The European Union named new leadership on Saturday. Yet the latest EU summit in Brussels was just another beauty contest with layers of geopolitical cosmetics, lacking any promise of a new beginning.
After months of institutional paralysis, European leaders still find ways to rationalise why the EU is not ready to act. In the past year, national and European-level elections and then the summer break have left the EU in an extended freeze.
But Eurocratic excuses don't stop the Earth from spinning. Wherever we look, we see horrifying disarray in the world.
On Europe's eastern border, there has been a war going on for months. In the Middle East, a lunatic terrorist organisation is taking over vast areas with looted, high-tech US arms. Israel and Gaza are on and off ceasefires, and Libya is imploding on the shores of the Mediterranean.
While the US administration is obviously overwhelmed by the variety and gravity of the crises it faces, EU leaders don't even worry about not knowing what to do. They simply have not realised that this is primarily their challenge.
At first glance, recent events like the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the lightning advances of the Islamic State terrorists, and anti-democratic expressions of admiration for Vladimir Putin by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in July are not connected.
However, if European leaders and citizens alike would peek out from their delusional detachment, they would realize that these are all signs of grave threats to the stability of Europe as a whole, and that they all require European-level responses.
Having long ago overcome animosities among its member countries, the EU turned cavalier about threats from beyond its borders.
Russia is waging war on Ukraine, partly as punishment for Kiev's attempt to move closer to the EU. Russia did not stop at Crimea and, unless it is stopped, it will not stop at eastern Ukraine. In the coming winter, Moscow could leave millions of Europeans without heating by reviving its cynical gas-pricing policies. Despite this threat -- or perhaps out of fear of it -- the EU's response to Russian actions has been halfhearted at best.
Moscow's support of pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine resulted in the deaths of 298 people on the Malaysia Airlines flight. Among them were 211 Europeans -- more than died in the terrorist bombings in Madrid in 2004 or London in 2005, more than the European victims of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. Still, EU-wide shock and grief was missing.
While all this is happening, one EU (and NATO) member insisted on arming and training the Russian navy, and the leader of another EU member praises Vladimir Putin's Russia as a role model. Oddly enough, France's Mistral deal (finally suspended on Wednesday) and the infamous speech by Hungary's Prime Minister Orbán produced more upset in the U.S. than in Europe.
And what of the Middle East?
Israel and Hamas engaged in their third round of fighting in six years. In addition to the conflict's terrible toll on Israelis and Palestinians, this summer's confrontation was accompanied by disgraceful outbursts of anti-Semitism on the streets of Europe. Numerous EU politicians pronounced themselves 'concerned' about the Gaza clashes but expended little effort to find a resolution.
It is often overlooked that if Europe were to use its leverage effectively, it could have unparalleled influence in the Middle East. The EU is Israel's primary trading partner and the Palestinian territories' largest donor. Yet Europe's performance on the world stage has been limited to issuing useless news releases and a two-page draft about Gaza's reconstruction.
On another front, the Islamic State jihadists flooding the Middle East are estimated by various sources to include about 2,000 European citizens. The EU has no idea how they can be stopped from returning home to Europe after, say, a convenient stopover in Turkey. Making matters worse, it seems that EU governments have become regular patrons of Islamic extremists by channeling large sums -- an alleged $US125 million ($A133.8m) since 2008 -- to them in ransoms.
After months of cynical hesitation, at least some EU member states now seem to be getting their act together. In recent days the German government finally opted out of its increasingly embarrassing 'culture of reluctance' with its decision to deliver arms to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced measures on Monday designed to stop homegrown jihadists when they try to return from fighting elsewhere.
Yet Europe is nowhere close to developing a comprehensive strategy. While the world waits, the following measures should be implemented immediately:
First, European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker must get to work now, irrespective of the November 1 start of his term. It would be inconceivable for a U.S. president-elect to go missing (as Juncker has since July) in the period between election and inauguration.
Second, the EU has to swiftly complete its postelection appointment of new commissioners despite the usual infighting and jockeying for position. Intra-EU deals between party factions and member states often take precedence over candidates' personal gravitas and experience when it comes to filling top positions.
Last Saturday, this preposterous practice led to the appointment of Federica Mogherini as the foreign-policy supremo of the entire EU. She was Italy's foreign minister for only six months. Walking into this week's NATO summit in Wales, at a time of an unprecedented convergence of foreign-policy threats, with an utterly inexperienced foreign-policy chief-designate is a historic mistake.
Third, the EU should start handling security issues as a coherent political entity. It has to ramp up and unify its intelligence gathering and analysis, border control and counterterrorism. Common principles of dealing with terrorists -- ideally including a ban on paying ransoms -- have to be established.
Finally, an evergreen: European members must recognise that their military spending is insufficient and stop taking an American-run and funded NATO for granted. It is appalling that Germany recently decided to cut military spending by about €800m ($A1.11 billion) in 2015.
One hundred years ago, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, setting in motion a swirl of events that brought decades of devastation to the entire continent. The historian Christopher Clark called the leaders of the time "sleepwalkers" for their lack of ability to assess the larger, systemic consequences of their individual actions.
Today we see the menacing signs multiplying, but we have not been willing to accept the fact that armed conflicts have come to Europe's doorsteps again. Today's sleepwalkers do not recognize the consequences of their inaction. It is time to wake up.
Karl-Theodor Zu Guttenberg, a former German defense minister, is the chairman of the corporate advisory firm Spitzberg Partners LLC. This article was originally published in the Wall Street Journal. Reproduced with permission.