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Casting the EU as a Counterweight to the US Would Only Divide Europe

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Fellow
August 10, 2005
The Irish Times


WHITHER EUROPE: Most Europeans do not want to choose between the EU and the United States, writes Charles Kupchan

The enterprise of European integration has slipped into one of the most serious crises in its history. After French and Dutch voters rejected the EU's effort to ratify the constitutional treaty, Europe's leaders shelved the treaty for the indefinite future. Soon thereafter, EU member states locked horns over the Union's budget, with debate ending in stalemate and acrimony.

The EU appears to be adrift, with prospective members in southeastern Europe worried that the door to entry may fast be closing.

Although the main task before Europe's leaders is to look to the future and map out the route ahead, it is equally important for Europeans to look back.

With the wounds to the EU still so fresh, perhaps the best way to move forward is to assess what has caused such a serious stumble.

As the dust settles, five main lessons are beginning to emerge.

The first is that the eastward enlargement of the EU, although crucial to consolidating central Europe's transition to markets and democracy, has come at the expense of a deeper Union.

In less than a decade, the EU expanded from 12 members to 25. Such rapid and extensive growth has left Europe's founding members with an acute case of indigestion.

Enlargement has diluted the sense of common identity and solidarity that came with a smaller Union. It has awakened fears of uncontrolled immigration. And enlargement has become synonymous with economic woe, blamed for the outsourcing of jobs to the east - such as the Peugeot Citroen factory opening in Slovakia, the influx of low-wage labourers from the east, not to mention the infamous Polish plumber in France.

The perils that accompanied enlargement are hardly surprising; unions regularly falter when they expand. Enlargement forces to the surface difficult questions of founding principles, the redistribution of resources, and the Union's ultimate boundaries. In the case of the United States, westward enlargement almost split the union asunder, fostering the intense political disputes that triggered the civil war.

The lesson for the EU cannot be that it should have avoided eastward enlargement; the moral and geopolitical imperative was unequivocal. But it is now apparent that deepening should have taken place in advance of widening, readying the EU to function effectively with a broader membership. In addition, the enlargement process might have gone more slowly and been open to a richer public debate, providing better conditions for old and new members alike to acclimate to the coupling. With the advantage of hindsight, a multi-tiered Europe also appears increasingly attractive, with new members taking on the rights and obligations of membership in a paced, sequential manner, while core Europe serves as a vanguard of deeper integration.

As Europe's leaders feel their way forward, they would be wise to tread with caution and deliberation on matters of future enlargement. Otherwise, further expansion may stall and the question of Turkish accession may be suspended, perhaps indefinitely.

The second lesson to draw from Europe's troubles is that economic reform is vital to the future of European integration. The voters who rejected the constitution in France and the Netherlands did not hesitate to take out their economic frustration on Europe - despite the fact that the EU's capacity to promote integration and reform would ultimately mean greater prosperity and more jobs. Union is part of the solution, not the problem. In this sense, the EU became a scapegoat for the failings of national governments.

The message is loud and clear. If France and Germany are to remain the engines behind the European project, they must face head-on the structural rigidities that impede growth. That does not mean dismantling the welfare state, but it does mean considerably more liberalisation, deregulation, and labour market flexibility.

Otherwise, the French and German economies will become less competitive by the day, and globalisation will leave the EU behind.

Europe's current woes reveal a third lesson: that Europe's traditional nation-states must urgently step up efforts to encourage ethnic tolerance and the integration of Muslim immigrants into the social mainstream.

The social tensions awakened by immigration, by stoking opposition to the treaty, have played a major role in preventing the deepening of the Union. These tensions are poised to do the same for enlargement, especially to Turkey.

In light of the demographic deficit faced by many member states, economic progress necessitates immigration, much of it from Muslim countries. But unless Europe becomes more multiethnic in spirit as well as form, replenishing the workforce will come at the expense of a wider and more integrated Union. And as the recent bombings in London made clear, the failure to integrate Muslims into the mainstream could also have consequences far more serious than blocking EU enlargement.

A fourth lesson concerns Europe's democratic deficit. European leaders accurately perceived the need to bring the Union closer to their citizens; hence the constitutional treaty and the ratification process. At least by certain measures, their efforts worked.

The French and Dutch may have voted no, but the referendums did generate an unprecedented level of public interest.

The mistake may well have been to elicit public engagement on a national basis rather than opting for a European-wide form of civic activism. Separate national votes do more to divide the member states than to knit them together. A preferable alternative may well have been to elect the proposed president of the European Council through popular suffrage, a move which would not only engender pan-European sentiment, but also deepen the legitimacy of the Union's leadership.

Finally, the will of Europe's citizens has revealed that casting the EU as a counterweight to the United States is likely to fail as a guiding vision for the Union's future.

Over the past several years, French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schroder both played the anti-American card, calling on Europe to stand up to Washington.

Their clamour for a multipolar world may have galvanised their publics, but only temporarily; both leaders face plunging popularity and electorates in open revolt.

Most Europeans do not want to choose between the United States and the EU. They may have no great affinity for the Bush administration, but they would prefer that the Atlantic partnership remain intact. As they seek a new vision, Europe's leaders should still aspire toward greater geopolitical ambition - one reason they should press ahead with the proposal in the constitutional treaty to establish a single foreign minister for the Union. But they will succeed only in dividing Europe unless that vision includes a healthy dose of Atlanticism.

It is also the case that the Bush administration has recently rediscovered the merits of partnership with Europe, making this an opportune moment for Brussels (along with Paris and Berlin) to reach out to Washington.

The excesses of Bush's first term have been moderated not by an ideological about-face, but by a new strategic pragmatism. The troubles in Iraq have driven home to Washington that the United States needs help on virtually every front - Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East peace process just for starters. And there is no better place to look for such help than to Europe.

If it is to take advantage of the new opening in Washington, the EU should enhance its ability to speak with a collective voice on matters of security policy. It should also develop the improved military capacities needed to give Europe greater geopolitical heft.

The Atlantic link would improve as a result, with Washington more inclined to listen to an EU that has greater capability to bring to the table. A strongerEU can emerge even without the constitutional treaty, but only if Europe enjoys the bold political leadership that has been sorely lacking.

Europeis at a dangerous intersection. Its leaders had best look both ways before they enter the crossing.

Charles A Kupchan is professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based nonpartisan organisation that publishes Foreign Affairs journal.

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