggressive out of weakness. He is acting in self-defense. He has no scruples, he can be ruthless, but he is a judo expert, not a sadist—so the economic weakness and the aggressive behavior are entirely self-consistent.

Schmitz: How should Europe respond to it?
Soros: It needs to be more united, especially in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Putin prides himself on being a geopolitical realist. He respects strength and is emboldened by weakness. Yet there is no need to be permanently adversarial. Notwithstanding the current situation in Ukraine, the European Union and Russia are in many ways complementary; they both need each other. There is plenty of room for Russia to play a constructive role in the world, exactly because both Europe and the United States are so preoccupied with their internal problems.

Schmitz: How does that translate into practice, particularly in the Middle East? Soros: It has totally transformed the geopolitical situation. I have some specific ideas on this subject, but it is very complicated. I can’t possibly explain it in full because there are too many countries involved and they are all interconnected.

Schmitz: Give it a try. Soros: I should start with a general observation. There are a growing number of unresolved political crises in the world. That is a symptom of a breakdown in global governance. We have a very rudimentary system in place. Basically, there is only one international institution of hard power: the UN Security Council. If the five permanent members agree, they can impose their will on any part of the world. But there are many sovereign states with armies; and there are failed states that are unable to protect their monopoly over the use of lethal force or hard power. The cold war was a stable system. The two superpowers were stalemated by the threat of mutually assured destruction, and they had to restrain their satellites. So wars were fought mainly at the edges. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a brief moment when the United States emerged as the undisputed leader of the world. But it abused its power. Under the influence of the neocons, who argued that the United States should use its power to impose its will on the world, President George W. Bush declared “war on terror” and invaded Iraq under false pretenses.

That was a tragic misinterpretation of the proper role of hegemonic or imperial power. It is the power of attraction—soft power—that ensures the stability of empires. Hard power may be needed for conquest and self-protection, but the hegemon must look after the interests of those who depend on it in order to secure their allegiance instead of promoting only its own interests. The United States did that very well after World War II, when it established the United Nations and embarked on the Marshall Plan. But President Bush forgot that lesson and destroyed American supremacy in no time.
The neocons’ dream of a “new American century” lasted less than ten years. President Obama then brought American policy back to reality. His record in foreign policy is better than generally recognized. He accepted the tremendous loss of power and influence and tried to “lead from behind.” In any case, he is more preoccupied with domestic than foreign policy. In that respect America is in the same position as Europe, although for different reasons. People are inward-looking and tired of war. This has created a power vacuum, which has allowed conflicts to fester unresolved all over the world.

Recently, Russia has moved into this power vacuum, trying to reassert itself as a geopolitical player. That was a bold maneuver, inspired by Putin’s internal weakness, and it has paid off in Syria because of the weakness of the West. Russia could do what the Western powers couldn’t: persuade Assad to “voluntarily” surrender his chemical weapons. That has radically changed the geopolitical landscape. Suddenly, the prospect of a solution has emerged for the three major unresolved conflicts in the Middle East—Palestine, Iran, and Syria—when one would have least expected it.

The Syrian crisis is by far the worst, especially in humanitarian consequences. Russia’s entry as a major supplier of arms, coupled with Hezbollah’s entry as a supplier of troops, has turned the tables in favor of Assad. The fighting can be brought to an end only by a political settlement imposed and guaranteed by the international community. Without it, the two sides will continue to fight indefinitely with the help of their outside supporters. But a political settlement will take months or years to negotiate. In the meantime, Assad is following a deliberate policy of denying food and destroying the medical system as a way of subduing the civilian population. “Starve or surrender” is his motto. This raises the specter of a human catastrophe. Unless humanitarian assistance can be delivered across battle lines, more people will have died from illness and starvation during the winter than from actual fighting.

Schmitz: What about Iran? Soros: There has been an actual breakthrough in the Iranian crisis in the form of a temporary agreement on nuclear weapons with the new president Hassan Rouhani. The sanctions imposed by the Western powers have been very effective. The Iranian revolution itself advanced to the point where it fell into the hands of a narrow clique, the Revolutionary Guard; the mullahs were largely pushed out of power. As head of the mullahs, the Supreme Leader could not have been pleased. He must also be aware that the large majority of the population has been profoundly dissatisfied with the regime. In contrast with previous attempts at negotiations, he seems to be in favor of reaching an accommodation with the United States. That improves the prospects for a final agreement. We must take into account, as Vali Nasr recently wrote, that Iran has, after Russia, the world’s second-largest reserves of natural gas; and it potentially might compete with Russia in supplying gas to Europe.

Schmitz: That leaves the longest-lasting crisis, Palestine. Soros: Recent developments in Egypt have improved the chances of progress in the long-festering Palestinian crisis. The army, with the active support of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, has removed the legally elected president and is engaged in the brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. This otherwise disturbing development has a potentially benign side effect: it raises the possibility of a peace settlement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, to the exclusion of Hamas. This would have been inconceivable a few months ago. Secretary of State John Kerry became engaged in the Palestinian negotiations well before this window of opportunity opened, so he is ahead of the game. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is very suspicious but, for all his intransigence, cannot openly oppose negotiations because, having openly supported Mitt Romney in the American elections, he holds a relatively weak hand. Negotiations are making progress, but very slowly indeed.
If all three crises were resolved, a new order would emerge in the Middle East. There is a long way to go because the various conflicts are interconnected, and the potential losers in one conflict may act as spoilers in another. Netanyahu, for instance, is dead set against a deal with Iran because peace with Palestine would end his political career in Israel. Nevertheless, the broad outlines of a potential new order can already be discerned, although we cannot know the effects of the current crisis in Ukraine. Russia could become more influential, relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States may become strained, and Iran may emerge as America’s closest ally, second only to Israel. But the situation remains fluid and may change from one day to the next.

Schmitz: Recently the crisis in Ukraine has overshadowed all the others. Soros: Indeed. Ukraine and in particular Crimea are of much greater interest to Russia than anything in the Middle East. Putin woefully misjudged the situation. Last autumn he had no difficulty in outmaneuvering the European Union, which was hamstrung by its internal political and financial problems. Under German leadership it offered too little and demanded too much.

Putin could easily offer a better deal to Ukrainian President Yanukovych. But the Ukrainian people rebelled, upsetting the calculations of both sides. The rebellion wounded Putin in his Achilles heel. The idea of a spontaneous rebellion simply did not enter into his calculations. In his view the world is ruled by power and those in power can easily manipulate public opinion. Failure to control the people is a sign of weakness.

Accordingly, he made it a condition of his assistance that Yanukovych should repress the rebellion. But the use of force aroused the public and eventually Yanukovych was forced to capitulate. This could have resulted in a stalemate and the preservation of the status quo with Ukraine precariously balanced between Russia and Europe, and a corrupt and inept government pitted against civil society. It would have been an inferior equilibrium with the costs exceeding the benefits for all parties concerned. But Putin persisted in his counterproductive approach. Yanukovych was first hospitalized and then sent to Sochi to be dressed down by Putin. Putin’s instructions brought the confrontation to a climax. Contrary to all rational expectations, a group of citizens armed with not much more than sticks and shields made of cardboard boxes and metal garbage can lids overwhelmed a police force firing live ammunition. There were many casualties, but the citizens prevailed. It was a veritable miracle.

Schmitz: How could such a thing happen? How do you explain it?
Soros: It fits right into my human uncertainty principle, but it also reveals a remarkable similarity between human affairs and quantum physics of which I was previously unaware. According to Max Planck, among others, subatomic phenomena have a dual character: they can manifest themselves as particles or waves. Something similar applies to human beings: they are partly freestanding individuals or particles and partly components of larger entities that behave like waves. The impact they make on reality depends on which alternative dominates their behavior. There are potential tipping points from one alternative to the other but it is uncertain when they will occur and the uncertainty can be resolved only in retrospect.

On February 20 a tipping point was reached when the people on Maidan Square were so determined to defend Ukraine that they forgot about their individual mortality. What gave their suicidal stand historic significance is that it succeeded. A deeply divided society was moved from the verge of civil war to an unprecedented unity. Revolutions usually fail. The Orange Revolution of 2004 deteriorated into a squabble between its leaders. It would be a mistake to conclude that this revolution is doomed to suffer the same fate. Indeed the parties participating in the interim government are determined to avoid it. In retrospect the resistance of Maidan may turn out to be the birth of a nation. This promising domestic development was a direct response to foreign oppression. Unfortunately it is liable to provoke further pressure from abroad because successful resistance by Ukraine would present an existential threat to Putin’s continued dominance in Russia.

Schmitz: You are referring to the Russian invasion of Crimea. How do you see it playing out? Soros: If it is confined to Crimea it will serve as a further impetus to greater national cohesion in Ukraine. Crimea is not an integral part of Ukraine. Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 by an administrative decree. The majority of its population is Russian and it is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. That is exactly why Putin is liable to put military and economic pressure on Ukraine directly and they are not in a position to resist it on their own. They need the support of the Western powers. So Ukraine’s future depends on how the Western powers, particularly Germany, respond.

Schmitz: What should the Western powers do? Soros: They should focus on strengthening Ukraine rather than on punishing Russia. They cannot prevent or reverse the annexation of Crimea. They are bound to protest it of course because it violates the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 that guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, but they are not in a position to oppose it by military means. Even sanctions ought to be used sparingly in order to preserve them as a deterrent against the real danger, namely of direct military or economic assault on Ukraine. Russian forces have already occupied a gas plant in Ukraine supplying Crimea and may take more territory unless they are stopped. Fortunately economic sanctions would be a potent deterrent provided they are used judiciously. Freezing the foreign assets of Russian oligarchs is the opposite of smart sanctions. Oligarchs sending their profits and their children abroad weaken the Russian economy. Until now capital flight was more or less offset by foreign direct investment. Effective sanctions would discourage the inflow of funds, whether in the form of direct investments or bank loans. Moreover, the US could release oil from its strategic reserve and allow its sale abroad. That could put the Russian economy into deficit. The Russian economy is fragile enough to be vulnerable to smart sanctions.

Schmitz: Wouldn’t that be cutting off your nose to spite your face? Germany has a lot of investments in Russia, which are equally vulnerable.
Soros: Effective sanctions against Russia should be threatened at first only as a deterrent. If the threat is effective, they wouldn’t be applied. But Chancellor Merkel faces a fundamental choice: should Germany be guided by its narrow national self-interests or should it assert its leadership position within the European Union and forge a unified European response? On her choice hinges not only the fate of Ukraine but also the future of the European Union. Her passionate speech to the German Parliament on March 13 gives me hope that she is going to make the right choice.

Schmitz: What is your idea of the right choice? Soros: A large-scale technical and financial assistance program for Ukraine. The EU and the US, under the leadership of the International Monetary Fund, are putting together a multibillion-dollar rescue package that will save the country from financial collapse. But that is not enough: Ukraine also needs outside assistance that only the EU can provide: management expertise and access to markets. Ukraine is a potentially attractive investment destination. But realizing this potential requires improving the business climate by addressing the endemic corruption and weak rule of law. The new regime in Ukraine is eager to confront that task. But only the EU can open up its domestic market and provide political risk insurance for investing in Ukraine. Ukraine in turn would encourage its companies to improve their management by finding European partners. Thus Ukraine would become increasingly integrated in the European common market. That could also provide a much-needed fiscal stimulus for the European economy and, even more importantly, help to recapture the spirit that originally inspired the European Union.