Four Trajectories for Europe’s Future

Peter Turchin


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A colleague of mine recently asked me to speculate about the various paths the European Union might follow over the next decade and which one(s) I think are more-or-less likely. I think this makes for a good post topic, especially in light of the very troubling developments in the Catalonian/Spanish conflict over the past week.

First, however, I wanted to remind my readers that I already wrote about the European Union prospects 12 years ago, in the last chapter of War and Peace and War. At the end of this post I include the complete fragment dealing with the EU for your info. As you will see, I argue that we can think of the EU as an empire, of a new kind, but still an empire. This means that I can use the insights from my and my colleagues analysis of historical empires to make inferences about the EU. The key question I asked then, but didn’t answer was this: is the core ethnie of the EU, the Germans, willing to sacrifice for the sake of the unified Europe?

I believe that this question has been answered by the Greek crisis, and the answer is, “not any more”. I’ve written in several recent posts about the disintegrative trend that has set in Europe. Parochial interests and narrowing identities, whether they are national or subnational (as in Catalonia’s case), have come to the fore, while the common European interest and identity are losing ground. And that sets the background for my attempt to imagine possible futures for the EU.

Scenario 1. The disintegrative trends that I and others have written about are just a “blip”, a temporary set-back that will be soon overcome. The grand project of European integration will soon recover and by 2027 everybody will look back and have fun at the expense of “doomsayers”. I think that this trajectory is extremely unlikely. First, because of the shift in the social mood of the Germans, to which I referred above. Second, because all across Europe the well-being of large segments of the population is declining. To give just two examples, think of the extraordinary high unemployment rates for the young workers in countries like Spain, and of declining real wages of UK workers over the past decade.

Scenario 2. The EU continues to muddle through. Neither integrative, nor disintegrative trend dominates over the next decade, and in 2027 we are pretty much where we are now. In my opinion, this inertial scenario is more likely than the optimistic Scenario 1, but still not too likely. An equilibrium is a dynamic process, it can maintain itself only when two opposite forces cancel each other out. I don’t see any compelling signs of an integrative force that would cancel the disintegrative forces. Empirically, history doesn’t stand still. So things will either improve, or get worse. For reasons that I stated in this and other posts, my money is on the disintegrative trend prevailing (although personally I wish it was otherwise).

Incidentally, the governing elites of the EU behave as though they all believe in Scenario 1 (or, at worst, Scenario 2).

Scenario 3. The next 10 years will see an increasingly fragmented European landscape. The EU will not be formally abolished, but it will increasingly lose its capacity to influence constituent countries. Led by Hungary and Poland, other small and medium-sized countries will increasingly set their national policies without much regard for Brussels. This fragmentation will be accomplished largely in a nonviolent way. Perhaps not in ten years, as it may take longer, but eventually the EU will look much like the Holy Roman Empire. This “HRE” scenario is probably the most likely, at least in my opinion.

Central Europe in 1618. Source

Scenario 4. Like in the previous scenarios, the disintegrative trend will dominate, but dissolution of the EU will not be peaceful. I think (I hope) that the violent disintegration scenario is much less likely than the Scenario 3. And I know that almost nobody believes that a violent break-up is possible. Very few people remain who fought in World War II. And this is the danger. The government of Mariano Rajoy apparently can’t imagine that one result of their push to suppress the Catalonian independence movement could be a bloody civil war.

Unfortunately, there is no law of history that prohibits an armed conflict within Europe that could carry away thousands of lives. Our parents and grandparents fought in World War II. We are not better than them. The reasons there was no major war between core European states since 1945 is not because we are better than the previous generations, but because Europe had an integrative institutional framework. If that framework goes, all kinds of nasty outcomes become possible.

Let me close this post by stressing that I am projecting forward for only ten years. If I was asked, where will Europe be in 40 years, then I would speculate that there is a good chance that the disintegrative trend will, by then, be reversed. But that speculation is for another post.

An excerpt from the last chapter of War and Peace and War, published in 2005.

On March 25, 1957, in a spectacular Renaissance palazzo in Rome six European nations—France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the treaty establishing the European Economic Community, the precursor of the European Union. A glance at maps of Europe in 1957 and 800 shows that the combined territory of the six founding members traces almost precisely the empire of Charlemagne. The symbolism is heavy. It was in Rome, on Christmas day of A.D. 800 that the pope crowned Charlemagne as emperor. Is the European Union a new kind of empire?

In terms of its size, multiethnic population, and complex power structure the E.U. fits my definition. Furthermore, during the half century of its existence the E.U. has been aggressively expanding, adding most recently six central European and two Mediterranean countries during the writing of this book. The core state of the E.U., Germany, meanwhile gobbled up former East Germany in 1990. However, all expansion to date was accomplished entirely by peaceful and consensual means. Historical empires don’t always need to conquer new territories. I have pointed out above that there were voluntary admissions to the Roman and Russian empires. Many medieval European states grew by dynastic unions. Still, the entirely peaceful expansion of the E.U. is unprecedented in world history—ultimately, all historical empires had to counter external or internal threats with force. Member states have used armed force, as the United Kingdom in its 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, but the European Union as a whole has not done it—so far? The Europeans are moving in the direction of creating a unified military force, but we will have to wait and see whether the E.U. will prove capable of using the force when threatened. More importantly, how strong is the European asabiya? Will it motivate people to sacrifice their comforts, treasure, or blood for the sake of the unified Europe? So far, the main financial burden of empire has been born largely by the Germans. It is customary for core nations of empires to bear the main brunt of its costs, but how long will the Germans consent to this state of affairs? Will the years of slow economic growth and high unemployment, which as of the time of this writing show no signs of ending—will such economic hardship eventually sap the willingness of the Germans to sacrifice for the sake of the dream of a powerful united Europe?

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J. Daniel

If you plug the data into the Structural-Demographic computer model, doesn’t it give a prediction?

Dick Burkhart

What do you think about the prospects for Yanis Varoufakis proposal for a European New Deal and his Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), outlined in the Oct 23 “The Nation”?

Or how bad do things have to get before the Germans wake up?



two main mistake i think: no propose of a common lanquage

and no solution for immigration, but a lot of interesting point

Dick Burkhart
Loren Petrich

LM’s comments on US higher education seem to suggest some bizarro-world “source”. Same as it ever was: Top 10 most popular college majors | Career Path News for College Students | USA TODAY College – — the most popular one is business administration and management.

What Yanis Varoufakis proposes is rather mild social democracy. It is not nationalization of everything in sight, let alone extermination of large numbers of supposed “enemies of the people”. Comparing what he proposes to orthodox Communism is almost like calling President Dwight Eisenhower a Communist.

As to the supposed evil of a guaranteed income, I suggest looking at all those people who have inherited large sums of money. It ought to turn them into inhuman monsters.

Peter van den Engel

I believe the trajectory wil be around scenario three, but you have not described it in much detail. Trends tend to reenforce themselves, so I guess we are (could be) talking about the next three years instead of ten.
At the same time predicting has a selfullfilling profecy character included which feels frightening, I will have to set aside for now.

The trends are different in different countries, but one leads to the other.
Since the economic pressure is strongest in the south; youth unemployment has lasted far too long; separation movements are already underway. I believe in the end nationalistic sentiments will combine with getting out of the situation by creating a union with stronger economic centers wanting to separate now and lead to a brake away from Europe and the euro as a whole country. First of all Italy. This will motivate Spain, which has similar movements of internal separation, doing the same. So Madrid will capitulate but at the same time reunite.
This will create chaos in the financial molding of the union and lead to the next financial crisis.
Apart from that I believe Greece will not follow through/ but there will be violant outbreaks including military actions internaly. Portugal remains a question similar to Sotland. Likely things happening will create a stronger union with UK than there is now.

The crisis will put great pressure on the French/ German axis, since France has never been a big fan of financial austerity. I presume it will not break but follow a wait and see attitude, concerning what is happening in the south.
Since the overall need for better alternatives than have been offered so far, the crisis will lead to the same desire in other districts. But I believe northern cultures are less hotheaded than southern, so it might stay with political uproar also depending on German reactions. The overall feeling there might be being freed from economical impossibilities also creates opportunities, so that can create the other camp, including those in doubt.
Belgium might take another two or three years as before to reach a solution, but they don’t give up easily.

Because of the financial chaos created it is hard to predict what it will actually lead to and in what pace. Since the last crisis lasted three to four years and this one will be heavier; the midsection of it might take five to six years.

I am affraid though since economic efficiency and the financial system are imparallel, as it is calibrated now, nothing will lead to a containing situation and will go on untill it is repaired. Chaos with no end to it.


1) the growing anti-eu sentiment in czech cannot be for same extent due to a cultural resistence to enter a German lead “empire”?

Peter van den Engel

I believe Zcech(ia) Republic has similar sentiments as England, longing for the past when it was still great with Slowakia.
Prague was one of the first cities blooming after the Berlin wall fel and much of this was due to German investments. So I don’t think there is an anti German sentiment/ but since the economy has been stalling and immigrant problems, they want a different policy. Perhaps having more independend rights, like Poland and Hungary, so that is a different kind of fragmentation. They cannot split up anymore.


czech economy are not stalling. they have the lower unemployment (3%) in EU, GDP growth at 2.5%, and the best wage growrh in EU: +2.8% real
they have also one of the more restrictive immigration law and only 5% of resident are immigrated. excluding vietnamese, arrived before the fall of wall, the most are est european


the next financial crisis is more likely to came when oil price go around 80-90 $


One point and one question, Peter, if you would allow me.

“The government of Mariano Rajoy apparently can’t imagine that one result of their push to suppress the Catalonian independence movement could be a bloody civil war”.

You keep writing as if the Spanish Central government fault, when I have provided plenty of information in comments to the two previous posts showing the Catalan secessionists are an imperialistic political movement and, as such, bound to create war if they feel strong enough to do so in the medium term. Remember they will try to annex parts of France and Italy by any means they consider necessary.

I can understand this from a novice but you are a professional historian and could be much more objective than this. You said you do not take sides. You know the Catalan movement is imperialistic and violating the human rights of many children. Then, why do you keep writing like one side is to be blamed? Do you support their behaviour? Is there any way I can help you to analyze both sides objectively, perhaps providing more links and additional information?

Now the question. Regarding the EU, there is an additional actor you did not explicitly mention: the US army. Taking into account most of Europe is really under the protection of the USA, do you believe is in the United States best interest to dissolve the EUR? Then why did they allow their foundation last century?


The US isn’t one person.

A Trumpist-led US certainly may have different priorities and vision than a Truman/Eisenhower/Reagan-led US.

And the whole gist of Turchin’s theses is that people die so memories and hard lessons learned are forgotten and history repeats.


That is the interesting question, Richard. I agree with you that many presidents have had different points of view regarding foreign policy, but the idea of Peter’s work is that the elite shares a common view of the world regardless the president, when it is united.

If Peter is right, then the dissolution of the EU would bode badly for the US. That would mean the American elite is no longer united into a common view. With the asabiya levels going down both in USA and the EU, there might even be a heightened risk of the US itself breaking down into two or more polities.

I would like to know your opinions regarding this line of reasoning, so as to learn more about it.


There is a (so far bloodless) intra-elite competition going on in the US right now, but if there is not a Dem landslide in 2020, we may well see another civil war in the US.

I doubt you would see the US break apart, however. Just like the last American Civil War, it will be bloody but one side would win.

And yes, in that case, no American will care much about what is happening in Europe.

al loomis

biology is history. no nation has shown any inclination to match population to resources and maintain an inclusive economy. except for the communists, and they were incapable for various reasons, some external. elective aristocracy with capitalism simply doesn’t work.
it is notable that modern china is making great efforts to deal with environment, population and inequality under the leadership of xi jin ping. but this attempt at rational government is dependent on the character of one man, to a large extent.
it’s possible that homo sapiens is not capable of surviving its own success, but there are sufficient flickers of hope to make for interested contemplation.

Peter van den Engel

Japan has been a closed state for two centuries 1600 – 1800 and they were no communists.
China is the production engine of the world now, so that is a relative easy task for a politician.The fact they block social media though still has a communist touch, sort of maintaining a zombie culture. So I have some reservations about that. More than half of the population is illiterate.

al loomis

all china goes to a primary school, most to secondary school. as good as the usa, and i never met a chinese who didn’t have a better grasp of world affairs than most americans. the countryside is still nostalgic for mao, even if they acknowledge his mistakes.
the cpa is certainly not the primitive marxists of mao’s day, but whatever label you wish to use, the state is managed still, towards the goal of primacy in world affairs. the last 30 years demonstrate a better management, by far, than any capitalist economy. and xi jinping has laid out grand plans for a new world order, centered on china, while laying directions on middle managers to actively bring the economic laggards up to some modest comfort. too early to say what success will result in either direction, but what other society is even trying?

Peter van den Engel

I am not making it up, statistics say so. The primary reason is their language contains 3000 letters instead of 26. I don’t blame them for being illiterate, on average. A child going to school does not mean the same end equation in each culture.
The fact they are now the fastest growing economy is because it was not cost inflated like all western economies are.This is an evolutionary coincidence, not wisdom. Endebting the rest of the world can hardly be called a wise strategy for centralizing Chinese supremacy.
However this does not mean their leaders are not trying to be wise and lucky for us they are not a culture driven by military aspirations.
But fi calling Europe a barbarian culture because of its colonizing and warfare in the past, forgetting all natural science inventions their economy thrives on were done in Europe and later on in the US and democracy, enlightment as well, communism has only attempted to copy, takes a single perspective which can hardly be called wise.

Sergey Tsirel

Мне кажется, что твои рассуждения очень неполны, ибо не учитывают действий США, Китая, России, событий в исламском мире.
На мой взгляд, траектория изменений ЕС во многом, даже большей частью, будет реакцией на внешние раздражители.
Например, наступательные поведение России на фоне отхода США от роли защитника заставит ЕС сплотится. Наоборот, резкие действия США по разрыву с Россией вызовут разногласия в ЕС и будут способствовать дезынтеграции. Резкое усиление, как и, наоборот, резкое ослабление Китая (финансовые, политические проблемы) заставят ЕС совместно реагировать. И т.д.


My knowledge of European politics is pretty sparse, but from what I little I know, I would put my money on scenario three. I think the current situation is one of bureaucratic overreach. The people are pushing back and the appropriate response would be less bureaucracy and more decentralized integration and constructive competition. If played right, I see it as a positive development. There is of course no assurance it will be played right or that the bureaucrats will allow themselves to be restrained.


Yes, unfortunately, in every instance in history, goverments will not correct or even consider, turning back and recoursing. Like Merkal, the descison she have made, have permanently damaged Germany. Now 1 million migrants, with an ideology soley based on domination, will overtake germany. Same goes for Italy. They will never admit their mistake. They only act on their self interets, that is a recipe for collapse. Islam do not only overtake countries by forces, like in egypt, syria and turkey, Islam overtook the countries in a matter of decades. I would not be surprised if Europe is overtaken by pseudo/secular/Islamic goverment in 2040. It is simple maths, birth rates among muslim population, drives its population to domination.


german army start to consider The Bundeswehr believes that an end to the West in its current form over the next few decades is possible. The article in Der Spiegel is in German only,

a short resume here

Peter van den Engel

Yes, describing it like not being able to compete globally refers to the imparallel within the financial system, mentioned before. It takes the wrong que.
When economic efficiency leads to less human labor being needed this is a positive/ but creates impossibillities for the fiscal system and for social society too, because only labor deserves money.
This is the classic misconception contained within the system, because it uses wrong logic in its natural fysics energy equation. Which can be explained and restructured. There is a much better system available, which however is not based on improvisations like Varoufakis suggests.

Of course military does not solve financial nor economic problems, but it confirms insecurity. The imparallel leads to political confrontation, when the old model is concidered to be untouchable.

However I would sooner connect it to a war about resources, which fits within the same timeframe, because the financial economic system is blocking the evolution of alternative energy for the same reasons as mentioned before. Getting resources suggests economic stability. But creating shortages is the opposite truth.


Another article about the preparations to annex parts of the south of France by the Catalan imperialistic movement, Peter.

And more information about the war preparations by the Catalan government, including buying war weapons secretly for their Catalan police forces, to be used in any situation it might suit them.

“the Catalan Government had attempted to acquire 850 military-grade weapons and 5.4 million rounds of ammunition for the Catalan Police (Mossos) in 2016 and had refused to explain to the Spanish Ministry of Defence why they wanted them.

Unnamed Spanish MoD sources cited by the newspaper said the request, made on October 31 last year, was “extremely high” compared to other policing requests for better weapons to deal with terrorist threats, and “raised alarms” at the Ministry of Defence.

The request was for 300 9mm submachine guns, 400 5.56mm Heckler & Koch G36 rifles, 50 Lapua .338 MAG sniper rifles, 50 .300 Whisper and 50 7.62mm rifles, five million 9mm submachine-gun rounds, 400,000 5.56mm rounds, and 20,000 rounds each for the high-precision rifles.

In April, El Confidencial reported the Catalan government had also tried to acquire up to 500 hand grenades, but the German manufacturer warned the central government that the order had been placed.

Madrid eventually authorised the purchase of 500 lower-intensity stun grenades, without the same explosive charge or blast potential the Catalan government had initially requested.”

Who wants to push for a bloody war, Peter? Do you think a leader of a pacifist independence movement like Ghandi would ever buy war weapons? What else do you need to realise the Catalan secessionist is an imperialistic political movement ready to do anything to achieve its objectives, even pushing for a bloody war?

Peter van den Engel

They know Madrid has a lot of guns, so they are buying guns too, under the cover of a possible muslim thread. A mini weapens race. But they cannot buy tanks, aeroplanes or drones.
It is less likely people from the same culture will start killing eachother. Like on Tiananmensquare in Peking. It will be used to stress political demands though.


Exactly, Peter. They will use them as they see fit, which is standard realpolitik, but nothing to do with a pacific movement.


they put the full document, same months after Der Spigel article (this happen for peak oil study as example) here

maybe you can ask directly

Dick Burkhart

Peter, If this forum is to continue as a civil conversation, I think you need to put a stop to the kind of overt racism, bigotry, classism we’re seeing coming from “LM” (the angry attacks on “niggers”, “mslims”, “socialists”,etc.)

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