Whither goes Europe?

Σάββατο, 25 Σεπτεμβρίου 2010 09:24
The European Union is again in the headlines – and once more for reasons that do not flatter its public image. The squabble between the President of the European Commission and the French President is but the latest symptom of a persisting malaise – with the controversy over the handling of the Rom issue bringing to the fore the underlying tensions between national governments and Brussels bureaucracy in general, and in particular the claim of the bigger member countries to be treated as “more equal than others”.
This should not come as a surprise. Today’s EU is far removed from the closely knit, federally oriented union, to which leaders such as Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet and Alcide De Gasperi aspired sixty years ago. It is a much looser organization; not as yet fully formed, but clearly not destined to fulfill the aspirations of is “founding fathers”.
Of course, the warning signs were there from the very beginning. The defining moment probably came with the rejection, in August 1954, by the French National Assembly of a draft treaty setting up a European Defense Community and with the subsequent scrapping of a complementary text, meant to establish a European Political Community. The message French parliamentarians thus sent was loud and clear: France was not willing to relinquish control over the main components of its national power and to thus sacrifice its traditional nation-state status on the altar of European integration. It was a message that, famously encapsulated by De Gaulle in the slogan “l’ Europe des nations”, became the bedrock of the French approach to European unification; and which, coming from the prime mover of the European project, inevitably influenced the attitude of the other Europeans.
Yet, for a time, the momentous effects of these developments went largely undetected. The truly remarkable achievements in the field of European economic cooperation; the dominant role of France in European affairs, made possible by the pliancy of a divided Germany; the successive EC enlargements, notwithstanding their negative impact on an organization institutionally ill prepared to absorb the new members; and the temporary marginalization of “eurosceptic” Britain gave rise to the illusion that the European Community, although maintaining the veto power of national governments essentially intact in matters of major importance, was nevertheless moving towards “a more perfect union” – and, indeed, that it was already able to act on the international stage as a single entity.
The collapse of the Soviet Empire and the ensuing reunification of Germany put an end to this illusion. For the leaders of the most populous and economically most powerful EU member, the transfer of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin was much more than a change of the seat of government: it was a change of outlook on inter-European relations. Germany was going to pull her weight. She would re-examine her priorities, placing her national interests at the top of the list – as most of the other member-states had, in effect, been doing all along.
As a result, the so-called Franco-German axis – a partnership in which Paris invariably had the upper hand – and the semblance of a European consensus it projected have given place to a rivalry for influence and shifting alliances among EU’s bigger members. Including the UK – whose active participation in these proceedings is greatly facilitated by the propagation within the EU of a minimalist view of European cooperation not very different from the one traditionally held by London.
This said, whither goes Europe? It is clear, that, because of its structural weaknesses, the European Union will not be able to emerge as a major player in world affairs. In fact, in the absence of a central institutional authority – or of a dominant national capital, such as Washington in the NATO context – capable of leading the way and, most importantly, of developing and wielding its hard power, it will inevitably continue to depend fully for its security on the United States. On the other hand, however, it is very probable that, once again, it will manage to muddle through its financial and institutional crisis – and to belie the prophets of its demise While, for the rest, one can confidently predict that the countries that compose it will, in the foreseeable future, remain among the most civilized and prosperous places on earth.

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