Europe's influence is clearly in decline. It was evident at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, where disappointed observers had expected Europe to negotiate stringent accords aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Things only got worse when the financial crisis kicked in.

The decision to come to the aid of a member state in danger of bankruptcy was taken much too late, and it was finally necessary to call on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help in the matter. The same was true for instituting a system of economic supervision, also too late, despite the fact that a majority of countries were already in agreement about the need to keep Greece's recovery on the right track.

Lack of national initiative

Europe's lack of initiative is also reflected in the workings of its member states. For example, the elections in a single member state, Hungary, have resulted in a political crisis that threatens to undermine all that European unity represents. Well into the financial crisis, the right-wing Fidesz party gained a two-thirds majority of the country's Parliament, giving it full freedom to modify the national constitution as it sees fit.

This is the kind of knee-jerk reaction that can lead to dictatorship, since it fosters a climate of political rejection. It leaves the door open to extremist positions like those of the very far-right Jobbik party that refuses to acknowledge national responsibility for the mistreatment of Jews and gypsies. And this is merely an extreme case of the political malaise that touches nearly all the EU member states and remains an obstacle to constructive political policy.

Curiously, the EU seems to be resigned to its decline, which ironically could be a product of the success of European integration. While it brought about prosperity and security, people have taken this state of well-being for granted. Anything that threatens this paradise leads to discontent, expressed in demands for less European intervention, as well as the designation of the usual scapegoats: Jews, gypsies, Muslims or "the rich".

This, plus the absence of any sort of dynamism at the national level, tends to prevent member states from respecting their essential promises, such as the implementation of the objectives of the Lisbon strategy of 2000 ("Towards a green and innovative economy"). As Europe was not founded on the world's most dynamic and competitive economic model, the new "Europe 2020" plan may also fall well short of its objectives.

No real reflection

Another explanation for the EU's decline is the extreme speed at which information circulates: the men and women on the political front lines are running from one media issue to the next, leaving behind any time for elaborated reflection, the kind needed for lasting solutions to problems that arise. Worse yet, leaders often lack the knowledge and insight necessary for an informed decision. Consequently, it becomes even more difficult to justify controversial political positions.

Take for example our aging population. For the time being, there are still four active workers for every retiree in the EU, but come 2040, the ratio will be an even two-two. The only solution to this trend is to attract new blood in the form of immigration. According to Eurostat, 40 million immigrants will enter the EU by 2050. Unfortunately, this will only partially compensate for the low birth rate and increased life expectancy on the continent. And still, politicians want to put a choke-hold on immigration. But without more immigrants, Europe's decline will only pick up speed.

Let's hope that the financial crisis will finally wake up the EU's career politicians and make them realise that they need to take up the reins and turn around this negative trend. To succeed, they will need to remake themselves into true leaders, capable of working together and mobilising Europe's capacity for innovation. Only then will the EU be ready to adapt to the changing face of the future.