I am a self-professed EU nerd. In the past 25 years I have been intimately involved in EU academia, civil service and politics. One of the re-emerging themes of integration is differentiation or core Europe; that is, not all member states need to do the same things at the same time. As it happens, it was the subject of my doctorate at the London School of Economics in 2000.

The debate on core Europe has a tendency to pop up regularly — usually when one or more of five issues are on the Union agenda: the common currency, foreign policy, immigration, enlargement or trouble makers. Time to deepen integration, without the participation of everyone, the argument goes.

There are two basic options. The first is to create a core outside the current institutional framework of the EU. This is a bad idea, and would probably lead to a break-up of the Union. The second is my preferred one: to use the clauses of enhanced co-operation inside the current treaties. They are based on clear rules and are open to all willing and able to advance.

As we approach the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Treaty of Rome in March, all these things are on the agenda so we are bound to see a renaissance of the flexibility debate. The EU summit in Malta this month gave a prelude. In a joint paper, the Benelux countries noted that: “Different paths of integration and enhanced co-operation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways.” Echoing that declaration, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The history of recent years has showed that there will be a multi-speed EU, and not all members will participate in the same steps of integration.”

This is not radically new. The process of European integration has always had elements of differentiation. There are hundreds of examples of transition periods and permanent opt-outs scattered around primary and secondary legislation. The euro and the Schengen agreement are prime examples.

As early as 1974, Willy Brandt, then German chancellor, argued that the communities needed graduated integration, otherwise the Union’s cohesion would be threatened. In a 1975 report, the Belgian prime minister, Leo Tindemans, argued that it was not absolutely necessary for all member states to advance at the same time.

The most important contribution on flexibility came in 1994 from Wolfgang Schäuble and Karl Lamers, both then foreign policy experts in the Christian Democrats. They called for the creation of core Europe, based on the founding states (minus Italy) forging ahead with a common currency.

This led to a vibrant debate on differentiation, and ultimately the institutionalisation of enhanced co-operation in both the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. The basic idea was to allow for differentiation inside the EU as long as a few key conditions were met: that the co-operation is open to all and does not damage the essential functions of the internal market.

There are three main reasons for the issue to re-emerge now. The first is the size of the EU; it is impossible for almost 30 member states to advance in unison. Some will always oppose deeper integration — but the threat of being left in a minority is an effective spur for compromise.

The second is the lack of a common vision. With the UK leaving the EU some member states see the core as a possible way to advance. The paradox is that France, which most often raises the idea of core Europe, has historically been the biggest brake on integration. Be it with enlargement, the internal market, trade or moving to majority decision-making, Paris has often been the first to say Non! If Marine le Pen were to be elected president, things could turn from bad to worse.

The third reason is linked to key policies such as the euro, immigration and defence. EU leaders are seeking solutions to the governance of the common currency, the burden-sharing of asylum policy and the potential weakening of Nato with the new US administration. Differentiation is one option, but the practical paths are limited. One lacklustre attempt to establish a financial transaction tax among a selected few members is now as dead as its idea.

Expansion leads to diversity and the greater the diversity, the more the focus on flexibility. In 2002, I ended my book on flexibility by noting that if EU member states are not in agreement on the objectives of European integration, then the debate on a hard core will emerge again. And here we are.

The truth is that core Europe is like a nuclear weapon: you can threaten with it, but not use it. All the elements and rules of flexibility are already in the treaties. If, and this is the big question, the EU member states truly want to deepen European integration, the answer is not a core outside, but enhanced co-operation inside the EU.

I demokratiska samhällen har populismen många ansikten – fula, vackra och någonting däremellan. Utan populism har vi inte demokrati, men samtidigt är det just populismen som hotar hela vårt demokratiska samhälle.

Vi uppfattar ofta populism som något negativt. Alla politiker är dock populister på ett eller annat sätt. För att bli invald måste man kunna uttrycka samhällerliga problem och lösningar på ett förståeligt sätt. Man måste kunna vädja till känslor, visa att man är på samma sida som väljaren.

I världen i dag ser vi en ökande mängd populistiska rörelser i västerländska demokratier. Det är omöjligt att dra likhetstecken mellan rörelserna, men visst har de vissa gemensamma drag: en karismatisk ledare och ett budskap mot den regerande eliten. ”Vi är folket”, utropar populister från både vänster- och högerkant.

Historikern Neil Ferguson har noterat att populismen ofta dyker ofta då följande fem ingredienser serveras: invandring, växande inkomstskillnader, en bild av korrumperade beslutsfattare, en finanskris och en demagog. Under de senaste tio åren har alla fem varit på menyn  i Europa och USA.

Den stora frågan är hur man kan hantera populism?  Här finns det tyvärr inte ett standardrecept. Sverigedemokraterna är inte sannfinländare. Grekiska Syriza är inte franska Front National. Brittiska Ukip är inte holländska  Frihetspartiet. Det finns bara en Donald Trump.

En finländsk politiker kan inte ge råd åt en svensk kollega om eventuellt samarbete med Sverigedemokraterna. Jag kan bara ge exempel på vad vi gjorde här på andra sidan av Östersjön. Sannfinländarna klarade sig bra i valen 2011, men ville inte ta regeringsansvar på grund av den pågående euro-krisen.

Fyra år senare fanns det inget val. Sannfinländarna hade återigen gjort ett bra valresultat på knappa 18 procent och togs med i regeringen tillsammans med Center- och Samlingspartiet.

Vad har hänt under två år? Sannfinländarnas populari-tet har halverats. Orsaken är logisk. Partiet hade tre val-löften: ett klart nej till besparingar, inget stöd till Grekland och stopp på invandringen.

Vad hände? Enorma besparingar, Greklands tredje stödpaket och den största invandrarvågen sedan andra världskriget.

Med makt kommer ansvar, och det är sällan populärt. Man kan väl säga att vi omfamnade populismen. Populistiska rörelser blir dock farliga då de börjar hota demokratin genom att till exempel trotsa rättsstaten, inskränka mänskliga rättigheter eller hota pressfriheten.

Dessa illiberala tendenser ser vi bland flera rörelser, och även regeringar, i Europa och USA. Att omfamna populister lyckas ibland, men inte alltid.

I have always felt the way we  measure the wealth of nations is old-fashioned. The notion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was all good and well during the industrialisation of the 1900s, but in the new millennium it focuses on the wrong metrics.

That’s why I was very excited to meet the Minister of Happiness of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ohood Bint Khalfan Al Roumi. She and I discussed the wellbeing of nations.

Naturally it’s difficult to measure the happiness of a nation or what a country should do in order to boost it. The feeling of happiness is personal and by definition subjective. We get satisfaction from different things.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was correct in pointing out that happiness depends on ourselves more than anyone else. The US Constitution talks about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The point here is that government does not secure happiness; rather it provides the conditions under which an individual can pursue his or her dreams.

Bhutan was the first country to start thinking about measurements beyond GDP. In 1972 they established the four pillars of Gross National Happiness (GNH): sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of nature, and establishment of good governance.

A World Happiness Report has been published since 2012. It argues that happiness is a better measure of human welfare than income, poverty, education, health, and good government measured separately.

Perhaps, but how do you measure it? The annual World Happiness Index provides a partial answer.

It ranks 157 countries, based on six factors: GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption. The top ten happiest countries are Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. The unhappiest countries are Burundi, Syria, Togo, and Afghanistan.

This list shows that we cannot exclude economic welfare and basic needs as foundations of a happy nation. The top ten countries are not only rich, but they can be considered to be modern welfare states with a relatively equal distribution of income. The bottom four have been, or are, plagued by inequality, war, and poverty.

We are fortunate to live in a time where war, famine, and disease do not kill the majority of the world’s population like they used to. This is not to deny that all three still exist and cause death. But governments are freer to focus on other aspects of the well-being of their citizens.

Governments or ministers do not create individual happiness, but they can focus on at least five things that create the right conditions for individuals to thrive: security, health care, education, equality, and infrastructure.

It is important that countries start to look beyond the economy for happiness and well-being. Cynics might scold the idea of a Minister of Happiness, but I think the UAE has got it right.

Currently the UAE ranks number 28 in the World Happiness Index, which is the best score in the region. I predict they will climb the ladder fast. If you do not believe me take a direct Finnair flight to Dubai, and check it out for yourself.

From time to time the world changes before our eyes, and we fail to see it. At other times the shift is so evident that we can’t miss it. This time around we can see the disorder after Brexit and the US presidential elections, but struggle to understand what kind of a world order will emerge.

You do not have to hold a doctorate in international relations to understand that from the start President Donald Trump is shifting the balance of power in world politics. It is simple: you cannot lead the world or be a champion of globalisation if you reject them both.

The executive orders on trade, pipelines and immigration are only the beginning of the new nativist US agenda. Judging by his statements on Nato and the EU, Mr Trump has little faith in international institutions. I disagree with thim on many things, but at the same time I respect democracy. We should face the realities of a new America.

The US is looking inward, putting “America first”. Whenever a power vacuum emerges, someone will fill it. After the post-second world war, the US gave birth to a new world order through the Marshall Plan and the creation of international institutions. It was the driver of peace, prosperity and security, through engagement, not disangement.

The US and the Soviet Union dominated world politics for the better part of 40 years. With the Soviet collapse, the US filled the power vacuum and became the undisputed superpower of the world.

With hindsight, the European reaction was better than its reputation. Further integration through the Maastricht Treaty, enlargement to eastern and central Europe and the creation of the euro set the tone for 25 years dominated by liberal democracy, the market economy and globalisation.

The big question in 2017 is, who will begin to fill the power vacuum left by the US?

President Xi Jingping is fast becoming the champion of free trade and globalisation. His speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Chinese foreign commercial aqcuisitions and the failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are paving the way for a more engaged China.

President Vladimir Putin is also seizing the moment by getting cosy with Mr Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and by being more active in Syria and Iran. He aims to put Russia back on the world stage it left in 1991. From a military perspective it is already there. In foreign policy, its role in Georgia, the Crimean peninsula and Ukraine will limit its room for manoeuvre. Economically, it will remain too small to take the lead.

The EU is looking at all this with slight bewilderement. Brexit will weaken it in both trade and world politics: the Union is losing a permanent member of the UN Security Council and more than a 10th of its economic clout. At the same time it is trying to figure out in which direction to look, east or west.

EU leaders will meet in Malta on Friday. Over the past few years Europe has been grappling with the euro crisis, asylum and populism. The focus has been internal, rather than external, while the world is changing. Whatever happens outside our borders has a big impact inside. Putting “Europe first” means taking global leadership. What should the EU do? I propose three things.

The first is to play a bigger role in promoting liberal values. The US is fast losing credibility as the leader of the free world and the EU alone can take on that mantle. It must show why freedom always trumps authoritarian rule. Previously, the challenge to liberal values came from the outside; Russia, China and radical Islam each questioned the foundations of democracy, freedom and tolerance, as interpreted in Europe. Now that same threat comes from the inside, from both extreme right and left. Thus, this year’s round of elections — in Germany, France and the Netherlands — will determine whether Europe has the moral highground on such values.

The second is to take a lead in foreign and security policy. The demise of the US will shift the balance of power to the east. The EU will have to become more pragmatic and engaged, and work with the UK wherever possible. It cannot count on US support in all conflicts around the world. It must also continue to develop its own defence policy.

The third is to take a stronger role in world trade. The Trump administration will not champion free trade. The EU, as the largest economy, should be aggressively promoting bilateral trade pacts. The EU-Japan trade deal  is an example of free trade agreements to come. By the same token, the EU should reach out to Mexico.

The US is handing over the key to world politics. We should leave the door ajar for its return, but meanwhile I hope the EU will seize the moment, grab the key and start taking a more prominent role on the world stage. None of its member states can do it alone, but together, the EU will be able to punch above its weight.

Förra veckan fick världen bevittna två historiska tal.

I Davos blev Kinas president Xi Jingping en hjälte för alla som förespråkar globalism. Han hävdade att en öppen värld gynnar tillväxt, fri rörlighet, vetenskap, teknologi och civilisation.

Några dagar senare hörde vi det mest nationalistiska invigningstalet någonsin av en amerikansk president. Donald Trump ville stänga gränserna från länder som plundrar USA:s produkter, företag och arbetsplatser. ”Köp amerikanskt, sysselsätt amerikanskt”, röt han.

Om Kinas president och hans amerikanska kollega håller sina löften innebär 2017 ett maktskifte i världspolitiken. Kommunistiska Kina blir ledaren för öppenhet, frihandel, marknadsekonomi och globalism. Kapitalistiska USA vänder sig inåt, driver protektionism, skyddar sin industri och bygger murar. Inte exakt vad man hade förväntat sig.

Kina har nu en möjlighet att ta ledningen, men det sker inte snabbt. Kineserna är ett tålamodigt folk och för dem är 100 år bara en sida i historieboken. Vi har länge talat om Kinas lyft från utvecklingsland till en världsmakt. Sakta men säkert har det skett ekonomiskt och nu även politiskt.

Från Donald Trumps sida är de inte bara fråga om snack, eller vallöften. Han har redan stoppat TTP, ett frihandelsavtal med asiatiska länder. Han vill återförhandla det nordamerikanska frihandelsavtalet, Nafta. Han har hotat Mexiko och Kina med importtullar på 35–45 procent. Och vi vet inte hur det går med TTIP, frihandelsavtalet mellan EU och USA.

I Europa följer vi med hela utvecklingen en aning förlamade. Vi har våra egna utmaningar med brexit, asypolitik och populism. Vi behöver globalism, men samtidigt är vi rädda för allt som det innebär. Vi vet inte riktigt åt vilket håll vi borde vända oss – väst eller öst.

Kinas ekonomiska frammarsch ser vi både som ett hot och en möjlighet. Först flyttades en del av produktionen till Kina. Nu när trenden har vänt köper kinesiska företag upp europeiska. Samtidigt vet vi att utan samarbete kommer vi inte att ha tillväxt i Europa.

Vår transatlantiska allians är baserad på gemensamma värderingar som Donald Trump inte tycks förespråka. Han hyllar inte precis de institutioner som är stommen till vårt samarbete: Nato och EU. Samtidigt flirtar han med Vladimir Putins Ryssland.

Just nu gäller det för Europa att ha tålamod. Vi bör vara realistiska. Världen har förändrats. Den graviterar österut. Vi bör förbereda oss för ett oförutsägbart USA och ett starkare Kina.

Den stora frågan har att göra med retorik och agerande. Menar de båda presidenterna vad de säger? Jag tror på Xi Jingping om han berättar att Kinas femårsplan genererar en årlig tillväxt på 6–7 procent. Men om Donald Trump påstår att allt blir bättre under hans mandat så blir jag en aning skeptisk.

Om Kina står bakom sin internationalistiska vision och USA inte backar från nuläget så kan 2017 överraska positivt. För oss i Europa är det viktigt att vara engagerade. Om vi bara fokuserar på EU:s interna problem blir vi popcorn-ätande åskådare i världspolitiken.

Over the past ten years I have had the joy and privilege to speak at more than 150 schools. These events are often the highlight of my working week. Nothing like an open, curious, young mind to get you going. I learn a lot every time.

In every talk I stress the importance of learning languages. I do not do it to please teachers, or because I come from a bilingual Finnish-Swedish background. I do it because I believe in the power of languages.  The more languages you know, the more open the world becomes for study, work, travel, and more.

Against this background I was happy to come across a study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) about the world’s most powerful languages. There are about 6,000 languages in the world: 2,000 are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. And the top 15 languages are spoken by half of the world’s population.

According to the study, languages provide us with five opportunities: geography, economy, communication, knowledge and media, and diplomacy. The ability to work within these realms by understanding and engaging takes the multilingual person much further than somebody who only speaks one language.

I agree with all of these claims. I am grateful that my parents always told me to study languages. I speak Finnish, Swedish, English, German, and French. They have been immensely helpful over the years, be it with studying, understanding, or diplomacy. My only regret is that I have not picked up more languages.

But which lingua francas are considered to be the most important? I actually think all languages are an important part of history, culture, and expression, but the WEF study makes a useful ranking based on 20 indicators. It argues that the ten most use-ful languages in the world are (in order of importance): English, Mandarin, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Hindi.

Language matters for many reasons. One is its link to competitiveness, as eight of the world’s biggest financial centres function in English. London and New York are the largest, while Singapore and Hong Kong, which have English-language infrastructures, are bigger than Tokyo.

There is naturally an English- speaking bias among the global elite. Many of the countries with high GDP figures or relative wealth also show proficiency in English, either as a first or second language. The same goes for the Internet and many developments in information technology.

A more interesting question is to try to figure out what the language map will look like in 2050. The WEF study predicts that the order of importance will be as follows: English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, German, Portuguese, Hindi, and Japanese.

Thus from my personal experience and the WEF study I would draw three conclusions for my next talk at a school: It pays to study languages; the more languages you know, the better; it’s time to learn Spanish or Mandarin.