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The European Union (EU) faces a myriad of challenges spanning political, security, economic and monetary spheres. Debates within EU circles and among leaders often revolve around how to effectively address these challenges, ensuring the sustainability of the common union project while propelling it forward towards new directions. This includes bolstering its international presence and expanding its influence in various domains where it still falls short, considering Europe’s size, capabilities, role and potential.

With the security challenge looming large following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, dealing with the persisting threat posed by Moscow to Europe, and the West in general, now demands new approaches. These could be based on the notion of “reassuring” the Russians that the West does not seek to dominate Russia or threaten its national security, and vice versa. Fostering trust between the West and Russia has grown increasingly difficult and complex following the Russian-Ukrainian war of attrition, with heavy arms manufacturers and their supporting governments emerging as primary beneficiaries, at the expense of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

In the European context, grappling with the significant challenge posed by one of its foremost adversaries, Russia, is mirrored in the equally daunting dynamic with its “presumed strategic partner,” the United States. Historically, the US has often strived to keep the entire European continent under “its umbrella,” leveraging the political and military circumstances generated post-World War II. Departing from its previous isolationist policy, Washington gradually evolved into a potent international player – if not the most powerful one – following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

In this context, some argue that the potential return of former US President Donald Trump to the White House next fall may not favor the strengthening of historical American-European relations. Instead, they foresee Trump probably resuming his policy of bickering with many European leaders, reminiscent of his previous term. It is expected that he will prioritize direct communication with Europe’s (and America’s) sworn enemies, such as Russia and China, and possibly extend it to North Korea.

The intricate complexities of the Middle East, in turn, pose a significant challenge for Europe, given the region’s complex composition. Most of its governments are not democratically elected, thus lacking popular accountability. There is also a widespread presence of numerous effective and influential non-state actors who do not belong to the traditional nations’ club, which further complicates Europe’s ability to establish direct relations with them, or ignore their presence, given their effectiveness.

Internal European considerations also contribute to making the establishment of a unified European policy a more complex matter. For instance, key EU member states like France and Germany are inclined to bolster their bilateral relations with certain countries in the region. This pursuit, driven by aspirations for political, economic, or military gains – such as billion-dollar arms deals – sometimes comes at the expense of collective European relations with those countries.

All these considerations render the task of establishing a unified European policy towards the Middle East a difficult one. It weakens the Union’s ability to present itself as a unifying entity with one clear vision across various global regions. Notably, Europe views itself as deeply involved in the Middle East, more so than anywhere else, given its geographical proximity and the interconnected historical, cultural, and economic relations with many Middle-Eastern countries.

Furthermore, the disparities between the US and Europe regarding several dossiers have become known to all. These differences appear, for instance, in their stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (although European and American positions almost entirely converged in the early weeks of the conflict in Gaza), the Iranian nuclear dossier, the Syrian crisis, or the assumed roles of regional players.

Finally, the internal challenge within Europe persists, characterized by the rise of populist and extremist right-wing movements. These groups espouse dangerous slogans, especially on matters like identity, asylum, economy, and other significant issues.

In conclusion, while Europe has managed to overcome the “plight” of Britain’s departure – with its historical, political and economic magnitude – from the collective project, the inability to address the current challenges exposes this project to profound upheavals, directly affecting tens of millions of Europeans from diverse nationalities.