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Informal General Affairs and External Relations Council 2-3/5/03: Contribution on the issue of EU-USA Relations by Kalypso Nicolaidis


EU Foreign Ministers informal meeting  on Transatlantic Relations
Contribution from Kalypso Nicolaidis, University of Oxford

Living with our Differences

It is telling that the war in Iraq has changed the very way the transatlantic question is habitually posed in Europe from “how to resolve US-EU conflicts” to “how should we deal with American power”?  Differences  that were simply taken as factors in the global and regional orders are now exposed as our central concern: the overwhelming asymmetry of military power between the United States and the European Union (and indeed the rest of the world); and the divisions within the EU as to what to do about it. There is of course a need to patch things up both on the trans-atlantic and trans-european front –the two are interconnected. To be constructive we need to ask: what should we try or not try to do together in the next few months, on what basis and how?  The debate  Convention on the future of Europe has put forth a host of suggestions on how to move the CFSP forward as a precondition for improving transatlantic relations. Other, non constitutional suggestions, abound. That the central goal is for the EU to acquire a more unified voice is taken for granted.

My purpose here is to make a simple point: a prerequisite for doing things together is to learn to live with our differences. This is true between the EU and the US where we need to define a constructive and conscious division of labour in tackling some of the most pressing problems before us and creating a more secure and just world. This is also true within the EU where we need to learn to disagree better, and moreover to draw strength from our diversity. Intra-EU diversity in turn can be better exploited to foster transatlantic cooperation.

EU vs US: Counterbalance? Ally? World Partner? Alternative?

The current discourse in Europe on how to deal with the United States is ripe with traditional balance of power thinking. The French have brought back to the fore the old Gaullist theme of counterweight or counterbalance to the US. The Belgian and Germans follow suit soto voce. On the other side, the British and the “other Europe” proclaim their continued loyalty to the alliance and argue that being “inside the tent” is the most effective way to constrain or tame the US: balancing vs bandwagoning as the two traditional responses to hegemony.  It is important to note what the two sides have in common: in both cases, the strategy is about influencing the US, from without or from within, curbing its unilateralism, making the case for multilateralism. In the context of the Iraq crisis, some have argued that France and the UK only disagreed on means not on ends. If this is true, it certainly has not pervaded public discourse and perception.
Perhaps at this broad level the EU should not be too ambitious. Europeans need not agree on a general concept or a label for their strategy viz the US.  Each member state will continue to have its diplomatic culture and slogans, notions which chime with its public opinion. Nevertheless, ministers may ask, what ideas may help both side moves towards each other?

Perhaps Europeans could agree on one thing, that is to move beyond such balance of power thinking. The EU approach to US power should not be defined in structural terms—unipolar vs multipolar world, friends vs rivals. If clash there is between the current US administration and some governments in Europe this is a clash in civilisation (see G.Marshall fund and Pew Polls, 2002). It is the very sense that we share mainly the same values (rule of law, democratic self determination, human rights as individual rather than collective rights), but that we disagree on how to promote them consistently, that has made the recent dispute so acrimonious. The US does not qualify as the EU’s “other” (if the EU needed one at all it has its own past);  Nor can the EU’s values-based foreign policy (art 11, TEU) be captured by another power’s reading of these same values.

Most importantly, the EU’s position vis a vis the US can only be contingent on the policies and attitudes of the US itself. It is bound to vary in time, with administration in power, external circumstances and across issues.  Therefore, Europeans should define the relationship in terms of ad-hoc Madisonian checks and balances, whereby respective roles oscillate  on a case by case basis.

The Belgian government’s recent call for an equal partnership is attractive if it represents a commitment to complementarity rather than rivalry, but may yet be too ambitious and premature in the current of transatlantic relations. To the rest of the world, however, the EU’s ambition can be to represent an alternative beacon to the US as a more predictable and more consistent actor - back to the EU as world partner of a decade ago. The new constitution needs to better convey the inclusive and extraverted ambition of the EU both as one of its core values and raison d’etre and through specific mechanism and strategies.
The EU as a civilian power with military assets.

In the wake of the Iraq war and at this crucial constitutional moment, can European diplomats agree anew on some of the relevant parameters for this global role? On both sides of the Atlantic Robert Kagan has come to provide the intellectual benchmark - reflecting the view of the current US administration and a great part of the US foreign policy establishment and scholarship. Accordingly, Europeans, rather than humbly and gratefully accepting that their Kantian paradise can only survive in a Hobbesian world thanks to American military strength, are trying to make a virtue out of necessity by propounding their own, alternative and he believes naive view of international affairs.

Of course, Europeans must acknowledge that he is right on at least two counts. That the EU has succeeded in building a zone of peace; and that it has done so under the umbrella of the US security guarantee in the last half century. Beyond these points,  EU politicians must articulate a collective response to Robert Kagan so as to be better be understood in Washington through EU lens. Can they  agree on the following propositions?

1. As it stands today, the EU is not Kantian because  it is (militarily) weak, it is (militarily) weak because it is Kantian. If valuing the sources of power other than military force underpins the EU internally then it must  also do so externally.  This is the EU’s great lesson, the result of a collective learning process, not a second best. Europeans do not defend the rule of law and institutions or question the role of military force as a means of resolving conflict because they are weak although of course, there is no denying that the law serves the interest of the weak. Rather, Europeans have chosen not to go down this route, preferring instead to allocate significant resources to ambitious social programs.  This philosophy is increasingly being translated into an EU foreign policy approach, where nation-building and a more generous – if still insufficient – aid budget are seen as the external corollary of states that are active in the domestic arena.

2. The EU is not wielded to pacifism but to peacemaking. The historical experience of European states has promoted an explicit recognition of the fact not only that fighting wars is of little use if the subsequent peace is not won, but also that war itself is a recognition of failure. For Europeans, conflict avoidance and prevention is the name of the game. Yet, this does not preclude the development and deployment of military force, and therefore the expansion of defense and intervention capacity as discussed in the Convention. But it implies that is to be done only as a necessary prerequisite to the deployment of civilian tools and at the service of civilian goals. Civilian powerhood refers not only to the civilian means of foreign policy – as the favourite but not only instruments of influence - but also to the civilian ends of intervention, notably reconstruction. In this sense, civilian powerhood is compatible with increased military strength, if member states in the EU chose such a route.

3. The world beyond is EU-compatible. Ours is a world that is far from being a “Hobbesian2 landscape beyond the Kantian European island.  It is closer to a pre-Kantian world with a great number of Hobbesian islands, in the form of rogue states, failed states or local zones of conflicts. The progressive socialisation of governing elites as well as the growing interconnections between civil societies around the world has meant that  zones of peace and democracy by contagion coexist with zones of chronic instability. This does not make the terrorist threat less real. Clearly, rogue states and other Hobbesian realities need to be dealt with. But we must consider that our very actions in these cases will themselves contribute to the Hobbesian vs Kantian character of the international system. The great majority of countries that have affirmed their commitment to or at least their reliance on international organisations must be taken at their word.
A US-EU division of labor? Along which lines and to what extent? And how explicit should it be?

Irrespective of the policies of its individual member states, the EU as a whole will not change the fundamental  attitude of the US to its sole superpower status; but it can suggest a more optimal division of labour, either by doing its own thing or by striking bargains with the US. A division of labor drawing on our respective strength and inclinations as well as simply acknowledging our divergent policy concerns. Complementarities exists along various dimensions:

1) Geographical: Both the US and the EU are global actors with regional strategies. The EU must reassure Washington of its commitment to global order. At the same time, for the EU to recognize and proclaim that its next strategic priority will be to export justice and stability to its own “zone of peace” would not mean retreating in a regional role while leaving the global stage to the US. The global impact of progressively expanding the EU’s zone of peace and prosperity cannot be underestimated. First through enlargement, the EU’s most powerful foreign policy tools: the prospect of membership for Turkey would constitute the most powerful signal that the EU is indeed a “world partner”. But the EU cannot expand forever. Beyond, the  EU’s wider neighbourhood should be the grand project of the next decade and the next frontier of its constitutional ambitions.

2) Functional: Cartoons, pride and prejudice have obscured a crucial point. When it comes to global intervention, the different policy agendas of the US and EU have led, through painful trial and error in the last few years, to a rather productive division of labor between the front-end and the back-end of missions. There is nothing wrong with Europeans continuing to invest in reconstruction and stabilisation, anticipating the requirements of nation-building in conflict-prone regions – from policing to support in developing a legal infrastructure. Good cop-bad cop routines can be effective, so as competition in winning ‘hearts and minds’. But the EU must stubbornly keep on the table the core bargain eschewed in the case of Iraq :  for the US to recognize limitations of its own power and the need for pluralism in world governance in exchange for the EU helping to legitimize this power and mobilizing its own civilian capacities. Why shouldn’t Europeans accept to do the dishes if Americans consult on the menu?

3) Temporal: The long term is the EU’s comparative advantage and prevention should  be its response to US’s preemptive strategy. Since 9/11 US policy makers have made much of dealing with root-causes. But this requires engagement, cooperation and assistance, rather than containment and coercion.  The less democratic EU does it better. Its machinery is not subject to short term Union-wide electoral cycles requiring to show results on the internal and external fronts. Since the measure of success in the prevention field is that there is nothing to report, this strategy is not likely to win much votes. Similarly, micro involvement and assistance, requiring the acquisition of detailed local knowledge is unglamorous and painstaking. Nevertheless, the EU needs to spend more on these cost-effective approaches and explain their logic to its publics.

The EU mosaic: can weakness be turned into strength?

The standard account these days is that Europeans agree on most things – including the above description of EU comparative advantage and most topics on the global governance agenda- except how to deal with American power in times of crisis. The standard response is, unsurprisingly to tinker with institutions and processes to mould a single purpose out of the EU mosaic: institutions and mechanisms that can enhance the likelihood of a “European reflex” (consult first, early and intensively); institutional machinery to foster a more unified voice in foreign policy, emulating to the extent possible the relative success strategy of the trade area  (including foreign affairs minister with double accountability and joint European civil service). The arguments have been well rehearsed and are now translated into constitutional reform. Yet neither a treaty article nor even in the short term institutional habits are likely to change deeply entrenched national diplomatic cultures. The obligation of loyalty has been in the treaties since Maastricht. Is it not more likely to become the rule if the Union focuses on the causes and occurrences of “disloyalty” and adopts practices which treat divergence as complementarity rather than confrontation?

Agreement to disagree. Heads of States have little incentive to consult with their European colleagues if they fear that they will be precluded from acting on their own in case of disagreement, or perhaps worse, that if there is agreement, this will only be on bland minimal positions or actions. This was the dilemma on both side during the Iraq saga. If Europe as a first resort is to have any meaning therefore, there must be an understanding that member states can agree to disagree without mutual accusations of letting the Union down. Does this mean deciding that the Union will only act in relatively consensual areas  (eg Bosnia etc.)? Does it mean a generalisation of coalitions of the willing, constructive abstention and enhanced cooperation in foreign policy? Does it mean a carving out of areas of foreign policy between member states? Or simply a new approach to “multi-voice” declaratory diplomacy?

Multipolar EU. At the institutional level, turning diversity into strength implies a definite commitment to a multipolar EU with strong coordinating mechanisms (albeit around the new foreign minister). In this light, rotation should not entirely be abandoned.

Making special relationship work  for the Union. Special relationships between individual or groups of member states and outside actors may rest on history or geography; they may be conjunctural or structural; rely on personal, cultural or bureaucratic ties. They may reflect different allegiances linked to different views as to how to deal with the rest of the world. They can also reflect world politics of the moment (eg Chirac’s popularity in the Arab world). The question here is whether and how a set of special relationship at a given moment in time can be made to work for the Union to address a particular problem. How can individual member states put their credibility at the service of the Union, without necessarily acting and speaking in its name?

Diplomatic mutuality. Part of the answer lies in greater mutual trust and mutual knowledge between national diplomacies in the EU, a deeper respect for each others’ positions –even obsessions. Paradoxically, the problem lies in the fact that meetings at all levels, from diplomats to political directors, ministers and heads of states concentrate on basic commonalities and the crafting of compromises. Instead, more of these meetings could be devoted to the  plain-speaking exposition of  different national priorities and the concerns that lie behind them (this might have avoided Jacques Chirac ill-adviced outburst against new members).
The democratic card. One of the lessons from Iraq is that European public opinions may not lag behind but lead in this spirit of mutuality. When the history of Europe is written 20 years from now, we may well see a fundamental divergence between diplomatic history and social history. This crisis should motivate EU leaders to explore new avenues of communication with EU citizens on foreign policy but also in facilitating trans-european debate over these issues.

Microcosmos EU. Ultimately, the EU’s claim to fame is that it is one of the most formidable machines for managing differences peacefully ever invented. The EU’s global influence lies in its power of attraction more than its projection of power.  Many see the EU as a model for both regional and global governance, not a model to be promoted or emulated wholesale, but to serve as an inspiration. In this sense it may be more appropriate to speak of the EU as a pioneer in long term inter-state peace building, a pioneer acting through trial and error and thus designing options for peaceful governance. The EU, and its  experience can serve as a well of precedents, good or bad, exportable or not, for the rest of the world. The success of its attempts at conflict resolution in the rest of the world lies with its practice of the politics of recognition and the politics of empathy inside its borders. The characteristic of the EU as a microcosmos, managing within itself many of the tensions present in the rest of the world constitutes its greatest source of legitimacy.

Finally then, how can such a European “constructive diversity” contribute to fostering progress specific areas the transatlantic relations?

1) A Transatlantic Strategy for the Middle East. According to Blair, his hand would have been strengthened if the EU could have pressed Washington to recognise that "dealing with Iraq has to into a broader vision of the Middle East that also encompasses a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." What he should have added is that this is an area where differences must be exploited to their fullest. First because, in a final settlement process, the division of labour between the EU and the US is clear but requires intense coordination: the former must deliver the Palestinians, the latter deliver Israel. But as importantly, because different EU member states can if not deliver at least use their clout respectively with different Arab states, ruling families, non-state actors and sub-regions.

2) Revisiting the United Nations: The time has come to revisit the premises of the UN Charter regarding the link between enforcement of its fundamental norms (human rights, non proliferation) and the use of force – or coercive  diplomacy. Europeans should not be associated with the status quo and the upholding of traditional sovereignty norms, while the US would stand for freedom and the promotion of human rights. Indeed this has not been the case in the 90s from Kosovo to Sierra Leone. But to be consistent with its loyalty to the UN and multilateralism, should the EU not campaign for the institutionalisation within multilateral institutions of a generalised strategy of human rights-based intervention? In doing so, the fact that different attitudes to the use of force coexist within the EU itself will be a key assets.

3) Doha Round and Transaltantic economic cooperation. Global economic governance is clearly an area where the US and the EU must rekindle their cooperation. But they must resist the syrens of introverted transatlantic initiatives, free trade areas and the likes. Instead focussing on a joint commitment to the Doha round and to the prosperity of developing countries. A good place to start would be the promotion of regulatory development, where the US and the EU have different and complementary experiences and resources to offer: the USs standards of regulatory consultation; the EU experience in mutual recognition, eg the management of continued regulatory diversity. For instance, the managed liberation of the movement of people as professionals (temporary) through the mutual recognition of qualification, licensing and certification requirements is high on the list of many third world countries. The US and the EU could commit to the negotiation of “open” MRAs and devise procedures for their multilateralisation, not only as a means of reinforcing transatlantic ties but as the basis for addressing the needs of developing countries for greater access to the benefits of globalisation.

4) Reinvigorating transatlantic networks. Finally, for differences between Europe and the United States to be constructively exploited rather than denied requires much deeper and sustained dialogue between all levels of our societies and political classes. European leaders must combat anti-Americanism in Europe and the rest of the world for fear that it might become a self fulfilling prophecy and drive the U.S. out of multilateral forums. Clearly however, the different nations of Europe would do so in a different voice.

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