Article by Nicoletta Boldrini, Futures & Foresight Director and Editor in Chief of Tech4Future, and Laura Maffei, Head of Area "R&I System Development: R&I Ecosystems and Foresight for R&I" of HIT - Hub Innovazione Trentino

Europe needs to rebalance its strategic objectives better and more precisely, defining what it wants to achieve versus what it can actually achieve given the geopolitical changes taking place. Italy would have all the characteristics to become one of the leading countries in the West. But it is one thing to have the characteristics, quite another to be able to exploit them. Europe and Italy as seen by Abishur Prakash, international geopolitical expert and author of the book ‘The World Is Vertical: How Technology Is Remaking Globalization‘.

In order to achieve European sovereignty – one of the strategic goals – it is crucial that Europe accelerates the accession process of other nations, understanding and addressing the overall international rebalancing game.
To gain more power in the global geopolitical chessboard, Europe must work to define a single and homogeneous thinking internally and externally gain more credibility necessary to make itself heard and play a major role in delicate games of high political-strategic significance.
Italy, a cultural superpower, is one of the few western countries that possesses the characteristics to become the leader of the West; it must be able to identify strategic opportunities and put in place concrete political and economic actions that will allow it to regain power not only in the European bloc but in the world chessboard.
Water (whether salty, fresh or drinkable) could represent a strategic opportunity for Italy, but beware: it is one thing to possess it, quite another to decide how to manage it and use it to acquire geopolitical power.
Italy has great potential to create its own economic corridor with Africa in terms of energy supplies, provided it succeeds in establishing itself as the hub of this new energy matrix.

T4F: What could be the role of the European Union in this new, complex chessboard of relations between states?

Prakash: Europe, we know, is today the subject of many conversations and the recipient of mostly negative attention: many argue that it is in decline and that its power and political relevance are fading. I disagree. I travel often to your continent, I see what happens there, it is a great place, rich in history, where I would love to live. Having said that, I think that although Europe is called to answer complex questions about its strategic positioning and overall contribution in the world geopolitical chessboard, it cannot simply focus on what has brought it to this day, but has to find a new identity… whether it is a manufacturing hub, a financial hub, a beacon of democracy, a large single market or a more neutral ground in relation to the United States that can collaborate with other parts of the world. In fact, Europe has already identified certain directions: to become a ‘green’ superpower, a technological leader and to assert its sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States and China. However, these goals were set many years ago, before the war in Ukraine, before the start of the new change. Each of them is worthy of attention and of the highest order. The problem lies in putting them into practice, as it faces all kinds of global challenges. Consider European sovereignty.

In order to achieve this, it is crucial to speed up the accession process of other nations, such as the Balkans. While the announcement made at the beginning of the year by European Commission President Von der Leyen goes exactly in this direction, we are also faced with Serbia signing a trade and exchange agreement with China, which – in the words of its President Vucic – will guarantee a prosperous future for the nation. Think what the link between Serbia and China could mean. It is, as seen above, a massive recalibration of the way nations think about economics. If Serbia’s direction is eastwards, the question we must ask ourselves is ‘How does Europe think about building sovereignty? How does Europe think about expanding to establish its new borders?” Hungary is another example: closely allied with China, it is part of the EU, creating internal challenges for Brussels. Although Europe has long since identified its priorities, it is now called upon to reshape them with respect to the current geopolitical context. Becoming a ‘green’ superpower is laudable, but what does it mean in practice? Does it mean becoming a leader in electric vehicle exports? When, as we know, Chinese electric vehicle exports are increasingly dominating the continent, driven also by Chinese state subsidies. Europe is struggling and struggling to become the market leader. This requires a reshaping of the Union’s objectives, based on the many opportunities Europe has to play a stronger, more powerful and strategic role.

T4F: What are the challenges facing Europe, given that within the Union there are – we cannot fail to see this – identities and cultures, which contribute to defining different positions in terms of political and economic challenges?

Prakash: In my opinion, there are two challenges facing Europe: one internal and one external. Internally, Europe is characterised by jagged and uneven thinking. Each country is very different, has its own needs, desires and opinions. This leads to deadlocks, sometimes even to total paralysis, the result of which is a loss of competitiveness on the geopolitical front. Achieving, a uniformity of thinking is crucial, especially in defining who are partners and who are competitors. How to do this, is the task of Brussels.

Externally, the challenge is to ensure that Europe is listened to and can play a major role, even in delicate games with a high strategic significance such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this context, the primary actors are the United States, the Gulf States, Iran and, to a lesser extent, China and Russia. Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, repeatedly urges in his writings and speeches to question Europe’s leadership role and why the rest of the world should listen to what it has to say.

Europe chooses to talk about technology. Especially artificial intelligence. Certainly important, especially if the discussion concerns ethical aspects. The question I ask myself is why should any other nation use the European ideas or ethics when it comes to artificial intelligence? And not the American one or not the Chinese one? Even in the area of technology, I think it is clear that Europe’s leadership and ability to make its way in the world at present is incredibly limited. Starting a decade ago, Europe declared that it wanted to be a technological superpower. It was the first to use the phrase ‘technological sovereignty’. The actual situation today is quite different. Let’s take ChatGPT: it is an American innovation spread all over the world. With respect to this kind of technological innovation, what contribution has Europe made, what role has it played in this area, what alternative has it proposed? China, I remind you, has its alternative, perhaps not as good, but it has it. And Europe?

T4F: What about Italy? What role can it play within the Union, given its geographical position in the middle of the Mediterranean?

Prakash: I think Italy is a cultural superpower, one of the few countries that can make a difference at the European level. The West, at the moment, lacks homogeneity of thought and political leadership.  France, on several occasions, has attempted to assume the role of leader, trying to define objectives and paths, but without achieving concrete results. Given the current set-up, the leadership role could potentially go to anyone. And why not Italy?  Your nation has maintained its balance and good relations with all the other countries, while Europe – as a whole – not so much.

Although Italy, in my opinion, seems to possess the characteristics to become the new captain of the European bloc, it must identify – albeit within European strategic objectives – a position that is advantageous for itself, given that geopolitical pressure on the Italian economy is gradually increasing. Let me give an example. For some 20 to 30 years now, Italian ports have benefited from the transit of ships through the Suez Canal, built to connect the Middle East and Asia to Europe. Now, because of the context in the Red Sea, the situation has completely changed. Many companies choose not to sail through the Mediterranean, but to head for northern Europe by circumnavigating Africa. Italian ports are suffering the direct consequences and business is declining. This should make Italy realise that, in order to define its geopolitical positioning and power, it is unthinkable to rely on trade now. But how to reivent itself? It all depends on its ambitions, its ability to attract investment, its alignment with the EU and the search for new allies. Thanks to its current political relations, Italy is very close to India, closer than ever before. A strategic move on Rome’s part. I think there are actions that, if only identified and developed, can help Italy to rise up and regain power, not only within the European bloc, but also in the world geopolitical chessboard. 

T4F: We mentioned the Mediterranean, let’s talk about water more broadly. Can we consider it a strategic geopolitical asset for Italy?

Prakash: Drinking water is becoming, due to ongoing climate change, the world’s biggest crisis, which few are talking about. Although the invention of desalination technology has shown, as in the case of Israel (before the war almost 100% of tap water came from the desalination process) that the situation can be addressed, it is not enough. Canada has the largest freshwater lakes in the world; yet, its geopolitical power is almost nil. What we must ask ourselves is what we want to do with the water: it is one thing to own it, quite another to decide how to manage and use it. No one can export millions of litres of drinking water, so it is easily understandable that it could be a source of immigration by peoples who lack it. At the same time, immigration processes also have a limit. An entire geopolitical world revolves around this asset, and I believe that Italy, which is rich in salt, fresh and drinking water, must also pay due attention to this strategic asset and enhance its ownership with the most appropriate management strategies.

T4F: Other European countries, including Spain, are investing in this asset by developing a medium- to long-term strategic vision. We, although in the middle of the Mediterranean, have not yet invested massively – either publicly or privately – in desalination technologies and are struggling to produce a long-term strategic vision.

Prakash: Italy’s opportunity lies mainly in economic corridors. Last September, at the G20 in India, an economic corridor called IMEC (India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor) was announced, linking India, the Middle East and Europe; today it is on hiatus because of the Israel-Hamas conflict. These economic corridors are the new projects, which countries are starting to gravitate towards. I think Italy has great potential to create its own economic corridor and try to reorient itself around that. Connections with Africa, for example in terms of energy supplies, are also starting to be strategic for Europe following the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In these arrangements and connections, Italy plays the most important role, especially if it succeeds in establishing itself as the hub of this new energy matrix.

Abishur Prakash - esperto di geopolitica internazionale

Abishur Prakash is a founder, keynote speaker, and author. He is one of the world’s top geopolitical experts. Prakash was born in New Zealand to Indian parents, spent his childhood in Australia and grew up in Canada.  For more than a decade, Prakash has been providing geopolitical advice and forecasting to leaders in business and nations. He is the founder of The Geopolitical Business, a Toronto-based consultancy that helps companies manage geopolitics intelligently. In 2013, Prakash was among the first in the world to define ‘Next Geopolitics‘, the intersection of geopolitics and technology. He is the author of five books, including “Next Geopolitics: Volume One & Two” and “Go.AI (Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence).” His latest book, ‘The World is Vertical: How Technology is Redefining Globalisation‘, is about the new fragmented design of the globe, where barriers and walls exist everywhere. A provocative speaker, he brings new geopolitical thinking to audiences around the world. He has also appeared in many of the world’s leading media, including CNBC, Wall Street Journal, Nikkei Asia, Telegraph, CNN and Business Insider, among others

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Nicoletta Boldrini

Futures & Foresight Director | Direttrice Responsabile Tech4Future Read articles Look at the Linkedin profile