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What is Europe?
uploaded : Friday 28th Feb 2003 at 23:42
by : Bret Stephens, Shimon Peres, U Heuser,M Zimmerman
(Photo: Protestors hold banners and placards during a demonstration for peace and against a new Gulf war in downtown Munich, Germany on Saturday, Feb. 8 2003 during the Munich Security Policy Conference attended by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.)
'The Federated Republic of Europe - the United States of Europe - that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is to remain split into national groups, then Imperialism will recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic of Europe can give peace to the world.'
- Leon Trotsky
'What is America?" Hermann Goering once remarked to Adolf Hitler, sometime before the outbreak of the Second World War. "The Americans cannot build airplanes. They are good at refrigerators and razor blades."
Air Marshall Goering and his Fuehrer paid dearly for misunderestimating, as George W. Bush might say, their future foe. Similarly, today one wonders whether Europe, too, isn't being misunderstood and underestimated, with potentially damaging consequences for the Western Alliance.
Is Europe, through the institutions of the European Union, ascendant in world affairs, or increasingly insular? Are NATO and the EU complementary or competing organizations? Is European integration in America's interests, or will the EU prove a counterweight to US power and an obstacle to US designs? Do Europe and the US share a common set of political, social and cultural values, or is there such a thing as "European" values, which not only differ, but might clash, with American ones?
In the run-up to what now seems certain war in Iraq, these are the key questions. Never in postwar history have the political differences between the US and Europe seemed so stark, and never have the geopolitical implications been more consequential.
In Greece, a recent opinion poll finds that more people have a positive view of Saddam Hussein than of George Bush. In Germany, a recent cover of the newsweekly Der Spiegel titled "Blood for Oil" shows an American flag with M-16s crossing fuel pumps in the style of hammers and sickles. In Britain, Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, a polemic against America's foreign and domestic policy, stands atop the bestseller list; in France, it's Thierry Meyssan's L'Effroyable Imposture (The Horrifying Fraud), alleging that America's "military-industrial complex" was behind the attacks of September 11. Meyssan's book has sold 500,000 copies.
The contempt is fully reciprocated. "Shameful, for me it's truly shameful," said US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week of the refusal by Germany, France and Belgium to support fellow NATO member Turkey in case of Iraqi attack. In private conversation, Bush dismisses Europeans who "tend to wilt" and has reportedly not spoken to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for months. In Brussels last weekend, a congressional delegation led by Republican Senator John McCain and his Democratic counterpart Joe Lieberman advocated a 50 percent reduction in US troop strength in Germany, to 35,000 soldiers from the current 70,000.
"Today, the very definition of common security and, indeed, of common purpose is being questioned," writes Henry Kissinger. "The issue of American dissociation from European colonial interests now seems almost historically quaint... It is our European allies who dissociate from American policies."
A geographical expression?
It was Bismarck who said, "whoever speaks of Europe is wrong; it is a geographical expression." For decades, European statesmen have been trying to prove Bismarck wrong. Speaking of the European Coal and Steel Community, forerunner to the present Union, Konrad Adenauer insisted that its "political meaning" was "infinitely larger than its economic purpose." Half a century later, the introduction of the euro was hailed - or derided - less for its monetary benefits than for its political possibilities.
The US has long been a cheerleader in this process. "It is only a fully cohesive Europe," said John F. Kennedy in 1963, "that can protect us all against fragmentation of the alliance.
"Only such a Europe will permit full reciprocity of treatment across the ocean, in facing the Atlantic agenda. With only such a Europe can we have a full give-and-take between equals, an equal sharing of responsibilities, and an equal level of sacrifice."
That, at least, was the American view when a "fully cohesive Europe" was an abstraction and the Soviet Union a reality. Now we have something closer to the opposite. Russian gross domestic product is today comparable to Holland's. By contrast, in 2001 the combined GDP of the 15 members of the EU is close to $8 trillion, against America's $10 trillion. The EU accounts for 18.2 percent of world imports (the US consumed 23.5%), and 18.4% of its exports - three percentage points higher than the US. When, in 2004 the EU enlargement brings in another 10 states, from Cyprus to Estonia, its combined economic weight will be still closer to parity with the US.
On paper, then, the EU has the resources of a superpower - and, big surprise, America doesn't necessarily like it. It's one thing to have a cohesive Europe marshalling its resources to face up to a common enemy. It's another when those resources are geared against the US.
Thus the US reacted angrily when the EU's Competition Directorate, headed by a mild-mannered Italian and former college professor named Mario Monti, squelched the multibillion dollar General Electric-Honeywell merger in the summer of 2001 after the deal had been approved by US authorities. Nor is America pleased when Europe bans its beef and grain exports, when Airbus overtakes Boeing as the world's leading supplier of commercial aircraft, or when the EU threatens suit against Microsoft for its allegedly monopolistic practices.
The differences are not relegated to commercial issues only. The EU howled against the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the winter of 2001. It opposed American plans to scrap the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty and develop its missile defenses. It engaged in freelance diplomacy with North Korea. It vowed to press ahead with an independent European military force at the expense of NATO and over serious US misgivings. With Iraq, French opposition to war is not exactly surprising, but Germany's is: Never in postwar history has a German government chosen to oppose US policy as vocally and vehemently as Schroeder's does today.
In other words, Europe and the US appear to be at odds on almost every salient geopolitical issue. It was certainly not meant to be this way. In 1989, at the conclusion of the Cold War, the American political theorist Francis Fukuyama grandly announced that "there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics, that of the liberal-democratic West." He believed that, whatever their differences, Europe and the US would behave as they did throughout the Cold War: more or less amicably, more or less reasonably, more or less with the same goals in mind. On the surface, at least, it doesn't seem to be working out that way.
Vive la diffe'rence
To a certain extent, European differences with the US are real, the product of different values, different ambitions, different histories and different perceptions. On the rights and duties of the individual, Americans follow Locke and Mill; Europeans Rousseau and Kant. On economics, Americans broadly stand for free enterprise, Europeans for social democracy. History conditions Americans to think that they march abroad as liberators; but history more often reminds Europeans of their legacy of conquest and colonialism. For America, civilization means know-how, the overcoming of nature through technical means. For Europe, it means culture and its diffusion through language and education.
These are generalizations, but they contain their truth and have some explanatory power. If Europe prefers multilateral solutions to global problems - on environment, on weapons proliferation, on conflict resolution - it's because multilateralism has worked so well within Europe. If Europeans appear to prefer patient diplomacy - infinitely patient, it sometimes seems - to imposed solutions, it's because experience teaches them that process can have a meliorating, and therefore substantive, effect on outcomes. If Europe sometimes appears to obstruct US designs for the sake of obstructionism, it's because Europe believes that a balance of power is a better guarantor of world peace than American hegemony.
Yet generalizations are also deceiving, and the European Union is as much a veil as it is a construct. The storybook history of the EU is one of former enemies learning the virtues of coexistence and interdependence. But there is also a counter-history. Of France, seeking national advantage by leveraging the resources of Germany in order to dominate the Continent and reassert its status as a world power. Of Britain, turning to Europe for lack of options as its empire crumbled and its influence waned. Of Germany, using the EU for moral resurrection. Of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and to a certain extent Italy, for whom the EU has above all been a great fount of subsidies.
For all these countries, the EU has been a great force multiplier and a terrific soapbox. It offers minor political figures - the foreign minister of Sweden, say, or the prime minister of Finland - the chance to cut a global figure, at least when their countries assume the rotating, six-month presidency of the European Council. It has also served as a kind of escape hatch for national politicians seeking to escape tricky political questions - immigration is one example - by passing the buck to Brussels.
Yet the EU has hardly erased national ambitions.
France routinely ignores EU privatization directives when they touch on sacred cows such as Electricit de France, and Germany flouts EU-stipulated ceilings on budget deficits. What's more, in the current debate over the evolution of EU institutions, France and Germany have attempted to substitute the rotating presidency of the European Council with a long-term presidency, most likely occupied by a German or Frenchman. Britain and the EU's smaller member states are not pleased.
The EU has also signally failed to submerge national identities into a collective European conscience. True, there is an elite strata of Europeans - the wondrously polyglot and cosmopolitan fonctionaires of the Brussels ambit - for whom "Europe" really does define a personal identity.
More ordinary Europeans often chafe at the EU, and the endless stream of directives it issues regarding the definition of chocolate, the proper handling of Pecorino cheese, standards for the production of toy guns and so on. They distrust what they see as a remote institution, democratically unaccountable, impenetrably bureaucratic and so corrupt that the entire leadership of the European Commission was forced to resign in 1999. Many Europeans also dislike what they see as an effort by France and Germany to be treated as the de facto spokesmen for Europe. Thus the extraordinary Wall Street Journal op-ed, signed by the prime ministers of Spain, Italy, Britain, Portugal, Hungary, Denmark, and Poland and the president of the Czech Republic, which called for solidarity with the US in its confrontation with Iraq.
"The real bond between the US and Europe," the authors wrote, "is the values we share: democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law... In standing firm in defense of these principles, the governments and people of the US and Europe have amply demonstrated the strength of their convictions. Today, more than ever, the trans-Atlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom."
Together, these leaders preside over roughly half of Europe - and they were later joined by the leaders of 10 other East European countries. Yet from reading most press accounts, one would hardly have guessed at the breadth of European sympathy for the US, or the depth of intra-European division.
So what is Europe?
To an extent rarely acknowledged today, Europe remains what Bismarck said it was: a geographical expression. The EU's pending eastward enlargement is likely to make it more so. As the union broadens, it becomes increasingly difficult to "deepen" - to move from loose confederation to US-style federalism. Divergent interests multiply; consensus becomes ever harder to achieve. The failure of the December 2000 Nice summit to arrive at a formula for simplified decision-making only served to confirm the obvious.
But this does not complete the picture. Europe as an economic expression is genuinely taking shape. The euro has regained much of its value against the dollar and is fast becoming a leading reserve currency. The early prosperity of core European states has spread to the periphery: Spain and Ireland, once backwaters, are as prosperous today as France and Germany.
The success of the EU as an economic entity is reflected in the extent of its influence in the World Trade Organization. Conversely, its failure to take shape as a coherent political and military entity explains the secondary and largely hortatory role it plays geopolitically. Because of the historical accident of France's permanent seat at the Security Council, it can delay and obstruct US military action in Iraq. It cannot stop it.
Nor can Europe enforce its will anywhere else in the world: not in the Balkans, where it was unable to muster the collective will to prevent mass murder from taking place on its doorstep; not in the Middle East, where its habit of scolding Israel has eradicated what prestige it might otherwise have enjoyed; not even in its former colonial possessions in Africa, as France is now learning with its reversals in the Ivory Coast.
To a great extent, this is the result of choice. Since the end of the Cold War, defense expenditures in every European nation have declined below 2% of GDP, as compared to around 3% in the US. This has taken place inexorably; despite repeated pledges at the EU level to fund and deploy a "rapid reaction force" by the end of the year, it shows no sign of changing.
It's no wonder. A Europe that enjoys the benefit of America's security umbrella hardly requires vast military forces of its own, except as a vanity. Then too, as Robert Kagan observes, Europe's military weakness serves as its own kind of defense: "It is precisely America's great power that makes it the primary target, and often the only target," he writes. "Europeans are understandably content that it should remain so."
At the same time, it's also true that Europe is simply not prepared to assume the burdens of a true superpower. The EU's great foreign policy initiative of the 1990s, the Euro-Mediterranean partnership (also known as the Barcelona Process), has after eight years of earnest discussion come to nothing. Its participation in the Mideast peace process is mainly a diplomatic formality. It has nothing useful to contribute to a resolution of the Korean crisis.
For all the talk of Europe's wish "to make our voice heard, to make our actions count," as Commission President Romano Prodi put it, the bulk of what passes for a foreign policy in Europe is mere posturing. It tends to its economic tasks - which are indeed immense - and leaves it to the US to tend to grand strategy, however uncomfortable it may be with the way the Bush administration has elaborated that strategy.
This isn't a matter of inadequate resources. Europe's resources may be strained by the costs of enlargement, yet they remain immense. Nor is it a matter of inadequate ambition: Europe has never given up on the notion of its mission civilisatrice. The problem, rather, is that Europe is not quite sure just what that mission should be, and how substantially it differs from America's.
Is Europe the champion of social democratic ideals, and a counterweight to the "savage capitalism" of Britain and America? Maybe, but the notion is becoming harder to sustain given Germany's and France's decade-long, and worsening, economic plight. Is Europe the guardian of international legal norms? Possibly, too, but these seem weak reeds in the face of al-Qaida style terrorism. Should Europe unite simply to provide an alternative pole of power to the US? Plausible, yet it isn't apparent why Europe should expend itself to oppose what most Europeans still believe is a benign hegemony.
This may not last forever.
It has taken Europe decades to achieve even a fraction of the goals set out in the 1957 Treaty of Rome: the free movement of labor, goods, services and capital. Just last week, former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing unveiled a draft constitution for Europe, with the aim of establishing a federal union, complete with a common foreign and security policy. It's unlikely to survive scrutiny. But it sets the direction in which the EU will travel, however haltingly, for the next 50-odd years.
"Europe," said Albert Camus, "has lived on its contradictions, flourished on its differences, and, constantly transcending itself thereby, has created a civilization on which the whole world depends even when rejecting it." Significantly, Camus made these remarks as preface to his opposition to a "unified Europe under the weight of an ideology or of a technocracy that overlooked these differences." Still, the description remains good today.
Europe contradicts: others as well as itself. It has escaped the clutches of a past by which it nonetheless defines itself. It insists upon its own centrality - but does so, comfortably, at the margin of world affairs. It will wait on events for its return to glory, but it will not seize on them. Europe is a place, an institution, a method, a conceit. What remains is to become an idea.
Double division, By SHIMON PERES
The European position vis-a-vis Iraq is a bit surprising. It creates a double division, one between the US and Europe, and the other within Europe itself.
I think it is because of the feeling that they need an independent policy from the US, not only an independent economy.
I am worried by this. The world was divided twice: along north-south lines economically, and again along east-west lines ideologically.
For the first time there is now another division. Not on the grounds of economy or ideology, but on the ground of fanaticism.
Most of the world is against terrorism. This time you have anti-terrorist positions on five continents - including in China and India, the world's most populous nations. What Europe has to do is propose an alternative of how to fight a global terrorism that doesn't respect law, flags, justice, and borders.
They have to offer a strategy. This is not just about a war against Iraq, it is a campaign against terrorism. Just having another idea on how to deal with Iraq is not good enough.
The Europeans are against terrorism, but they have not offered an alternative strategy. They have to explain their opposition. It is unexplainable.
This division, between the US and Europe, will cause problems in other places. The harmonization of Atlantic policies is important for the future of many nations, in the fight against terror, and in the reconstruction of the Middle East. This division creates many problems and questions.
The Atlantic alliance served Europe very well, one should not forget.
America came twice to the side of Europe in the 20th century, participated in the wars, lost its children there, won the War together with the Europeans, conquered the lands but didn't keep anything for themselves. And after the War, not only did they return everything but offered the Marshall plan and brought about the democratization of Germany.
Europe has to answer why it attacked Kosovo [through NATO in 1999] without going to the UN. Is a dictator who does not possess biological, chemical and eventually nuclear warheads of more interest than a dictator who does? Is Slobodan Milosevic more dangerous than Saddam Hussein?"
Europe will matter, By UWE JEAN HEUSER
Europe takes Winston Churchill's famous maxim about democracy a step further. The Union on the old Continent certainly constitutes the worst supranational entity - with the exception of all those that have been tried before.
The same applies to the current role that Europe plays in world affairs.
Could it be any sadder than it currently is? Hardly. But in terms of a friendly counterweight to the US that shares US values but not all US interests, Europe is still your best bet.
Forget about the current dispute about Iraq for just a moment and turn to, say, world trade. Without European influence, the current round of trade talks would be in terrible shape. The Bush administration came to the table acting as if the only issues that mattered were transatlantic. It was the EU that insisted that talks include the concerns of Third World countries; that is, opening Western borders to agrarian and textile products to Third World exporters.
There was also a connection to the worldwide fight against terror: Terrorism relies to a high degree on the feeling that Islamic countries - and the developing world at large - are treated unfairly by the West. To fight this perception, a fair trade policy is an excellent first step.
Now the Bush administration has cottoned on, and is offering far-reaching proposals for tariff cuts.
This is just one example of a pattern. The superpower is inclined to go it alone. The EU draws it back into the multilateral game.
That's the good news.
The bad news is currently reflected in every morning's headlines. There is no common EU stance because the German government commits about every mistake imaginable in foreign policy and because there is no EU leadership in sight. Currently, Europe is simply not a positive force in world affairs.
But it will not always be thus: Europe has an important role to play in world affairs. It will be a positive force again. The current fracas is not the end of the EU's role in world affairs. As a friendly counterweight to the US, its influence will weigh more heavily again in the world. After Iraq, that is.
The writer is business editor of the German newsweekly Die Zeit
A new balance, By Moshe Zimmerman
Some refer to the European Union as the United States of Europe, but most of the Europeans themselves abhor this idea. Not only because they do not like the idea of being compared to the uncivilized United States of America, but also because they did not aim from the start at creating a new, all-European nation-state.
For conventional minds, for people who think in terms of states and nations, (such as the Israelis), the European Union is therefore an enigma. Yet this Europe was able to create a new currency, the euro, among other institutions, that is now the main competitor to the US dollar.
The EU is not a state, it is a post-national creature that functions, in spite of all deficiencies, and is able to put some question marks on long-existing beliefs and habits.
It was America that brought the Soviet Union to its knees, but it was Europe that profited most from the end of the Cold War.
This new Europe opened up the question again: What is "the West?" Didn't we enter a new era of competition between the US and Europe, within the framework of globalization? Isn't this competition a "Western" variation of "the clash of civilizations?"
When the USSR evaporated it seemed as if nothing had changed: The European Union accepted the American hegemony and called it, as before, a partnership. It was also hard to turn down such a civilized president as Bill Clinton. But with George W. Bush the rules have changed. The European Union is rethinking its affiliation with the American brand of "Westernness."
Indeed, the expansion of NATO to the east, up to the borders of Russia, and the way the US behaves in world politics, helps America to create its European stronghold east to the Oder. The support the US received during the present Iraq conflict in this region is no doubt a success. But the fact that the governments, much more than public opinion, are in favor of this attitude means that it may be only a Pyrrhic victory: In the long run the new members of the European Union may join the America-skepticism of the West Europeans.
What is historically Central Europe has much closer connections to Germany (or even to France) than to America.
Again, no unity is to be expected: the European Union is not a state, but this Europe is in itself a mechanism that produces question marks and alternatives.
We see it already now - The European Union does not act as a monolith, and yet, important members, such as France and Germany, ever aware that they act as members of the EU, are able to at least slow down the arrogant march of the US in global affairs.
They may not be too successful this time, but in the long run, when it comes to the next international crisis, and when it comes to structural questions such as the limits of capitalism and neo-liberalism, when disillusionment with the American dream spreads, the EU may establish itself as an alternative.
That this EU is getting as close as possible to the "natural" borders of Europe is demonstrated before our eyes: France, Germany and Russia - west, central and eastern Europe - make a joint effort to create a new balance between Europe and America. This may also have repercussions in the global balance with the so-called Third World.
The term Old Europe may have its attraction too.
Bret Stephens is head of the Hebrew University's history department.
JewishComment is grateful to The Jerusalem Post for permission to publish their senior staff writer Bret Stephens on our site.