The turning point came when the century was just one year old. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 marked the beginning of a new geopolitical era, which saw the United States enter into a long-term commitment in the "crisis arc" that extends from the Middle East to Southern Asia and passes through the Persian Gulf. It was the beginning of a new era for our societies, which became increasingly focused on the threat of terrorism and the concept of a clash of civilisations heralded by dramatic demographic changes in our countries.

However, as Timothy Garton Ash has pointed out, the ten years that have passed since 9/11 have also, and perhaps more importantly, been marked by a long-term tectonic shift that has radically altered the balance of power on the planet: the rise of China and Asia, and the progressive weakness of the West, which has been accelerated by the economic crisis.

How is Europe situated with regard to these historic frameworks? The fact that we might even ask such a question, is a clue to its answer — which necessarily must take into account Europe’s current inability to influence world events. At the same time, the decade since 9/11 has also been rich in lessons for our continent.

In 2001, the EU comprised just 15 member states, and its enlargement to include 25 and then 27 members highlighted a fault line that was exacerbated by 9/11: its relationship with the United States. Let’s not forget that in 2003, the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis that opposed the war in Iraq was countered by a London-Rome-Madrid axis, which was also supported by the former Soviet bloc countries that were preparing to join the Union. If Europe’s external policy had been decided by a majority vote, in accordance with the logic of a community of states, then Europe’s flag would have flown in Iraq alongside America’ Stars and Stripes.

9/11 also contributed to the United States’ growing indifference to Europe and cast doubts on the appropriateness of the current form of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which further highlighted Europe’s inability to develop its own strategic vision and to support it with a proper defence policy. The manner in which Washington succeeded in establishing its missile-defence system on European territory without consulting the EU was an apt illustration of this problem, as was Germany’s abstention on the issue of intervention in Libya.

Although not many of us may remember, 2001 was also the year in which the 15 member states of the time created the Convention on the Future of Europe. Ten years later, in the wake of the stillborn emergence of the European Constitution and the painful adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, Europe has yet to speak with a strong single voice and no one, including its political leaders, has succeeded in presenting a project that responds to the new world order. At a time when some commentators and leaders have called for a new treaty to be established in response to the financial crisis, this observation remains a highly relevant one.

Translated from the French by Mark McGovern