Over the past three decades, the world has undergone profound transformations. Political and economic restructuring has led to the erosion of the prevailing Western hegemony. However, it is incorrect to claim that the West is being replaced by a non-Western hegemonic force. Instead, what we observe is a leveling off in the ongoing competition between the West and the East.
Hungary and the other Central European states are growing increasingly concerned about Europe’s diminishing capacity to engage in this competition. There is a growing perception that excessive energy is being directed towards ideological disputes, which in turn diverts attention away from crucial areas of collaboration that could further enhance Europe’s strength.
A strong and dependable Europe, serving as an influential ally, is of paramount strategic interest to the United States. The Western alliance, compared to a strong engine with two parts, has driven progress over the past century. It is crucial to ensure that both parts have sufficient power to keep the momentum going. Considering this, Central Europe, located at the center of the continent and serving as its economic powerhouse, plays a significant role, making it a natural and indispensable partner for the United States.
The Era of Western Hegemony Is Coming to an End
The West’s dominance over international relations, resting upon three key pillars, is visibly diminishing.
The first pillar was the West’s longstanding dominant position as the global economic powerhouse for two centuries. The second pillar involved the establishment of institutional bodies in international relations and trade by the West, granting them the ability to shape the rules of globalization. The third pillar relied on the idea that the United States, as the hegemonic superpower after the collapse of the USSR, would collaborate with Europe to promote the neoliberal political and economic model, aiming for a more peaceful world. As the prevailing belief of that era declared, we had reached “the end of history.” However, all three pillars are now displaying signs of declining influence.
The premises of the third pillar in particular have failed remarkably. The imposition of the neoliberal political and economic model not only resulted in alienation from the rest of the world but, paradoxically, brought together its adversaries in increasingly closer cooperation. The events of the past year have undeniably demonstrated this, leading even some of the most avid proponents of “the end of history” to abandon their belief in it.
It is intriguing to note the similar narrative adopted by America, portraying the war in Ukraine as a conflict between democracies and autocracies—an ironic stance when considering the United States’ role in supplying arms to 57 percent of the world’s authoritarian regimes in 2022.
In this context, even the second pillar finds itself on shaky ground. The challengers to the existing order are actively constructing alternative systems for agreements, forming alliances, and establishing platforms to address conflicts. It seems inevitable that a tipping point will arise, where they will effectively bypass the institutional framework established during the past few decades of globalization and thrive within parallel systems.
A closer examination of the first pillar reveals equally worrisome prospects. In an extraordinary turn of events, the economic rivalry between the Western and non-Western worlds is approaching a state of equilibrium after two centuries, signifying a momentous shift in civilizations. The unfolding of these transformations can be observed through at least five significant areas: economic power, access to vital resources such as raw materials and energy, demographic trends, technological advancements, and military capabilities.
The East has witnessed a remarkable surge in its share of global economic output, at the expense of the West. Back in 1990, the Western world’s dominance over the world’s economic output was exceeding the 50 percent mark. Fast forward to today, and that figure has drastically decreased to a mere 30 percent. These trends will continue as the center of economic gravity continues to shift further toward the East.
The geographical reality that most of the world’s raw materials and energy resources are located outside the West has further exacerbated our competitiveness. Although the United States enjoys a slight advantage in this regard, largely due to its vast shale oil and gas reserves, the West has been unable to fully compensate for this disadvantage. Notably, certain European governments, spearheaded by Germany, swiftly embarked on a green transition to meet Europe’s energy demands. However, the rapid policy changes outpaced technological advancements, resulting in green energy remaining considerably more expensive compared to other sources, thereby hindering our economic competitiveness.
Demographic trends also work against the West. Regardless of the metric used, the world’s population surpasses the 8 billion mark, with a staggering 7 billion individuals living in non-Western countries. Despite the efforts of Hungary and a handful of like-minded governments to implement family policies aimed at increasing fertility rates, the trends still indicate a deep demographic crisis in the West, particularly in Europe.
The realm of technology is also fiercely contested. Emerging players invest heavily in research and development, almost matching the expenditure of established giants. This head-to-head race involves various nations, with notable progress seen in Eastern electric cars and battery technologies—areas of significant importance for Central Europe.
Lastly, in terms of military power, the West undeniably maintains a substantial edge over the East. While this may initially seem advantageous, the prevailing consensus underscores the futility of exploiting this advantage, as doing so would entail dire global consequences—a tragic outcome not worthy of pursuing.
Preserving Europe’s Success Requires Overcoming Unnecessary Ideological Quarrels
Central Europe is now confronted with a profoundly transformed geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape. The future unfolds as a multipolar world, with the West being just one of several power centers. Despite this, Central Europeans are eager to see the West effectively compete with the non-Western world. Our aspiration is for a prosperous Europe, where we play a significant role in its achievements.
To navigate through this new reality, it is crucial to understand how Europe has succeeded in the past during major global changes. We must examine the approaches used to unite diverse European nations with varying values, identities, and interests in successful cooperation. In this regard, we can look at the thinking of the founding fathers of the European Union.
One such figure, Konrad Adenauer, was aptly called the “strategist of humility” by Henry Kissinger. Adenauer, a Christian-democratic statesman, skillfully combined humility with strength, insight, and strategic thinking. His famous quote, “we all live under the same sky, but not all of us have the same horizon,” captures the essence of his profound understanding of humility.
Adenauer recognized that the success of Europe does not require absolute agreement on every aspect of life. European integration is not an end in itself but a means to an end. He emphasized the importance of focusing on shared interests rather than fixating on differences. Failure to adopt this approach risks losing the opportunity for cooperation.
In an era where mutual understanding is crucial to navigating through challenging times, Europe finds itself entangled in divisive issues. One such concern revolves around identity and values. Western European nations and their Central European counterparts often differ in their approaches to immigration, the family unit, national roles, the essence of liberal democracy, and the protection of children. These topics often become intertwined, leading to a conflation of issues and a disregard for the diversity envisioned by Adenauer.
Another significant challenge arises in the realm of geopolitics. Some advocate for Europe to align exclusively with a great power, effectively decoupling from the rest of the world. However, we firmly believe that such an approach is fundamentally flawed. What we need instead is to focus on connectivity, actively avoiding peripheralization and fostering connections with a broad range of countries and market players. Throughout history, Europe has thrived by being open, acting as a mediator between the East and West, promoting peace, and engaging in fair trade. By re-embracing these principles, Europe can overcome the challenges it faces and build a prosperous future.
Five Points for a Successful Europe
When confronted with these contentious issues, we are faced with three fundamental choices. We can choose to settle the dispute once and for all by declaring one side the victor and the other the vanquished. Alternatively, we can find ourselves engaged in an enduring ideological war of attrition. However, there exists a third avenue worth exploring: removing these contentious matters from the agenda altogether and focusing on areas where genuine cooperation is possible.
Within the European Union, economic strength stands as the most significant political capital. Central European states, constituting 8 percent of the EU’s GDP, have emerged as the bloc's fifth-largest economic powerhouse. Notably, this economic ascent has been accompanied by an extraordinary growth rate outpacing that of Western Europe over the past twelve to thirteen years. Considering these factors, a Central European perspective not only deserves attention but also careful consideration from our Western partners.
Firstly, we propose to maintain the original idea that a successful European Union relies on the cooperation of independent and sovereign Member States. Preserving our national sovereignty, which Central European people have fought for over centuries, as well as the distinct political and cultural identities of European countries, is crucial. Europe, embracing the motto "united in diversity," recognizes the strength that comes from its diverse perspectives and viewpoints. This variety of voices strengthens the continent, making it more resilient and competitive, and importantly, allows Member States to accurately represent the views of their people.