The EU Centres in Australia and New Zealand got together to conceive an interesting conference to discuss and debate the challenges facing the European Union (EU) and contemplate its future. Hosted by the EU Centre in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and supported by the European Commission, the two and a half day conference from 16-18 October attracted more than 100 participants. 60 papers were presented in parallel sessions, and interesting dialogue took place in six plenary sessions exploring themes on “The European Union in a Multipolar World” to “Regional initiatives to promote economic and social cohesion” to the Future of European Studies. The keynote address was delivered by the EU ambassador to Australia, Dr Michael Pulch, and there was also an interesting and frank exchange on the second day with ambassadors from Austria, Denmark and Charges d’affaires from Poland.
Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, Director of the EU Centre took part in the first plenary on “The European Union in a Multipolar World”. In her remarks, she began by asking what kind of world are we in? She referred to the European Union Global Strategy published in June 2016 which said that we are entering a “more connected, contested and complex world”. Indeed, decades of globalization has resulted in a far more interdependent and connected world. However, at the same time, the diffusion of power and proliferation of actors has contributed to a world that is far more contested and complex. We are entering a world that is harder to reach consensus and harder to govern. The world is shifting from one based on hard alliances to one that is based more on networks, and we are moving away from long-term institution-building to one that is fashioned more on “coalitions of the willing”. In this kind of world, the EU, who has been good at institution building and rules-making need to become far more flexible, and take a more pragmatic and inclusive approach towards building networks in order to continue to champion multilateralism and international cooperation.