Europe’s Role in a Troubled World

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Yves Herman/Reuters
Barbara Lippert

Director of Research, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP)


Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Thomas Gomart

Director, Institut Français des Relations Internationales (Ifri)

Michael Mandelbaum

Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Experts discuss Europe’s ability and will to forge a common foreign policy, and whether the EU will remain America’s partner in meeting the world’s challenges.

This event is made possible by the generous support of the Hauser Foundation.

MANDELBAUM: Good afternoon. Welcome to the final session of this conference. The panel’s title is Europe’s Role in a Troubled World. This is the point in the proceedings at which everything has been said, but not everybody has said it. (Laughter.) So you will hear some familiar subjects, but you will have the benefit of commentary on these subjects by an accomplished and distinguished panel.

To my immediate left, Thomas Gomart, director of IFRI, the premier French think tank on foreign policy. Next to him, Barbara Lippert, who has already been introduced. She has the distinction of being the only person out of the 7 billion people on the planet who is appearing twice as a panelist I this conference. (Laughter.) And on the far left—not politically, but spatially—Phil Gordon, of the Council.

So we begin with questions, by me. And after half an hour, you will have an opportunity to pose questions to the panelists. I want to pose a series of questions to all of the panelists. I would like each of them to respond. And the first one has to do with the now-seldom discussed issue of European leadership in the world. The founders and the perpetuators of the European project had as one of their goals, sometimes tacitly, sometimes explicitly, to form a union so that Europe as a whole could play a major role in the world. They wanted to increase not only Europe’s economic weight, but its geopolitical weight as well.

Well, we find ourselves in a moment, as we learn from previous panels, when the European project itself is beleaguered, to say the least. But my question, for each of the panelists, is: Does European global leadership have any meaning? Is this simply an oxymoron? Is it a dream that has definitively died? Or is there something to it? Does Europe still have the potential to exercise leadership, not just in Europe, but beyond its borders?

Why don’t we go from my left to my far left? Thomas, why don’t you begin?

GOMART: I try to be optimistic because, you know, all the discussions we had are quite pessimistic, given the current situation in Europe. But if we try to see the things in terms of historical evolution, I think we can be optimistic and be very careful not to put away the European project as completely deadlocked.

I think that Europe can have a sort of global leadership on different issues. Two of them, it seems to me, very important.

The first one is climate change, which is something on which Europe should be very active to implement the COP21 and the—and then the continuation with the COP22.

And the second one is certainly far away of our current concern, but seems to me highly important, especially in the transformation of the relation between Europe and the U.S.—I will be back on that certainly. It is digital governance, on which certainly Europe has something particular to say regarding the U.S., regarding authoritarian countries such as China and Russia. That would be my two ways to try to have a more positive agenda.

Now to respond to your question about the type of leadership we have at the time being in Europe. For sure we have a weak, and if we compare with the founders, there is a huge gap between the political leaders, especially in my country, by comparison with the past. I think it’s related to something deeper, which is also—which can be seen also in the U.S., which is a type of selection of political leader we have. You know, Henry Kissinger in his last book made a very interesting point in—(inaudible)—in last chapter to say, to some extent, to be elected at the time being you should be a very good marketer, but as soon as you have a sort of political vision, you are not very interesting for the voters. And I think it’s something visible not only in Europe, but also in your country.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you.


LIPPERT: Just to underline the Franco-German cooperation, I warmly agree with what Thomas has said. And I very much appreciate that you reminded us that the creation of the European communities was not only a peace project, but also a power project, to restore, in a way, European influence in the world. And why does that not—why can’t we translate that into some sort of leadership across the foreign policy agenda? Thomas pointed at some global governance issues where I think the European Union was able to form even some sort of pioneering group, and I think contributed to quite some good solutions.

But when it comes to geopolitics—and we now see the return of geopolitics—the European Union cannot deliver. And I think it also has something to do with some more structural constraints. So it’s not only, I think, depending on the personalities that are now leading European member states. When you look at the structural constraint, I always remember what I think Stanley Hoffmann said about the Europeans: It’s a whirlpool of very different concerns and interests. And that is continually so, and even growing.

So we have—when you look at the reactions to the refugee crisis, which is the crisis, we talked at length about that in the morning, you see that all these different experiences and also historically memories come up again and are either instrumentalized for political reasons, or they are a real sentiment and make people prefer very often not to act collectively. And that is, I think, the point. These very different concerns, differences among the member states, they grew with enlargement. We now have only a small group that has, let’s say, even some sort of geopolitical outlook.

So most of the member states inside the European Union, they care for home security, they care for their national economies, and basically that’s it. They don’t want to be bullied around, neither in the European Union or, of course, beyond its borders. And that’s why the joined the NATO and the European Union. But they have no real experience and interest to really face the external challenges. And here I think we have the link between what’s going on at the domestic levels at many member states, and what’s going on at the EU level.

And that is why I personally think that the very cautious approach now in writing an EU global strategy, which is the job of Mogherini and some others, is far more sober, is more realistic, is more restricted as far as the agenda is concerned. And I think you will hear less rhetoric and perhaps maybe a bit more action.


GORDON: So I will also give a modestly positive, at least not altogether negative answer, to the question, in the sense that you’re right, Michael. As you pointed out, historically the European project was not just about integrating Europe internally, but it was about developing Europe as a voice in the world and a true partner for the United States. Under the Kennedy dumbbell theory Europe would balance the United States. And after years of integration and common foreign security policy, you’d actually have a true unified partner.

If that’s your standard, then Europe obviously doesn’t meet it. A Europe that speaks with one voice and has something resembling a foreign minister and is a powerful actor in the world, not even on a par with the United States but anything close, I think one would have to say clearly it’s not. You could go further and say, at the present moment it’s even worse than that because to be an extroverted, important global actor, Europe has to be relatively united, relatively positive, feeling relatively rich and ready to do all of these things.

And let’s just say, again, at the present moment, you know, if you listened to all of the challenges Europe faces in the previous panels, actually more divided than usual over the question of the eurozone and Greece, over the question of migrants, can’t decide how to share them. Russian pressure is raising divisions geographical. So it is hardly a propitious moment for that truly unified, single European voice in the world.

All of that said, which is where I get to the modestly positive point, that was never a realistic standard. I don’t think it was ever realistic that Europe would really come together to be a true United States of Europe partner to the United States. So if you accept that, then I would go back to some of the points Thomas made. It is still an important global actor. Relative to others, Europeans are still much more likeminded and unified on the big international questions—climate change, Iran.

I mean, thinking about it from the point of view of a partner for the United States—and I suspect we’ll get to that—it’s an important voice and one we couldn’t do without. So when you look at it from an American point of view, as you’re looking for partners around the world, as divided and weak and troubled as Europe is, it’s still probably the best single partner we have on the global stage.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. I realize that I forgot to read the injunctions, which you’ve heard at the beginning of each session. So let me read them now. Please turn off, not just put on vibrate, your electronic gear. And remember that this meeting is on the record. So don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to see in The New York Times.

The next question has to do with European relations with—well, the next two questions have to do with Europe’s relations with and attitudes toward the two great, or in one case not quite so great, extra European powers, the United States and Russia. Let me ask first about the United States. In this country, Europe has become something like the continent. You don’t hear much about it. You don’t read much about it. There’s not much sense that Europe’s travails have much, if anything, to do with the United States.

And in a previous panel when the question was raised, what relevance does the United States have for the ongoing European crises, to my ears we didn’t get a robust answer of any kind. So my question is, how do you assess relations between Europe and the United States? How relevant, and in what ways relevant, if at all, are these two long-time partners to each other?

Let me start this time with Barbara, and then we’ll go to Phil, and then Thomas.

LIPPERT: OK. I think from a European Union perspective, of course, the U.S. is still the most important, most relevant partner. But somehow, this partnership has become more difficult over the years, and maybe some have already lost some interest in investing in this partnership and making it again more alive. And I think there were some attempts, for example, when you think at the initiative to come to the TTIP agreement. That was sold as an economic NATO, for example. So there is an attempt to find a new sense of working together and having an agenda.

Now, with all the troubles, and that’s the title of our panel—with all the trouble around Europe, I think it’s quite clear that we have a common agenda to be addressed. Although, I think, it’s mostly the EU’s foreign policy responsibility, which lies in its immediate neighborhood, even there when you think of the Middle East, the EU cannot do it alone, cannot make a significant contribution, but together with the U.S. And I think there is a lot of common ground.

You refer to the deal with—the agreement with Iran, where the European Union and some of its member states played a leading role. I think that could be also a blueprint for the future. And we have just to see where are our, let’s say, specific strengths that we can invest into this kind of relationship. But then, of course, in the first place, we have to have some sort of common strategy. And I think here I see more positive signs under the pressure of, let’s say, a neighborhood in flames. That’s at least the perception from the continent.


GORDON: So a word on the state of the partnership, and then a word on Europe from an American point of view. And the state of the partnership, I think it is fair to say that a certain degree of realism, which is to say relations are certainly not hostile, but they’re also not fulfilling maybe the hopes and dreams that some people might have expected as President Obama was elected, following a deep—probably the deepest division in transatlantic relations in the post-war period, over the Iraq War.

And there’s sort of that mutual you could almost say disappointment on both sides. You’re right, Michael, Americans aren’t paying particular attention to Europe right now. It’s not looming in the presidential debate. And that’s partly just a function of these Middle East crises are so overwhelming, those are the real policy decisions and the places that we’re devoting blood and treasure. And then, you know, Asia, the opportunity seen there is on the positive side. And Europe’s not getting a lot of attention.

In the other direction, I do think there’s a sense of—again, you could hear the word disappointment, which I would argue was maybe inevitable. There was so much hope placed on Barack Obama in Europe when he was elected—again, after an administration that had such troubled relations with Europe. I had the good fortune of being assistant secretary for Europe in that first year when just showing up was—you know, you were the most popular person in the room because you were representing this new administration and Europeans pined all of their hopes and expectations on President Obama, and everything’s going to be lovely.

And then it turned out that there were still differences. And I still remember, again, going back to this point about exaggerated expectations, one year in, in like 2009, I remember seeing a Reuters poll where Obama—in his first year is, like, at 85 percent popularity in Europe. Then he went down to 81. And the headline was: Europe cools toward Obama. (Laughter.) The point being, we just never could have fulfilled the expectations that came in at the time. And so if there’s a feeling of, you know, relations are OK, but they’re not great, I think it’s because they’re being held to an unrealistic standard.

All of that said, again, taking it back from an American point of view, for whatever disappointments there are in the United States about Europe—going back to this point about divisions and not playing a leading role—come back to my earlier point, it is still the place in the world with which we have the most in common, that has the most to contribute to these global crises that we seek to manage. These problems are hard enough as it is—you know, ISIS, the Iran deal, Syria, Afghanistan—without the Europeans, for all their weaknesses and lack of defense spending and division and all of that—it would be an even greater burden on the United States.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. Well, I think we’ve heard one cheerful note about the ongoing election, which is that whatever the outcome, it will not induce euphoria in Europe. So perhaps we can be grateful for that. Thomas.

GOMART: I would like to respond to your question by starting to underline the paradox and to point out two tricky points.

The paradox is related to the transatlantic relation and its real organization. And, speaking from France, it is something which is quite unknown by the public opinion, because in France, as you know, like in other European countries, it’s very easy to mobilize politically a sort of anti-U.S. feeling. But at the same time—at the time being, the cooperation between the P3 member—Washington, London, and Paris—is very, very narrow. And it is not very well-known by the public opinion, which is a problem in itself. But the point is that, in terms of cooperation—intelligence sharing, military operation, nuclear things—there is a huge and very deep cooperation between these three countries at the time being, which are certainly—which are certainly very important for the transatlantic relations.

Let me move to the two tricky points now. First, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. There is apparently a wish for the U.S. administration to accelerate negotiation and to try to end up the process by the end of 2016. I think that politically it’s something which is a sensitive topic in Europe. And I think that it leads to the difficult combination we could find between geoeconomics and geopolitics.

That leads me to something which is also very sensitive, which is sanctions policy decided, you know, by Westerners, either by the U.S. or Europeans. We’ve spoken a lot about the sanctions against Russia, which can be seen as a positive move. We spoke less about the sanction about Iran. But we should think—having a European point of view, we should think about the cost of these sanctions for some European actors. It’s one thing to say that these sanction were efficient, of instance, against Iran. But have a look at the consequences for some European banks, you know, in doing so. And I think that speaks to something very difficult to deal with, which is, you know, the U.S. (extraterritoriality ?), which is seen more and more in Europe as something unacceptable. And certainly it is a point on which European and Americans should work very closely and to try to progress, because it will fuel the anti-U.S. feeling. It will fuel also the demonstration of the opposition to the TTIP.

Last point, digital governance, the same can be said. There was certainly a turning appoint with the Snowden affair, with the fundamental ambivalence of the U.S. in terms of digital activities. At the same time, to be presented as a country which supports freedom of Internet, liberty for connection, but using it to increase its dominating power on the European. So certainly, on that, I think it’s very important to try to progress and to work together.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. That brings us to Russia. And whatever else may be said about Mr. Putin, it’s not possible to ignore him or his policies. And Europe and the United States have not ignored him. What is the European view toward Russia? What are the prospects for continuing the current policy? Are there divisions within Europe? And since we’ll start with Phil, how do you assess the state of transatlantic relations vis-à-vis Russia? Are there division between the United States and Europe on this subject?

GORDON: There are divisions between the United States and parts of Europe, which is part of the challenge, which is that Russia is not entirely a question of consensus among the Europeans. It never had been, since the end of the Cold War. You have had, not surprising, geographical differences on how much Russia matters and what policies towards Russia should be, with obviously the southern countries much more focused on the Mediterranean and North Africa and the Middle East, and the countries that were either part of the Soviet space or Warsaw Pact much more concerned about and desirous of a different Russia policy. And that hasn’t gone away.

I think—and obviously, United States, at the start of the Obama administration, put a priority on Russia, the reset. And Europeans, I think, were fully onboard for that. And it had the potential to be a matter of consensus for everyone. And I would argue that for a couple of years it even worked. And while President Medvedev was in power, we made a lot of progress, both the Americans and Europeans alike, in taking steps towards transforming that relationship. And we got Russia on board for sanctions on Iran. And we signed a 123 nuclear agreement. And Russia agreed to allow lethal items to transit across Afghanistan. And Russia ended up joining the WTO. And we had a common project towards a common policy towards Russia.

As Putin came back to power, that policy ran its course, stalled, and then obviously collapsed with the developments in Crimea and Ukraine, which brought us back to those divisions. I think on balance—I think the transatlantic relationship and the European Union can survive those differences. And while inevitably, geographically and historically, countries will have different attitudes towards Russia, this Russia, with this Putin, with this degree of aggression—annexing Crimea and occupying parts of Ukraine—I think will be sufficient to maintain a relatively united European policy towards Russia, with a relatively united transatlantic policy supporting it.

Witness the reassurance initiative and the additional American presence in Eastern Europe. It’s obviously not going back to Cold War days when the Soviet threat was one of the factors behind the transatlantic relationship and Europe, but I think it’s enough to keep the European allies together and the Americans and Europeans together.

 MANDELBAUM: Thank you. Thomas.

GOMART: OK. Three things on Russia and the transatlantic debate on that.

The first one is maybe to point out, you know, a collective failure between Europeans and Americans because we were not successful in anchoring Russia within the Euro-Atlantic institutions. And it is partly due, I think, to a lack of understanding of Russia, but also partly due to a sort of ideological approach we could have in the past. I like to remind that, you know, when I started in the job 10 years ago, I fight against the idea of the “do it” strategy, to go very quickly for the NATO enlargement, the so-called (Greece and ?) Middle East strategies, the Black Sea area, all this mapping, which was so present, you know, during the last decade.

And have a look, you know, one decade after. Putin’s redline are much more serious than Obama’s redline. It was absolutely clear that everything regarding Ukraine would have been interpreted, you know, in Russia as an aggression. So it was not taken seriously, because I think that we didn’t take seriously Russia during the last decade. So how we have to deal with a resurgent Russia, which—we have a country which is using nuclear intimidation, which is more and more assertive, which did—which does believe certainly that there is no real European leaders except Merkel. So if Merkel failed, to some extent, it will be a jackpot for Putin. And it’s now a very serious concern.

Second point, there is a huge asymmetrical approach between the U.S. and Russia, given the fact that for the U.S., Russia is a third-ranked issue, you know. But Putin is completely obsessed by the U.S. His main aim is, in fact, to reestablish a direct dialogue with Washington. And it’s partly done, thanks to the situation in Syria, from—with his point of view, obviously. For Europe, that’s completely different. We cannot avoid Russia. Russia, even if there are some evolution in terms of energy supplies, remains the first exporter—the first exporter for all gas and coal for Europeans. And that’s things that cannot be changed, you know, in two or three years. That’s something very, very deeply—very deeply rooted.

And my final point is, in fact, also now the need we have collectively to think about Putin’s Russia and Putin without Russia. It is pretty sure that, in 2024, President Putin will become prime minister. I mean, he’s here to stay for—until the end, to some extent. But also, we should try to develop other channels and not be on all side completely obsessed by the Kremlin, but try also to understand, you know, the transformation of the Russian society at the time being, which are very important.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you.


LIPPERT: Yeah. I think, of course, Russia is the neighbor of the European Union. And the European Union made some progress in realizing that it is not the first and only neighbor. And that is why, although it failed to some extent, the European Union developed bilateral and multilateral relations with all the countries in between—like the Ukraine, Moldova, and others. So I think one of the options had always been to follow a kind of Russia first policy. And I think this time is definitely over as far as the European Union is concerned. And also Germany had quite a change, to the surprise of Putin, as far as its policy is concerned.

So the concern of many of the also central and Eastern European member states was that there is some condominium between the U.S. and Russia as far as the countries in between are concerned. And I think there’s always the temptation to have that kind of bargain because, of course, we need Russia for doing a lot of other things, not in the least when we talk about Syria, for example, and coming to terms with the problems in the Middle East. So this kind of idea that you have some sort of a strategic concept with Russia is always coming up again.

But what we have now is quite a unified position of being tough when it comes to Russia, and the sanctions are one example. And I think there is quite a good chance that sanctions will be renewed, although Russia is putting pressure on many of the EU member states either to lift or at least to relax sanctions. But I think the EU, for the moment, will be unified on this point. The other side of it is to support countries like the Ukraine, to strengthen the resilience there. And of course, the EU has some instruments, although they are also in the field of aid, of supporting the transformative capacities of these countries. But I think this is a very, very important point. So the other side of the medal.

And course, there is the offer that Russia comes out again of its, I would call it, self-isolation in Europe. And there are some sector where cooperation is possible. So it’s the balance between being tough, deterrence, plus also opening channels, or keeping them open for dialogue. But that is, when you look at the past 20 years or so, that is quite a change as far as the U.S. position is concerned.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. We’ll come to questions from people other than the moderator in a moment, but I know from previous conversations with the panelists that they have subjects that they think are important to note that haven’t come up yet. So let me turn the floor over to them, first to Thomas, to say what you think—or anything you think needs to be mentioned at this conference and hasn’t been thus far. I believe that the subject you think is worth noting, at least briefly, is China.

GOMART: Yeah, it’s not only China. It’s the transformation of the relation between China, the U.S., and Russia, because I think that this triangle has dramatic effects for the future, you know, of Europe. We are very, very focused at the time being in Europe on the fragmentation of Middle East, for obvious reasons. But I think that we undermine, you know, the transformation of the relation between Russia, China, and the U.S., which are absolutely critical for the future of Europe—and for the future of Japan, by the way.

Why? For too many reasons.

The first one is, when you add the U.S., China, and Russia, it represents almost 40 percent of EU external trade. And it’s also the three main military spendings in the—in the world, with the—with the U.S. first, China second, and Russia third. It is also three country having a strategic culture, having some global ambitions, with different things, obviously. And it is also the main CO emitters. So you can’t avoid to think, you know, about these countries jointly, because to some extent they can decide much more things, you know, for Europe that Europe can do for them for sure.

The second—the second point is also to think about the—framing the evolution of the so-called globalization. I think that the paradigm we had, you know, after the end of the Cold War is finished, to some extent. And part of our question is to know how what sort of capitalism will we have. Will we have a sort of capitalism related to democracy, with all the limitation we can underline? And will we have a capitalism related to authoritarian approach? And I think it’s very important for Europeans in terms of positioning themselves, because their company will be obliged to position themself and be able to tackle the U.S. market, but also to tackle the Chinese or the Russian markets. We have all the political consequences. And on that, also, things are rather unclear.

Last point. Where is Europe, where is Western Europe, where is the EU on Eurasia, which is a very important question, you know, sitting in the U.S., to some extent. And on that, there are plenty of very difficult question to respond at the time being, which is: What will be the European reaction to the so-called OBOR—one road, one belt—promoted by China? Some European countries seems to very interested. I have to mention, for instance, this agreement between Central European countries and China, which was not mentioned during this day of conversation. Plus, the combination or the absence of combination between OBOR and the Eurasian Union promoted by Russia. That’s basically a very big geopolitical question on which I think Europeans and Americans should think together.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you.

Barbara, on structural issues in the EU.

LIPPERT: Well, I touched upon that already, so I just withdraw.

MANDELBAUM: Ah, well, there’s a very good citizen of this conference. (Laughter.)

Phil, on the Middle East.

GORDON: Well, so I wouldn’t say the Middle East hasn’t been discussed here, but I would flag it as central to this question of what Europe’s role in the world is. And maybe this is a parochial perspective, but I mentioned, you know, before doing the Middle East at the White House—I mentioned I was for four years assistant secretary for Europe. That was, more than anything, a job about Europe and the Middle East. Whenever the president or the secretary of state met with a European counterpart, the agenda was Iran, Israel and the Palestinians, al-Qaida, terrorism, Afghanistan. It’s not that you didn’t get to some European topics, but these were the issues on which we, more than anything else, had to work.

And I would argue that today they are even more central to Europe, and to our potential partnership. Obviously, you know, the terrorist attack in Belgium today, previously Paris elsewhere, these are issues stemming from the Middle East. The million-plus refugees that are arriving in Europe and destabilizing the European Union in all of the ways we’ve been talking about all morning are derived from Europe. You have Libya collapsing right across the Mediterranean from European member states. And you know, these issues aren’t going to go away. They are going to remain central to Europe’s very stability and the transatlantic partnership.

And again, from an American point of view, notwithstanding, once again, all of Europe’s weaknesses and divisions and lack of leadership, and everything that we can talk about, we can’t deal with these issues without a European partner. I heard he mentioned Iran. Our sanctions had no effect until we got the European Union oil embargo on Iran. Dealing with ISIS, if you can’t get control of borders and have counterterrorism cooperation, there’s little the United States can do. So for all the flaws in the partnerships, difference and divisions, I think the Middle East is central to Europe’s future and stability and remains central to our partnership.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. Now the time has come to invite members and their guests to join the conversation with their questions. Remember that this is on the record. And I will repeat the instructions you have heard three times on the off-chance that any of you had not committed them to memory. Wait for the microphone, speak directly into it, stand, state your name and affiliation, please limit yourself to one question, and keep it concise to allow as many people as possible to participate. So the floor is open for anyone who wishes to pose a question.

Dr. Menon.

Q: How would the panel suggest that the next U.S. president try to get Europe to bear a fairer share of the burden of preserving the liberal international system, from which Europeans have benefited as much, if not more, than the United States? And I mean that in two ways. One, there’s the military, obviously, transatlantic burden sharing in NATO. But also Thomas raised the China. And it seems to me that Europeans have an absurdly self-interested and short-termist approach to China, which is let’s sell them as much as possible and leave the Americans to deal with geopolitics in Asia. What can a new American president do to get more out of Europeans?

MANDELBAUM: Phil, why don’t you begin? And then we’ll—you can propose strategies. I have a feeling that this is not the first time this issue has crossed your plate. And then our European participants will tell us whether any of the things that Phil proposes have any chance of working.

GORDON: Indeed, Michael. I was going to say that that question has been asked in those very words very four years since NATO was founded. And the United States has never felt Europe hold its fair share of the burden. And every successive president has gone in with the view that they are going to find a different, better way to do this. And we’ve tried everything and its opposite, going back to the Mansfield Amendment, and threats to pull out U.S. forces from Europe if Europeans don’t do more. And needless to say, none of them has been entirely successful.

I don’t know—and therefore, you know, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t have a silver bullet, because, you know, in the end there are so many competing factors that explain why Europeans have never been enthusiastic about spending more for defense and doing more. I guess I could put it in a possible negative. I don’t think that the threat to leave Europe on its own in the answer. And that’s often what Americans resort to. It’s often what they threaten during the campaign. Indeed, we’re hearing that a little bit in this campaign, including yesterday with the remarks of one presidential candidate to The Washington Post, saying—at times implying that NATO wasn’t necessary, but other times implying it was necessary, we just got to get those deadbeats to do more.

There’s no guarantee that they will. And it’s an experiment that you don’t want to run. If you really do feel like there’s a Russian threat to Ukraine or the Baltic States, that Europe should do more, you could try saying, well, we’re pulling our Air Force out. You know, you guys are going to have to do more. But if you fail, then you’ve just invited a military conflict in Europe. And frankly, that—you know, if I were advising a presidential candidate, if I were the incoming president, that’s not a risk that I would want to run. So barring that sort of we’ll pull out if you don’t do more threat, you just have to do what we’ve tried to do in the past, which is have a serious, responsible, public debate about the importance of these issues, and why we mutually have to work on them together. And you appeal to Europe’s self-interest to play an important role in pursuing its own interests.

MANDELBAUM: Let me modify the question for our other two panelists. To Barbara, I think it’s fair to say, up to a point, that all post-war Western Europe—Western security policy was designed, among other things, to avoid the possibility or the necessity of a militarily powerful Germany. That was, throughout the Cold War, a precept of Western foreign policy—no German nuclear weapons, no large German army, no dominant German military power on the continent. And this was, of course, accepted, agreed to, by the Germans. As a result, Germany, even more than other Western European countries, never really pulled its weight—leaving aside the question of how you define weight—in defense issues. So my question for Barbara is, is that era over? Should it be over?

LIPPERT: Well, readily I think it’s over. But of course, you characterize the German security culture I think very correctly. But Germany is not anymore in principle the noninterventionist state. So Germany is, I think, prepared to engage with others in the NATO framework, or in the EU frame, although this is not on the cards. And so I think there is something—there is something going on to take on more of a responsibility and to—I think Constanze pointed out before lunch that Germany is prepared also to increase its defense budget.

So I think when Europeans now realize that there will be a constant threat from Russia, from its immediate neighbor, I think a lot of things will change. And you will see that also we’re spending more money on security issues inside the European Union. When we start being serious about, for example, the deal with Turkey and what is expected from frontline countries with an external EU border, this could lead to some sort of fortification of the European Union. Not that I’m entirely in favor of that, but that is one of the directions we would not have thought of five years ago.

And just let me respond to Phil Gordon. I think that we have the common foreign and security policy on paper since the Maastricht Treaty in the early ’90s was due to the perception, the anticipation of a gradual withdrawal of the U.S. from the continent. And that is, we have to strengthen our own capacities. And I think that is something which is now even more a pressing question for Europe. And you see with the Normandy Format, for example, that although it is necessary to be in a very close communication and agreement with the U.S., but the leadership is with the European countries. And here you see, not in the military sphere, but you see changes, developments on their way. And I think that will continue.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you.

Thomas, the post-war strategic culture—by post-war, I mean post-1945—strategic culture in France, as in Great Britain, was the opposite of the one in Germany, for obvious reasons. France did not practice military or political self-abnegation. The French thought of themselves as a military power, and as a global power. And there hasn’t been any great moment to change that attitude. And yet, the perception, at least in the United States, I think, is that France, along with Britain, is withdrawing from the kinds of commitments and the kinds of aspirations in the strategic and security realm that it once undertook, and that formed the core of its foreign policy in the glorious days of General de Gaulle, as recorded by Phil Gordon in his book on the subject.

So two questions: Is the perception that I have stated an accurate one, or is it a misinterpretation? And second, to the extent that it is accurate—to the extent that France is not doing as much as it used to do and used to aspire to do, why is that and can it change?

GOMART: Well, your perception is at the same time right and wrong. I will to precise the point.

If you compare, you know, the military spending of France at the time being, it’s 32 billions a year. If you compare with what it was in 1991, by comparison with inflation and so on, it was at that time, you know, 22 billion a year. So to some extent, and it was rightly said by our former MFA—I mean, rightly, it’s a—there is a point of irony. We use the dividends of peace—we use les dividendes de la paix—I don’t know if it’s possible to say it in English—

MANDELBAUM: Peace dividend.

GOMART: —peace dividends, you know—(chuckles)—very often to some extent. And now we are touching the point in which the situation is no more manageable, given the fact that the French military is completely overstretched by its military intervention, namely in Africa. Plus, the fact that the military, which is now a professional one—which is a big change by comparison with the end of the Cold War—is also asked, you know, to patrol in terms of France after the terrorist attacks.

So the situation is changing, given the fact also that I think that the next government will be obliged to put much more money in terms of military spending. And there will be maybe leverage effects. It will be the case also in Germany, as it was said before lunch. When you observe the—(inaudible)—you know, from the U.K., there are also some ambitions—military ambitions. So I think that the basic point is to say that Europeans will be obliged to put much more money on their military in the coming years. That’s another question for so-called small countries, but I think that for Germany, for France, and for the U.K., the direction is pretty—is pretty clear.

Now, what does it mean for NATO and what does it mean in terms of not only money, but also the will to intervene or to do things? I think that what was done, you know, against Russia, at the same time having, you know, the EU acting through the Normandy Format, plus the reassurance measure within NATO, it was pretty well-known. It is not well-known in France that, you know, France, which is very often portrayed as a pro-Russian country, was very active, you know, in reassurance measure in Baltic States. There are different things at the time being in preparation, you know, in terms of controlling the novel aspects in which France, the U.K., and other countries are very, very involved. So we can still sort of wish to share the burden.

The real issue is, in fact, what sort of priority do we have? Do we think that Russia will become the main threat—which is basically the perception, you know, in Eastern Europe, for obvious reasons? Or do you think that we should allocate much more military means towards the threat coming from the south? And on that, frankly speaking, the debate in France, for instance, is clearly for the second option.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you.

Other questions? Well, in that case I will use the chair’s prerogative to put another question to our panelists. Clearly one of the difficulties that Europe has is the shortage or, some might say, absence of effective governing mechanisms. And that’s a chronic problem in international affairs. There’s no world government. There’s no European state. So it’s hard to provide collective goods and coordinate. In the past, I believe that it was true, or at least believed to be true, that the effective governing mechanism of Europe was the Franco-German partnership. Once the two of them decided on a course of action, they were able to bring the rest of the Union along, they were able to get the Union to do what it needed to do to supply for itself in so-called public goods.

This was what made the European Union work. And that mechanism has collapsed, and collapsed in part—and here I’m giving a particular interpretation and I’ll invite the panelists to agree, disagree, modify, or discard as desired—collapsed because of French weakness and German strength. The ironic consequence of which has been to push Germany into the center of affairs, to put all of the burden of leadership in European affairs on Germany, which the Germans—although now relatively more powerful than the French and more powerful than any other European country—are not in absolute terms powerful enough to carry out. So let me ask each of you—Thomas from the French perspective, Barbara from the German perspective, and Phil from the American perspective—is the problem, or part of the problem, in Europe the breakdown of the Franco-German partnership? And to the extent that it is, can anything be done to revive it?

GOMART: (Chuckles.) That’s a very serious and difficult issue.

Let me start with the—it’s not real common, you know, for me to speak about the Franco-German reconciliation, because I was struck yesterday during the evening about the debate the lack of seriousness of the reconciliation between Poland and Germany. But just to give you an example about the transformation of our respective society, last Saturday I celebrate the birthday of my kid, which is nine years old. We had 12 kids at home. It was a nightmare, anyway. (Laughter.) But four of them were—at the same time were speak fluently in German and in French. You know, it’s not a—it’s not a special school, but a French school, as many others. And it seems very natural, you know. It’s like something which is now quite common, to some extent. So I pointed that just to say that the reconciliation, it’s, at the same time, something very, very substantive. But I think that the next generation, that things are very natural, you know, to work closely between France and Germany at the level of civilian societies.

That would be my second point of answer. I think we have a disconnect between France and Germany because of the situation within the political class, especially for the French one, which didn’t understand or which didn’t want to understand the asymmetrical position between Germany and France because of the lack of structural reforms in France. And I think that Germans, for sometimes understandable and sometimes not understandable reasons, are to some extent fed up with this lack of seriousness in France, especially coming from the French political elites. Because it is very often seen, you know, as, OK, Germany will continue, you know, to support us. And I think we are approaching a point in which there is a real question of trust about the ability of France. And that will be the main challenge for the next president, just to deliver, as it is expected.

A final point, I think, also, we should be careful not to think that everything can be discussed between Paris and Berlin, and after that, you know, implemented by others. This period is completely over because other European countries can be fed up, you know, with Germany, as it was expressed—(laughs)—quite, quite strongly yesterday during the dinner. But they are also sometimes very fed up with this idea of the couple between France and Germany. So a lot should be done to be done to explain and to say that it’s very important, essential to have close relations between Paris and Berlin, but it’s not sufficient.


LIPPERT: So I agree with the analysis, but even if we were able to sort of reignite this Franco-German engine for the sake of better European integration, I think it will not be enough. So you pointed out the interests of other member states. And in the past, of course, the two countries—France and Germany—they succeeded in forging some compromises, although their initial positions did not converge. And that was the beauty about the whole thing. But they sorted out some common ground. And they then defined a corridor. And all the other member states could meet in that corridor. And now it’s more a kind of a labyrinth or something far more puzzling than having this quite clear corridor.

And I have to say, when we look around, what are the other member states that are prepared to invest in such a common endeavor to forge compromises? And many of us hoped that Poland would be the country, which is not I think taking up this kind of responsibility. The U.K. is even more on its way out. It’s what you can call maybe a semi-detached member. Maybe it becomes a semi-attached non-member in the future. So it does also not invest in this. And I think that that would be absolutely a necessary to cope with all these challenges. And I think with the Normandy Format, if it is successful, and if it’s regarded as a common success, with some, let’s say, also feedback kind of communication with the whole of the 28 and the European Council, that could be a way to have again a more, let’s say, successful leadership of the European Union that can really deliver on the problems.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. I suspect that the U.K. will end up being a corresponding member of the club, or an out-of-town member. And when you’re an out-of-town member of the club, you pay less dues. (Laughter.)

Phil, you have the last word on this question, the last word on the panel, and therefore the last word of the conference. And with that, buildup, the floor is yours.

GORDON: That’s an enormous responsibility. I hope I don’t let people down. But I will make a comment about what you rightly raise as a really important point, that the Franco-German motor no longer exists. And I think your narrative is right, but I would stress, I think, that that genie can’t be put back in the bottle, to mix metaphors, if you will. Which is to say, you’re right. At the time that was the driving motor and Europe could always count on it. Of course, at the time, you had a much smaller European Union and those two countries really were the bulk, economically and militarily. They could call the shots, which is just long-gone now in a Europe that is so much bigger.

I think you had a generational commitment to European integration that doesn’t exist today to the same degree. It is taken for granted. And the whole post-war belief that only with France, Germany, and Europeans coming together could you have peace, isn’t felt as strongly. I think back in the day each of those countries has a reason to prioritize Europe and each other over other things. France wanted to bind Germany, given historical lessons, so it was willing to do whatever it took to keep that partnership together. And Germany, in a way, wanted to be bound, and prioritized European integration.

And so on top of all of that, you have these big challenges that we’ve all been talking about, which divides Europe further—eurozone and Greece, the migrant crisis, different attitudes towards Russia. So we can be nostalgic about the Franco-German partnership and that motor not existing, but I don’t think that that’s the fix to this current set of problems. And frankly, even numbers and size alone, raises an almost insurmountable problem for governance. And that could be a whole other seminar, and we won’t do it in the last 20 seconds here. But how do you manage a union?

It seems to me—and this is really for the Europeans to talk about, but European leaders spent so much of their time going to EU summits. And it was one thing when at, was it Fontainebleau, you know, Kohl and Mitterrand could do a pull-aside and just decide what they were going to do, or give Thatcher her money back, you know, with two or three people. You can’t do that. Guess what? Poles have views. And Spaniards have views. And Latvians have views. And they have vetoes as well.

So that raises just much more fundamental problems of European governance that, you know, I don’t think the fix—I don’t think you can go back to that old Europe, but I don’t know this—what you can go to raises all the questions that were discussed in the previous panel about more or less. One obvious answer is more. You have to take a fundamental jump to federalism. But it doesn’t appear that European public are ready to do that.

MANDELBAUM: Thank you. It’s always good to end a conference on a fundamental unsolved problem, because that paves the way for future conferences. (Laughter.)

We have come to the end of our time. So let me thank the panel for their insights. (Applause.) And thank all of you for coming. And most importantly, thank Rita Hauser for making this possible. (Applause.) We are adjourned.


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