The Economist Corporate Network, London Meeting, February 2003
On the surface, Europe’s position in the world at the end of the Iraq war looks weak and tattered. In fact, the European Union still has a great opportunity in the next decade to offer an alternative foreign policy strategy to the US.
This strategy does not imply a confrontational relationship with the US (which would be most unwise). We cannot and should not compete militarily with the United States. But we can develop a very different vision of global development that other states and areas will find considerably more attractive than US policy.
The European strategy must use those tools dismissed as ineffective by America’s neo-conservative thinkers, i.e. negotiations, multilateral institutions, and engagement through economic development. US military intervention underscores its global might but it does not provide the long-term answers to Western security concerns. Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and almost certainly Iraq demonstrate that America does not have the capacity to follow through.
The EU is sometimes rather modest about its most remarkable achievements. But it has an enviable track record of providing answers to questions raised by dysfunctional, underdeveloped societies.
Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain have witnessed the most spectacular social, economic and political changes in the last twenty years thanks to the mighty engine of EU accession. The EU has absorbed four states that
a) Emerged from different forms of fascist or clerical rule;
b) Were overwhelmingly rural with high rates of unemployment, and
c) Whose administrations were regarded as incorrigibly corrupt.
All four are now modern, secular states with an ever-improving economic and political performance. If ever there was an advertisement for the advantages of the European model, these four states are it. We can ascribe the success to many things but chief amongst them is the uniquely innovative policy of cohesion and infrastructural funds.
Notwithstanding a couple of loose ends, the latest round of enlargement is now complete. Europe should take pride in a process that has lain to rest some of the bitterest causes of European conflict in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Now the challenge is absorption or digestion. Europe’s next goal is to show that it can eradicate the totalitarian legacy for eight of the new ten states. The discrepancies between Western and Eastern Europe remain considerable. But the mere prospect of EU accession has triggered profound changes in the incoming member states that no other process could provoke.
Romania’s fortunes act as a simple measure of the extraordinary impact that the concrete prospect of EU membership can have on the perception of apparently weak societies and economies. Five years ago, FDI into Romania stood at $1 billion p.a. Once accepted as a candidate country, FDI began to rise exponentially reaching $9 billion last year and estimated to reach $18 in five year’s time. Despite the pain involved, the Romanians have worked hard on ensuring the passage and implementation of legislation to meet the Copenhagen criteria. All the signs are that Romania will be ready for membership in 2007.
But there is one region where the EU’s progress is too slow – this is the western Balkans. This is the greatest challenge for the EU because it must apply its stabilising tools in an area of highly dysfunctional states where potential for major armed conflict and social unrest remain.
The stabilisation of the western Balkans is in the vital interests of the EU. Failure to succeed here has two implications:
a) Organised crime will consolidate the area as its base for operations inside the European Union
b) Europe’s failure to deal with its own backyard will expose it as an ineffective player on the global stage.
Success, on the other hand, will demonstrate the superiority of European tactics in the arena of conflict resolution and nation building. But this matter needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency.
The states and territories of the western Balkans need a date for accession (even if it is 2015!). Reformist governments in the region must be able to show their electorates that the road map is real and not just theoretical.
In its present constitutional makeup, much of the western Balkans cannot meet the criteria for entry. In order for the EU to assert itself as the primary international actor in the region, it must take the lead in finding a solution for the dangerous constitutional uncertainty in the western Balkans, above all the anomaly of Kosovo. If the EU does not seize the initiative on final status soon, it will have to suffer some serious consequences.
The centrality of regional co-operation in this strategy, and the critical role that economic underdevelopment plays in fostering conflict will have significant implications for the Middle East and the Maghreb.
The EU must concentrate on these areas because it is a magnet for migrant labour from all conflict areas in Europe, Africa and Asia (only a very small percentage travel to the United States).
This makes the question of immigration policies central to any EU strategy. The long-term reduction of illegal immigration into the EU can only be achieved by assisting the economic development of those regions producing migrant labour. But EU member states must urgently fulfil the commitments made at Tampere in 1999 to develop a coherent, EU-wide immigration policy. Because of our ageing population, we need a healthy infusion of labour to guarantee economic growth – the United States has been cherry-picking the global labour force for many decades. Unless the EU adopts similar policies, it is bound to decline as a global economic power. The cultural fears of Europe’s indigenous populations arising from immigration issues need answers that also satisfy our long-term economic requirements.
The crisis over Iraq in the run up to war demonstrated beyond doubt that where the US has an ability to formulate and execute decisive policy initiatives, the European Union does not.
Over issues such as Iraq in which the US bids to define an entire foreign policy strategy, EU member states (critically the three most influential) revert to foreign policies framed by national interests. This neutralises the ability of the EU’s institutions to modify the US strategy in any respect.
The present US administration works actively to undermine a European coherence by playing on our insecurities, e.g. by proclaiming Europe’s division into two irreconcilable and hostile blocs, one old and one new. The division is fatuous and inaccurate (the ‘new’ bloc is led by Europe’s most enduring state while public opinion in New Europe is decisively hostile to American policy in the Middle East). But such is Europe’s self-doubt that we begin to believe it.
All this flows from the ability of the US, the world’s most powerful economy, to project its political energy into military force through a single agency, a presidential administration bolstered by a sympathetic Congress. The diverse interests of America’s 50 states are rarely if ever reflected in foreign policy. The diverse interests of the EU’s members are always reflected in foreign policy.
It does not follow, however, that the EU member states share no concrete interests which could and should act as a powerful adhesive. If applied correctly, this could transform Europe’s enormous economic power into a much greater global influence. On many of the most contentious issues like the Israeli/Palestine question, Britain, Spain, Italy, France and Germany are much closer to one another than to the US.
I cannot paper over the difficulties which the British relationship with the United States poses for the EU. I do not believe that Blair acts as a bridge and London’s primary commitment to Washington makes the development of any common European strategy extremely difficult.
Similarly, however, French particularism is immensely problematic, especially its support for the CAP. The abolition of the CAP would be the single most beneficial policy that the EU could undertake – it would put the US on the back foot regarding its farm subsidy policy but it would also show a tremendous commitment to an equitable global market – until we do this, the outside world will look at us with considerable contempt as merely a slightly more palatable version of the US.
I have not addressed the CAP issue below because the responses would be entirely predictable.
But on issues closer to home where the unique value of the EU can be readily appreciated, the long-term strategic interests of the member states are almost identical. By attending to these interests, Europe will maintain good relations with the US while becoming an alternative pole of attraction for the rest of the world.