Importance of Smart Power for Process of Democratic International Cooperation in Central Europe

Gustav Klimt: Hygieia // Public domain

In the article, we will try to show some positive possibilities – and not only disadvantages – which are occurring in the more and more dangerous world, Europe included. The end of history is long behind us, what we are facing now are new and unprecedented global challenges.

Although many interpretations are on the table, we will focus on the shift in the paradigm of political values as one of the cornerstones of soft power, the understanding of Others in Europe and as a proposal to take some concrete steps, if we want to remain on the same European ark, not necessarily the Noah’s one. We believe optimism should remain our focus, encompassing all layers of society.

Joseph S. Nye introduced the concept of smart power or »power of future« as the combination of the resources of soft and hard power, of persuading and conquering, leading to the result of successful strategies, where the context plays a pivotal role.

The context of 21. Century is like a three-dimensional chess game. First and second levels belong to the military and economy. The third and at the same time the bottom level is the area of transnational relations, crossing state borders and with inclusion of non-state actors.

This level is also about new transnational challenges, such as pandemics and climate change. Due to power diffusion on the third level, more and more challenges are getting out of control, even by the most powerful countries, especially with the ongoing information revolution.

New networks and cyberpower are closely linked to the notion of smart power. They create new dependencies and even change foreign policy – before seen as an instrument of soft power – into policies in a wider sense. The essence of attraction of these policies is the absence of control. Referring to this frame, we shall use the notion of international cooperation in this article.

In general, it is about power WITH others, and not OVER others, it is about contextual intelligence.1

Central Europe has many definitions and viewpoints. For this article, we will use the definition from World Factbook and Encyclopaedia Britannica, listing the following countries: Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, and Switzerland.

Jan Zielonka stated, »European integration used to be a jewel in liberal crown«. It was seen as an effective instrument for handling globalisation, a courageous tool in transnational democracy, a way of stabilizing neighbourhoods, a path for strengthening Europe’s global position.

However, today, bashing the EU and the integration process is a way to gain votes of illiberal forces.

It is difficult to say when exactly things went wrong. Should it be the collapse of Bretton Woods’ system and the subsequent oil crisis, or the fall of communism in Eastern Europe with dramatically enlargement of the EU, or the failure of the European Constitution because of negative referenda in the Netherlands and France, which made major reforms of the EU almost impossible.

However, whatever the reason, fact is that the EU has oftentimes put efficiency before citizens’ participation. Nation-states, unlike the EU, had a long history and a democratic mechanism, which connect them to citizens.

However, they are yet too small and too weak to cope with global issues. The EU was able to accomplish things that individual states were not.

However, today the European institutions look paralysed and unable to make progress on the most pressing issues. The EU’s Neighbourhood Policy is about empty declarations.

Hardly anybody believes that Greece will ever pay its debts. Economic migrants and political refugees crisis is for now without durable solution. Russia is not going to leave Crimea… not to speak about whole issue on Brexit. Could we state that most of the problems Europe is facing today have been generated by Europe itself? Has European integration ever got rid of power politics, ruled by a few most powerful states?

“True, many citizens are not happy with their nation-states either, but at least they can vote their inefficient leaders out of office This is hardly possible in the EU.” (Zielonka, 2018: 105). At the same time, the whole Europe is shifted by the so called »counter-revolution«, the term Zielonka used to name the common effort of left and right wing populists, to defeat the idea of liberalism and European project as such.

In this situation, we find no sufficient self-reflection and self-improvement by the liberal elite, which is balancing between unrealistic federal plans and benign neglect. The first stipulates that the EU is half-built house in need of a genuine common government. Nevertheless, this would impose a major transfer of sovereignty from member states to Brussels.

Will member states ever agree to that? Can the EU offer democratic legitimacy and representation regarding economic policies? Even the European elections usually served as popularity contest for the ruling national governments and European Parliament is still bound to national lines.

Benign neglect is appearing less dramatic. In this scenario the EU is reduced to the minimal operational level of working together, meanwhile nation states survive and cooperate in a looser manner. Bold reforms are put on hold. However, the muddling through does not solve the problems that are confronting Europe.

The financial crisis of 2008 and the 2015 refugee crisis have exposed the weakness of European institutions, divisions between member states, and limited public support for European endeavours. The shift from financial and migration challenge to social, political, cultural and even ideological is obvious. The future of the integration project is at stake, together with its liberal foundation.

The EU is still alive, but – it is difficult to hide that it is also in trouble. The so-called counter revolutionary forces are exploiting the EU’s vulnerability.

The EU was also warned that it is wrong to pretend that inter-counter divisions are the only ones that count, and that the choice is between more or less Europe.

In fact, inequalities within the states are the main cause of anti-Europeanism. Major source of frustration for the countries of South Europe is stagnation, unemployment, and poverty.

Pleads to make Europe more flexible and diversified have been ignored. Instead of concentrating on problem-solving, the EU has been constructing a rather authoritarian pyramid and not concentric circles.

Besides, if integration tends to be successful, it needs to be carried out by multiple actors and not just by the states. Meaning, mega-cities, generating most of Europe’s innovation and growth, are denied direct access to European decision-making process and resources.

We need to debate serious alternative visions of integration and see which one of them can work. The EU cannot be consolidated; it should be reinvented.2

Some things are obvious. Could we see a common denominator? The lack of democratic participation of the European citizens, impotent reaction of elites, not acknowledging the constant gap of divisions between European society and states, not taking into account the non-state actors….

All those issues are on the table, opened and unsolved, leading to our rising awareness, that somehow EU is in self-suiciding manner, when continuing with status quo or staying in the fortress of privileges without bearing in mind serious shouting out of the so-called counter-revolutionary, who are for now still »under control«.

Should the EU get its homework done by being reborn on an institutional level? Is this rebirth of institutions, which would lead towards smart power of governance – combination of hard power institutions and its normative legitimacy – Europe’s last chance?

On the other hand, is it only hard power, which as such, would again lack the attraction and persuasion for the common people?

Could we even speak of soft power, in this case of political values of one specific political orientation, namely the liberal? We cannot be sure about the outcome of such political experiment; what we can do is the assessment, are reforms still possible or is the EU in the situation, when other flexible approaches would be crucial.

How do concrete proposals for the »more perfect Union« look like?

Currency union was introduced before the stable economic foundation has been made. Euro as such is primarily a political project. It represents the final reconciliation between Germany and France. We should have closer and more genuine economic union in the future, together with a treasury, which would arise from taxation on the European level, but deducted from the taxes levied by the national member states.

Such treasury should be able to rescue countries from difficulties and be capable of implementing a stimulus policy for different economies. Besides, euro requires leadership of the European minister of finance. The responsibilities should be clear: non-discriminatory tax system, which promotes growth, a mobile labor market that creates jobs, an affordable pension system that guarantees substantial pay-outs and an effective, inclusive health system.

In such comprehensive system, the key is – convergence. Convergence code would oblige the Eurozone countries to take steps in the same direction in all crucial areas of the economic policy, replacing an insufficient method of »open coordination«.

The solution to get all countries on board lies in the common Eurobonds, which would mutualize debt management. Eurobonds would involve harmonizing budgetary and economic policy, much more than it is now.

Alongside of establishing Eurobonds comes the claim for forming the European Banking Union. Those instruments would also strengthen the position of euro on international platforms.

The other, even more »hard power« instrument, imposed for the idea for more efficient EU, would be the European army. Europe cannot even develop 15 percent of America’s military capability and expand operations into conflict zones outside Europe. Therefore, a single European Defence Union, with European armed forces wearing the same uniform, should be a goal.

European army should comprise land troops, air, and naval capabilities and have a single joint budget that would result in a single joint European defence strategy, which would then provide the framework for all military decisions and would require an amendment to the European Treaty.

The diplomatic priorities and the actions of the European army should run in parallel. The European Defence Union would create single European defence market and boost economies for development and innovation.3

We could see that bold instruments of economic and defence field, strengthening the existing European institutions, are targeting two main factors of hard power, namely the military and economy / finance.

However, we are living in rapidly changing times. In the times, when the gap between South and North of Europe used to be the most striking one, the CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) acted like a silent, less capable “dwarf”. Sometimes causing troubles because of lower standards of rule of law or human rights, but still manageable from the outside, with the eyebrow risen.

How realistic is to impose such positive, yet radical instruments in the world and Europe as a whole, hit not only by the unsolved, already existing, problems, but also by the newest Corona and post-Corona crisis, with unpredictable outcome?

Should we state that the classical instruments of hard power somehow dissolve into the pure instruments of political ideals, reduced to one political orientation? Could we assume that they could be rejected even for this reason? How is the common consensus in Europe possible, do we have other solutions?

Idea of the European Republic or of the federal structure of EU is not a new one, but it is getting more visible, also by promoting own web sites such as:

In the midst of Corona crisis (in May 2020) two authors, Lorenzo Marsili and Ulrike Guérot wrote an article in The Guardian, with direct appeal to form a European Republic. Based on the ideas of Julien Benda or the Ventotene manifesto, authors openly called on fellow European citizens to rescue the ideal of a united Europe, because “our national elites have failed us”.

They pledge for the European Citizens’ Congress on the Future of Europe (as the Conference on the Future of Europe has been delayed, due to Corona crisis). Such a congress would have a hybrid structure: falling between a social movement, a political actor and a deliberative platform, with the aim to form a European republic where all citizens are equal, independent of national affiliation. In such perspective, the nation is a social pact whereby a new European structure could play a new, formative role.

The claim is to have all European countries united on equal basis, with one European social security number, a common European welfare and an impressive programme of ecological and economic transformations, a real new European Green Deal. Again, at the same time we need a modernised common tax system on large assets.

In general, we would need a second revolution, after the French one, to prevent the slow collapse of the EU. Besides, to fight against the inequality between nations and to fight growing nationalism and the gap between the East and the West, based on democracy and the rule of law, or between the North and the South, based on economic solidarity.4

Both, institutional renewal of the EU or the idea of a new form of the state – are projects, open to future and with great potential for the stability and flourishment of the European project. One can assume, that the process itself would bring stability in Europe.

However, in the meantime, while we are waiting for their realisation, we should frankly face current challenges, which are extremely unpredictable and referring to the old phrase: life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.

Primarily people who label any type of liberal discourse as elitist and oppose its modus vivendi and the way of general understanding of the workshop threaten the European project and liberal democracy. Populists believe that invisible mass of people bear the ultimate moral stance, but at the same time populist impose certain tendency of antipluralism. Populists are not against political representation, but sceptical towards all existing institutions.

Whoever wants to understand the theory and practice behind populists’ minds should understand their moral perception and take it seriously. Liberals often think that it is enough to give populists rational argumentation even though it is not.

Concrete confrontation on case-by-case basis and not expelling populists is the best way to treat them. Pluralism in democracy means, that the whole spectrum of interests and variety of choices are regulated also on normative basis and that individual citizens are treated equally.

How would a democratic, non-populist Europe look like? Instead of right or left populists, who would use the notion of »people« as the final authority, we should at least try to provide an alternative between more integration and more limitation.

Nevertheless, the politicization of the above, as it was the case by the so-called Spitzenkandidaten, can be problematic, because it is not always obvious that the “proper” side will win; democracy is at its core unreliable. The parties that traditionally strive for more integration are not the parties with the majority of votes.

However, labelling other parties which would eventually like to conduct the European integration on the alternative way, as Eurosceptic, is in today’s circumstances not very wise. The more the politicization from above will look manipulative, the more will the people mix into the political discourse. Yet the tensions regarding economy and / or migration are extending over political formations towards differences between European countries.

Moreover, there is an obscure feeling chasing the European people all the time that EU creates its problems by itself.

Besides, populists are organising themselves internationally and are for instance defending the conviction, that only the elites can profit from open borders and that is why Europe has been “stolen from Europeans”. Viktor Orbán has tried to organise kind of paneuropean cultural fight.

Nevertheless, conflict between old, conservative, and progressive forces would lead to weakening of the EU as such.

No matter how paradoxical the question of more integration or more sovereignty will be, now or in the future, European citizens themselves – the people should decide it.

As long as we will live in the model representative democracy, we will have to deal with the populism. However, populists of all kinds will have to cope with the representative democracy of European institutions. The political process on the European level enables societal pluralism being put into action.

That is the added value, which we should not give away freely onto the hands of populists. Symbolic representation, build up by the ideological role models, should not be the “only saviours of the world”.

The populist paradox will remain as follows: questions of democratic inclusion could not always be decided by democratic process, but liberal democracy will have to get used to this fact. 5

As we have stated in the first paragraphs, the diffusion of power is happening at the third level of a chess game, where we have a real interplay of not only soft and hard power, but also smart power, depending on the contextual use and on cyber reality of non-state actors.

Like it or not: this is the level, where most populists in todays’ Europe have been forming their political agenda and where they are able to fulfil their political claims to maximal possible extent.

On the other hand, the smart power of two main factors, of the institutional reform and of the shift in governmental organisation of the EU, are smart power instruments per se, because they are using flexible approach of hard power content (economic and defence union, normative re-regulation as ultimate aspect of statehood) and soft power shell – which lies in the attractiveness of new European architecture.

EU as such is being firmly criticised by populists, therefore such two-sided approach as described above would mean an open dialog or confrontation with them.

It is impossible to ignore populists and their feelings, their dissatisfaction and the potential to revolutionise the continent. It is hard to speak with them in a same code as it is used in the language of post-Enlightenment; their perception of the world is for them a moral imperative.

However, as liberals, we have other option – to acknowledge them in the same tolerant manner as we accept people of other faith, other race. We do not need to have the same Weltanschau, if we want to stick to our value of inclusiveness.

Being assertive to other values does not automatically means to adopt other values into our system. Even more: we still have political instruments on the European level in our hands to act as responsible democrats.

Do we need to pretend that our values are not under threat? Do we need to involve our smart power instruments in theirs, often-simplified discourse? Of course not. What we need is to pause for a moment and to reflect, what can be done in the current situation, where small steps are often bigger than huge ones, often derived from the fear.

Neither will the EU collapse overnight, nor will the liberal democracy dissolve into a soup, boiled in neoliberalist hell, just like the everlasting values of family or faith won’t be crucified (nevertheless, even liberals have families).

What we have to do, is not only to use the existing possibilities of representative democracy on the European level, but also to be honest and true with our values, trying to avoid at any cost ignorance, negligence, superficiality…. All perfect coats of arms of elites, let us be fair, also of the European elites.

The perfection of liberalism is that it has no symbols in the classical sense. No cross, no red star. Not even twelve yellow stars, although close to them – they are not into the exclusive ownership of liberals.

Liberalism is what we should address all the time – a child of a scientific method, using pragmatic approach rather than moral one. In this sense, it is able to accept any discourse, even the populist one. When using institutional or governmental reform as a part of political agenda, this position is even closer to populism as it seems on the first glance.

Often, it is using the language of marketing rather than of real facts. In this sense, there is never enough space to be cruelly fact oriented and self-critical. Moreover, when trying to approach the Others – in dialogue – we should underline the positive possibilities of change of our common European house, its canteen and shelter.

In this regard, liberalism cannot be other than smart. Moreover, the future generations will adopt it fully. Maybe they will rename it, maybe do some important make up. Nevertheless, its core will remain the same, recognisable.

Future cannot be other as smart. The technological shift will occur not only in the field of information and communication technologies. It will seize further to all fields of development and innovation, probably ending somewhere in the field of artificial intelligence, at least for now.

Smart liberalism will even use the contextual issues of former ideological announcers. When needed, we could adopt social issues to the context of new technological change, either to the simplified processes of work for some groups, or to better care for elderly with the use of intercultural experience. The possibilities are infinite.

Smart liberalism should even have correctives, which paradoxically derive from populism, namely, correctives of moral character. Although not based on moral conducts, smart liberalism could show its openness and general understanding by having open dialogue with all groups.

There is no other choice for the world and Europe to survive, than to be as open and as inclusive as possible, to use the social intelligence to maximum extent, to be able to understand – at the very end it will be the majority who will decide.

Foreign policy is one of the characteristics of soft power. But in the changing world, where this field has also been opened (or forced to open) to the third level of chess game, to the dispersion of power – foreign policy is being transformed or enriched by international cooperation. International cooperation is therefore becoming an instrument of smart power. It encompasses different factors, such as cooperation between non-state factors and individuals.

However, it also encompasses something else. Namely, the realisation that greater equality between the countries and the states could happen when more factors are included, when the understanding is deeper and the results are better.

In the first part of our article, we have been introducing some basic postulates, such as importance and reality of smart power, Europe in a gap and incapability of reforms needed, populists’ drive and less self-reflection of liberal democracies.

In the second part, we will show how international cooperation and relations on a larger scale between selected European countries, could be better understood in the light of above-mentioned postulates, how they could correlate towards them and towards each other.

The main challenge of Western democracy should be in the shift of the understanding of their predominantly patronage-like role when referring to their partners in Central Europe, which are different in their essence.

Even with Germany, we should take into account this difference, as it is consisted of two sociological parts, one being linked to the communist history.

We could consider Austria and Switzerland as the only countries, which have the important task – to take part in an equality-based dialogue with other countries of Central Europe, namely Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia and could as such, due to better understanding of the region, act as role models to others in Europe

We will try to show that smart power is a tool, which enables liberal democracies to further flourish and countries to participate in the same European process, in a way that is non-discriminatory. No matter if they stand on the different part of the value spectrum.

The fact that populism is on the rise especially among the CEE countries is not new. We already have many projects dealing with this issue, from scientific conferences, political events, to research groups and articles. At the beginning, we will use the abbreviation CEE, because we will focus solely on the before mentioned countries of Central Europe – without Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Later on, we will include also these three countries.

FATIGUE and POPREBEL are two large, multi-disciplinary projects supported by the Horizon 2020 funding scheme of the European Commission, which aim at taking stock of the recent rise of populism – in its various forms – in CEE. The aim is to describe the rise of populism, create a typology of its various manifestations, investigate its causes, interpret its meanings, diagnose its consequences and propose policy solutions.6

Project Populism in Central Europe 2018 points out several recommendations. We shall note them, since some of them are important for our further analysis.

  1. The gap between »elites« and »grassroots« is widely perceived. Greater engagement is needed and urgent to prevent that this perception solidifies. A pro-European counter-narrative that takes citizens’ concerns seriously is also needed. Instead of playing on people’s fears, the focus should be on controlling migration and improving integration.
  2. Much more engagement is needed in clarifying that EU is not almighty by solving all societal problems and at the same time maintain much-wanted sovereignty between nations.
  3. Human rights are still highly valuable and we should support this positive collective consciousness.
  4. In times of social media, it is very important to differentiate between fake and real news.
  5. It is important to boost European spirit, to increase cross-border exchanges.
  6. The EU is much more successful in national competition than particular nation states. European institutions should display their efforts in protecting EU citizens against multinational corporations.
  7. Again underlined – to listen carefully and to try to develop European solidarity between countries and on all levels.
  8. More efforts should be made to highlight the advantages of having an EU membership as well as EU funding and to point out what would be at risk if we start a process of re-nationalisation.
  9. The importance of promoting common European identity.7

In the book Populism and Attitudes towards the EU in Central Europe the problem of populism in CEE was identified relatively early. The backlash is aimed at the failures in the implementation of the liberal paradigm, which entails both, the primacy of the constitutional order and the need for economic liberalisation. The liberal integration of CEE countries following their accession has disregarded the differences and specific needs of the new members.

No matter how different the CEE countries are, there are some common findings.

Firstly, institutional quality is much less of a key driver of populism than structural economic factors. In addition, insufficient politization of economic governance is not just probably a mechanism underlying the rise of populism but also leads – because of the lack of alternative economic policies among populists – to further growth of populism and even to its more authoritarian forms.

They seem to be the only ones capable of changing the economy, by concentration of power and scapegoating EU elites and institutions.

Nevertheless, when considering the impact of financial stability and prosperity, we face findings that are even more important. Two of the major European crisis in recent times, the Eurozone crisis and the migration crisis, have been used by populist parties as a source of Euroscepticism, through which it’s mostly the opposition parties that have been more successful in applying an Eurosceptic stance.

However, it is important to note that the migration crisis turned out to be a much handier frame for populists than the Eurozone crisis and it was especially fruitful for the opposition contenders to parties in the government. This shows that populism is an ideology that does not address real problems or offer good policy solutions, but rather use oversimplified and misleading discourse.

Still, when it comes to general public opinion on attitudes towards the EU, respondents have mostly seen more advantages from the EU in all political areas, mainly considering the EU as most beneficial for business and economic welfare, and least beneficial for security and political weight.

In addition, comparison between the EU and government scores demonstrates that the EU performed better in the area of business and economy and worse in the area of security and political weight.

According to the analysis of normative issues, the role of the EU in asylum and refugee policy was perceived as rather negative. The analysis of political profiles demonstrates a strong belief that EU is a “scapegoat” and creates a gap between citizens and the elites.

To sum up – the rise of populism in Central European new EU member states is a result of a deep legitimacy crisis of national politics and external shocks together with systemic problems of global and European governance.

It is important to say that the discourse on institutional quality of the EU, which somehow hid the weakness of national institutions, sets the conditions for more authoritarian forms of populism.

It turns out that business and economic welfare are the areas where support towards the EU is the strongest.

New forms of sovereignism will in the short term strengthen the power of governments and even the accountability of the elites. On the long term, growing nationalism will probably bring instability that is more political into global governance and push smaller countries into a search for regional political patronages.

A multispeed Europe will weaken the sense of unity, as national elites will no longer be able to count on the support from the EU to make progressive reforms happen, through which they would increase their weight in the EU.

The question of asymmetrical interdependence and exposure to shocks will unfortunately not be resolved easily, but will lead to further crises, with very unstable, nationalistic political outcome. These circumstances will probably push transition countries in more authoritarian forms of governance. 8

With this rather pessimistic prognosis we cannot avoid the obscure feeling that future will be much different for the countries which are placed in the West or North of Europe and the others, the last ones of course seemingly more »underdeveloped«, in any sense of the word. Nevertheless, should it be like this? How could we prevent this negative scenario to happen?

Maybe it is important to see parallels in the perception of the citizens from CEE countries from different sources, which have one thing in common. Namely, a positive attitude towards everything that encompasses the economy and finance of the EU. There is still a perception, that EU funds are playing a positive role and that support to different national sectors is efficient. At least, we do not notice any essential criticism, when targeting this important segment of the EU.

Moreover, we could even state, that not enough has been done to show how the EU can help with funds and other forms of financial support. It would be highly important to support this kind of “marketing”, not only to underline the attractiveness of the EU, but also to stimulate the countries to use their funds to maximal possible extent.

We could even name the EU’s financial instruments as real smart power tools, without any ideological interpretations, free from the temptation to be abused by populists’ simplified narratives. Because data is data, numbers are numbers.

Therefore, less falsification is possible. One should even stipulate more dynamic exchange and cash flow between the centres of power (or exchange in final products). Even in the highly critical times of Corona crisis, the EU has been able to act wisely, offering the historic coronavirus recovery deal of 1, 8 trillion EUR aid.

Not only acting as a form of smart power, financial instruments are also true indicators of liberal politics, without unnecessary baggage of somehow old fashioned promotion of political values, reforms and in general, big words about European greatness. They are addressing genuine needs and people could easily understand the message, if only communicated properly.

To shortly interrupt this rather objective discourse – almost two decades ago, I wrote a master thesis about culture and Europe, stating that cultural mimicry (culture in its largest sense, also ideological one) will not last forever and that underlying economic problems, problems of the non-calibrated development, once will prevail. That was the time of great optimism, of flourishing of the EU, of many open possibilities, of the accession to the EU.

However, today, we could say that this is exactly what is happening. Indeed, nothing has changed. To put it bluntly: the average wage and standard in CEE countries is still proportionally the same as it was after the fall of iron curtain.

Has anybody, who has mouths full of criticism about human rights in Hungary, ever asked him- / herself what is the wage of an average Hungarian intellectual in comparison to colleague in Western Europe? Or the wage of worker? And that the globalised prices of globalised products are almost the same all over Europe?

In addition, how promising once the idea and the ideal of Europe for these countries, mostly behind the iron curtain, was? With what face actually dare we to blame common people, striving for existence, to know less and to follow the populists? Has the mistake been done exactly there: at the point of unequal possibilities for the people of Western and Eastern Europe, whatever the exact cause? Or is the misuse of EU structural funds and financial help, together with nepotism, corruption and direct stealing, from the side of CEE countries – the real evil?

Will much needed EU asylum reform ever succeed, because of the opposition by Visegrád countries? The answer is not easy and not simple. Political representatives of V4 often claim they are doing much better as their Western counterparts interpret, and that EU has “double standards”.

However, regardless of interpretation – it is important to bear in mind that all the time: the difference between developmental stages among countries in the EU creates tensions between them. We should address them constantly and profoundly, search for solutions and try to avoid new mistakes.

Second, can we bluff ourselves that power play in EU will be overcome by its federal structure, institutional reform or make-up or even by (maybe already existing) multispeed Europe? The tensions could become even greater, in every case. The fact is, as we have stated, that the CEE countries are a kind of speciality in Europe and in many aspects still in need of support.

Radicalisation to left or right wing populists, which is very sharp – and more than elsewhere happening in this part of Europe – is not really something what we should put under table and forget. If countries will feel that they somehow “do not belong”, they will radicalise even more and preform acts that are even more authoritarian. It will be seen as a part of a noble rebellion act.

But as long as Eastern European countries live – not only in common European community, but also in the certain regional frame, consisted by the countries with more stable tradition of Western and liberal democracy – the more developed ones should not avoid to cooperate closely with the weaker ones.

By this, they would fulfil the international cooperation to its full potential, being it on the areas of soft or hard power, or of the contextual use of both of them. This is where we can put the notion of Central Europe and extend the CEE countries to the enriched version of consisting countries.

Nevertheless, it is a historical duty of all, to cooperate with each other and to further on seek for peace and stability in Europe, to fulfil common projects, primarily targeted to all areas, which boost development.

Key to successful transformation of the EU to globally important factor lies in the ability to unify the voice in global affairs, which will demand stronger leadership by all members. The fact is that CEE countries depend heavily on export and free trade, and at the same time benefit from the existing protecting shields of EU and NATO. 9

Bearing this in mind, we could predict that even by regional cooperation in Central Europe, the most important asset stays the cooperation in the economic field, underlining the importance of shifting this cooperation to the sphere of smart power, where political values of liberal democracy and of foreign relation become intertwined with the real power of economic exchange. Where no creepy »ideological« explanations about the importance of more Europe are needed, especially in the countries, fed up with ideology and the heavy hand of the state, as is the case of former communist countries of CEE.

Indeed, is the statehood of the EU something what is typical for liberalism?

On the other hand, populism of the CEE countries needs to be regarded in a wider European and global context, as a »social pathology«. However, although it does not exist only in the CEE countries, but also elsewhere in Europe, it mostly only happens in the CEE that people elect populist’s representatives to the highest political and executive posts.

Therefore, no other solution seems to be as real as to establish genuine and open political dialogue. In addition, to see, who is strong enough as a political and inspirational figure to make a change. Structural political and societal problems of populism are common and no bashing of the Others will help. 10

The need for strong leadership is all over Europe. What would be Europe in the World War II without Churchill or de Gaulle? However, what is – strong leadership? Is it not the time to use another description, namely – smart leadership?

European society is diversified and different crisis attack in different manners. Contrasting leaders of the nations with diverse history, culture and development create different responses.

Nevertheless, smart power of Europe is hidden exactly in its diversification. Smart power of Europe depends also on successful coordination among leaders between different member states.

The EU is a postmodern entity, driven by multifaceted and relativized political systems and policy processes. Leaders who successfully implement smart power – which establishes cooperation in diversity (and despite diversity) and at the same time uses the historical development, alongside with its strongest intellectual potential (but not ideology) – are the key to success.

European liberalism is nowadays provoked by cultural figures – real bearers of the European smart power – the ones who historically gave us the strongest push into modernity after the Enlightenment.

Locke, Montesquieu, Lafayette… and then Smith, Mill… to name just a few of the founding fathers of a thought. Will their ideas forever dissolve into the common acceptance of civil code and free economy, or will the future show us other figures, radicalised by the importance of statehood, neglecting certain human rights, the decline of rule of law, democracy and democratisation of the society as a whole?

Alternatively, will smart power of our societal self-organisation prevail and at least to certain extent absorb the ideas of founding fathers of modern Western world? 11

Will our »open society« as such sustain? Should it be further on guided by norms and values, such as individual liberty and equality, tolerance and anti-racism, the rule of law and accountable power, fair trade and diplomatic multilateralism? On the other hand, should we start self-correcting and prioritising some values over others, such as equality over freedom?

To reinvent capitalism, to reverse politics of deregulation and privatisation? To experiment with different forms of transnational economic regulation and to see, what works at its best? To propose new vision of democracy, capitalism and integration?

The so called counter-revolutionary forces pit »ordinary people« against »the elite«. However, can liberal forces show that the elites and the people can work together for common causes? (Zielonka, ibid.).

While we are predicting best outcomes for the liberal democracies and by doing so trying to sustain our achieved standards of civilisation, events in the world are moving with the speed of the light. Drastically, the Corona crisis cannot be compared to anything similar in the modern history, where not only demand, but also supply are both at risk.

The world economy will probably shrink; the unemployment will rise, especially for the most vulnerable sectors, such as culture, arts, tourism. Gold price hits record on new fears for the economy. Many airlines went bankrupt or collapsed. The whole sectors of society are at risk.

Although the response of governments around the world, including the fiscal aspect, was essentially different as during the first crisis in 2008, it is exactly this fiscal response that could bring inflation.

Eurostat is announcing 12, 1% shrinking of GDP in the Eurozone, in the whole EU the number is 11, 9%. It is about the highest fall since 1995 (when Eurostat has begun with measurement).

Meanwhile in Italy, at the end of July 2020, a new party was founded, Italexit – No Europe for Italy with Paragone, a nationalist and Eurosceptic party in Italy, with a founder Gianluigi Paragone, an Italian senator and former journalist who was inspired by Farage’s Brexit party and with an aim to bring Italy out of the EU. One can assume that populism in CEE might not be the ultimate evil for the existence of the EU.

Therefore, what remains? If things are changing so rapidly, could we still be patient with the so-called counter-revolution or better, with our reaction to it? Is it really time to count on large institutional reforms of the EU, when half of the people are losing motivation or even faith, and half of the elites are neglecting what is going on?

Moreover, is it really time to make ideal plans of political reorganisation of the EU in a kind of a federal form, the republic? All those splendid ideas are of course not out of our horizons, but we have to act now and stop pretending that status quo is the best solution.

To certain extent, it is time – but we prefer to conduct some important means of smart power in the EU and in the democratic international cooperation in the Central Europe. These practical solutions should be used in short-term plans not only by liberal politicians, but also by all those who understand the notion of liberal democracy as an important value of Western civilisation, including the value of equality.

Because this notion is in its core connected with the notion of smart power, the third level of chess game of 21. Century, where the contextual use of soft and hard power is happening, where informational revolution is taking part at its fullest potential, where non-governmental and transnational actors are full speed ahead, where flexibility is the answer to the future challenges.

We should stop seeing countries of CEE as scapegoats for everything that is going on, but instead try to impose dialogue, understand their positions and point of view: because of long-standing different traditions, but most of all, because of different scale of development.

By actively promoting the financial mechanisms of the EU, we will avoid the exaggeration, the ideological explanation of the importance of stronger European structure, being it in the form of institutional reforms or political organisation as such.

However, more visible security policy and union that is firmer could with the means of smart presentation become one of the important instruments of European smart power.

Instead of bashing CEE countries for their less democratic systems, we should accept the reality: they are still bound to the normative centres of European decision-making systems. Besides, they lie close to the powerful European countries and, therefore, both sides should lose prejudices against closer international cooperation, in all areas: for the sake of better position of the EU in a globalised world.

Such position would bring benefits to CEE countries, much depended on export and free trade, not to mention the benefits for the democratic process.

A durable smart power leadership is needed, bound to the heritage of Enlightenment, not just to the classical liberal thought, but to all brilliant European intellectual traditions, which would enable deeper understanding of the diversity of Europe: as an enrichment.

By implementing these proposals, we might be able to start a dialogue with the CEE countries and regard Central Europe as a whole and as an important regional factor, extending the practise to other European countries and formations, where Euroscepticism is on the rise. By not “shot out of a canon”, we will maintain our common Europe – canteen and shelter – maybe more modest, maybe less elitist, with lower profile, but still functioning.

Moreover, when recovered from external shocks, our EU would be able to revitalise in more perfect formation. It seems not only an optimistic perspective, but also a realistic one.


In the article, we analyse how the theoretical concept of smart power, invented primarily by American author Joseph S. Nye, can contribute to a better understanding of the processes in the 21. Century, namely, of the trans-national actors and cyber realities.

At the same time, those processes, together with the notion of smart power, aim into the core of liberal thought and practice, as they are based on flexible, pragmatic approach, together with objective facts, aside from ideological interpretations of either left or right pole.

Such model of smart power tackles the international cooperation (in Europe) and transcends the “classical soft power value” of foreign policy, because it takes into the account the whole spectrum of society, which then influences the outcome of policy process.

It is especially important for the international cooperation in Central Europe, where we face important inequalities – mostly or firstly in the field of democracy and rule of law.

We tried to show that the division between Eastern and Western Europe might not be so far from the division between Southern and Northern Europe as we might think and that the developmental inequalities should be addressed in the first place, all over Europe.

Moreover, solid economic basis/fair distribution of financial support is one of the most powerful assets of the EU, its smart power tool.

Together with smart leadership, based on the tradition of European intellectuals and their diversity, foremost derived from the ideas of the Enlightenment, we could beat the over-simplified politics of populism. Not by adopting or copying their narrative, but by understanding and tolerating the Others, this time the Others of the EU.

Therefore, whilst waiting on the political and governmental reforms of the EU (which are sometimes very revolutionary in their call for change), we should be aware of our contemporary situation and stay modest in small steps: only such small steps could keep us on track with optimism of our founding fathers, both of the EU and liberal democracy.

Central or Central and Eastern Europe. Central Europe is broader terminus, because it encompasses also Germany, Austria and Switzerland (see 5th para. bellow).

Besides, it includes notion of V4, which is per se getting more and more (geo)-political importance and of three countries of “Western-democracies”, which could be a “role model” (as mentioned in the article). I have used also terminus CEE in the article from time to time, mostly when citing other sources.

1 Nye, Joseph S. (2011): Future of Power. New York: Public Affairs.

2 Zielonka, Jan (2018): Counter-Revolution: Liberal Europe in Retreat. Oxford: University Press.

3 Verhofstad, Guy (2017): Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European Sattes Must Form a More Perfect Union. New York: Basic Books.

4 Guérot, Ulrike and Marsini, Lorenzo (2020, May 10): Elites have failed us. It is time to create a European Republic. The Guardian. Accessible at:, 21. 8. 2020.

5 Müller, Jan-Werner (2017): Was ist Populismus? Ein Essay.Berlin: Suhrkamp.

6 (2020):Populism in Central and Eastern Europe: FATIGUE and POPREBEL. Accessible at:, 21. 8. 2020.

7 Europeum (2019): Populism in Central Europe 2018. Accessible at:, 21. 8. 2020.

8 Lovec, Marko (Ed.) (2019): Populism and Attitudes Towards the EU in Central Europe. Ljubljana: FDV.

9 Inotai, Edit (2018, June 25): Is Germany too much for us? Europeum. Accessible at:, 21. 8. 2020.

10 Kořan, Michal (2017, March 20): Central Europe: The Death of Dreams. Europeum. Accessible at:, 21. 8. 2020.

11 Fabiani, Anja (2017): Smart Power and Leadership. Tetovo / Skopje: South East European University

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