Today’s European Union has major weaknesses as well as strengths. What does Bible prophecy say about an end-time European superpower?
Since the days of the Greco-Macedonian and Roman Empires, Europe has had a disproportionate influence in the world. Today, European nations individually and the European Union as a group continue to be among the wealthiest and most powerful actors on the world stage.
But recent crises have highlighted some of the weaknesses of Europe in the superpower arena. With the EU made up of 27 separate governments each with veto power over EU actions, big questions arise about what the EU can do in future crises:
- If Russia attacks Ukraine, how will Europe respond?
- If Russia cuts off the gas pipelines, what will Europe do?
- If China invades Taiwan, will Europe act?
Because of such issues, some have questioned if Europe can truly be considered a superpower.
Europe’s superpower status
Zaki Laïdi, in chapter 1 (“Why Europe Cannot Be a Superpower”) of his book Norms Over Force (2008), makes the following case that still resonates today:
“Is it conceivable for a political actor that is not a state—even if it seeks de facto acknowledgment as such, particularly by international institutions—to rise to the rank of a superpower? Even more fundamentally, is the European project compatible with the very idea of power? . . . Europe’s political structure has no historical equivalent—it is not a state, even a federal one (and nothing indicates that it is on the way to becoming one)—but also because, like it or not, the philosophy of the European project is historically dominated by a refusal of power.”
On the other hand, Andrew Moravcsik, professor of politics and director of the European Union Program at Princeton University, makes this argument in his Foreign Policy article “Europe Is Still a Superpower” (April 13, 2017):
“Europe today is a genuine superpower and will likely remain one for decades to come. By most objective measures, it either rivals or surpasses the United States and China in its ability to project a full spectrum of global military, economic, and soft power. Europe consistently deploys military troops within and beyond its immediate neighborhood. It manipulates economic power with a skill and success unmatched by any other country or region. And its ability to employ ‘soft power’ to persuade other countries to change their behavior is unique.”
For example, Dr. Moravcsik pointed out, “One European specialty is economic power projection. To induce political concessions, European countries manipulate access to their markets, condition economic assistance and exchange, and exploit regulatory and institutional dominance. Thus, a basic source of European economic power is the raw size of its economy.”
In a 2020 Eurobarometer survey people across Europe listed some of the strengths they saw in the EU. “Europeans consider that the EU’s respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law (32%) and its economic, industrial and trading power (30%) are its main assets.”
Dr. Moravcsik noted that Europe’s economic power comes with dangers as well. Europe is the world’s largest trader of goods and services, and exports can be a source of vulnerability as well as strength. “The more trade dependent a country is, the less powerful it is. Europe is slightly more trade dependent than the United States but far less than China.”
Even more important, many experts question a divided Europe’s ability to project military power. The NATO’s chaotic and embarrassing retreat from Afghanistan deepened Europe’s distrust of American leadership. Politico.eu reported that in her annual State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen “stressed that the failures in Afghanistan had given new impetus to such discussions.
“Paying tribute to fallen soldiers, she said: ‘To make sure that their service will never be in vain, we have to reflect on how this mission could end so abruptly.’
“She pressed for more cooperation and a frank conversation about ‘deeply troubling questions’ regarding the future of the NATO military alliance, which found itself beholden to a U.S.-set deadline to leave Afghanistan.
“Von der Leyen appeared to endorse greater EU military independence, a policy commonly known as ‘strategic autonomy.’ But she avoided the actual phrase, which often leads to eye-rolls and griping, especially from eastern EU countries, that Europe cannot protect itself without help from the U.S.
“‘Europe can—and clearly should—be able and willing to do more on its own,’ von der Leyen said” (Sept. 15, 2021).
Europe’s limitations can be seen in microcosm in the balancing act forced on Germany:
“As a European middle power that shares a continent with and imports energy from Russia, depends for exports on China (Germany’s biggest trading partner outside the EU), and relies on the United States for its security umbrella, Germany has limited strategic options” (Constanze Stelzenmüller, “The Singular Chancellor: The Merkel Model and Its Limits,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2021).
The challenges are even greater without Angela Merkel’s steady hand on the tiller of Europe’s largest economy.
Will frustration with the paralysis produced by the principle of unanimity lead to reforms within the European Union or new treaties? Or will a crisis produce a whole new, more streamlined European government?French President Emmanuel Macron desires to fill the European leadership hole created by Merkel’s departure. In a press conference before France assumed the six-month rotating EU presidency, President Macron said, “We must move from a Europe of cooperation within our borders to a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices and master of its destiny.”
France 24 reported, “Progress on the bloc’s joint defence capability was also critical for ensuring the EU’s sovereignty, stressed Macron.
“Since his election in 2017, the French president has been pushing for the EU to stand independently in terms of security, and no longer rely solely on the US security umbrella inherited since World War II” (Sept. 12, 2021).
However, President Macron’s own future is in question as he faces a tough presidential election in April.
And even when most Europeans agree on a course of action, the complex, almost Byzantine structures of the EU can make decisive action nearly impossible.
Observer Andreas Bühler highlighted some of these structural issues plaguing the EU: “The EU is undeniably crying out for fundamental reforms. The financial crisis of 2008 laid bare the structural weaknesses of the architecture of the monetary union . . . The difference in the economic power of the EU Member States between North and South is growing ever larger and the Covid-19 crisis may well widen the gap even further . . .
“The EU is frequently forced into compromises in foreign and security policy, because the principle of unanimity in the European Council makes decisive foreign policy action extremely difficult. A European Defence Union continues to be a distant prospect as 27 Member States continue to maintain 27 armies with a wide range of salaries, ranks, standards and weapon systems” (eu.boell.org, May 5, 2021).
Getting all 27 governments to agree on anything, let alone a contentious issue, is challenging. Some have urged reforms to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting. Other efforts have, in effect, promoted a two-speed Europe, with some nations opting into greater integration than others.
A coming transformation?
Will frustration with the paralysis produced by the principle of unanimity lead to reforms within the European Union or new treaties? Or will a crisis produce a whole new, more streamlined European government?
God describes the end-time European empire as partly strong and partly weak.With each crisis, there are new calls for change and for Europe to come together to embrace its superpower.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the debacle in Afghanistan has shown that “Europe has to become the number three super-power besides China and the United States. Let’s open our eyes, we’re facing threats and we cannot rely anymore on the protection of the United States” (quoted in EU Observer, Sept. 6, 2021).
Prophecies of Europe in the end time
Bible prophecy affects all people, but end-time prophecies focus primarily on the Middle East, on the descendants of Israel—and on Europe.
God gave Daniel an important overview prophecy that spanned from the Babylonian Empire of his day to the establishment of the Kingdom of God at Christ’s return.
When King Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream, he called on the wise men of his empire to tell him what he dreamed and what it meant.
The wise men asked what he had dreamed, but he was adamant that if they couldn’t tell him what he had dreamed, he couldn’t be sure they were interpreting it correctly. In his anger, he ordered the death of all the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:1-12).
Daniel and his companions were among those condemned to death, but Daniel asked for time and sought God’s mercy. “Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (verse 19).
Daniel explained to the king, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (verse 28).
The great image
Daniel then gave the king what he had requested:
“You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome.
“This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.
“You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.
“Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (verses 31-35).
What did it all mean? God revealed that the head of gold was King Nebuchadnezzar himself and his Babylonian Empire.
“But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.
“And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others” (verses 39-40).
Many Bible students recognize these succeeding empires as the Medo-Persian, the Greco-Macedonian and the Roman Empires. Rome’s great power united much of the Mediterranean world for centuries, and the legacy of Rome lived on in its revivals, such as the Holy Roman Empire. (For more on this, see our booklet How to Understand Prophecy.)
God then showed Daniel that this powerful European empire would exist in a different form in the end time.
“Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay.
“And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
“As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (verses 41-44).
End-time European superpower
God describes the end-time European empire as partly strong and partly weak. The 10 toes represent 10 nations or groups of nations, just as Revelation 17 describes 10 “kings” who will “receive authority for one hour [a short time] as kings with the beast” (verse 12).
They will be so deceived that they will believe the returning Jesus Christ is an enemy! These will “make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (verse 14).
Man’s best efforts to bring peace and prosperity, apart from the true ways of God and His Kingdom, are doomed to fail. From Nebuchadnezzar’s empire to the European superpower of the end-time, all have in various ways opposed God. All have been deceived.
But in the end, God and His Kingdom will win.