Paper for the Eliamep-Conference: ‚Global, Social and Political Europe’ in Nafplios, Greece, 28th June to 1st July 2007: Europe as a global actor

I. Europe is a global actor already, yet not visible

When considering the question whether Europe is a global actor or how it could become one, one can easily argue that Europe, more precisely: the EU, is already a global actor, yet not visible (enough) in many respects. In short, the EU is strong, visible and united in all policy fields, in which it acts in a acts in a supranational setting, most evidently the singles market, the euro, common agricultural policy and trade policy. Also, with Schengen, the EU is increasingly visible as zone for common home & justice policies and as a single travel zone. Things are different when it comes to foreign policy. In many respects, the EU already does have a common foreign policy in terms of development polices, neighbourhood policies or even common action, i.e. with regard to Iran, Lebanon etc. And it is quite successful in these policies and actions. The whole peaceful transformation of the eastern part of Europe through the recent enlargement process is probably one of the biggest foreign policy successes in history. However, in foreign policy, the EU is not visible (or hardly visible) and, thus, cannot ‘cash’ the gratification of success.

When it comes to foreign policy, national traditions are still very dominant and the wish to ‘merger’ foreign policy is limited. The EU, indeed, could improve its external representation and visibility, if it were to take decisive decisions and to really ‘pool sovereignty’, as it did with the euro. In this respect, the problem to get a visible foreign policy for the EU resembles to the problems the EU faced with the introduction of the euro: 13 directors of national central banks, especially the German one, Pöhl and Tietmeyer, were not particularly keen to give up power and competence in favour of the director of the ECB. And today, Axel Weber, head of the Bundesbank, is much less known as Mr. Pöhl and Tietmeyer were, just because his position is, indeed, much less influential than the one his predecessors had. Today, the pattern is the same for the current foreign ministers, who have vested self-interest to keep the position of a EU foreign minister limited, in order to secure individual/ national powers – and the member states (and the ministers themselves) are lacking political will to change something substantial about this.

If they were to do so, a couple of things could be improved. The EU could think of merging its seat and shares within the IMF in order to get greater visibility; it could think of a European Security Council to discuss the biggest security questions; it could go for a single representation of the Euro-zone within the G-8. It could ‘merge’ its representation in the UN-Security Council with respect to the non-permanent seats. And it could even consider, over time, to lay the foundations for a European army. Of course, none of these decisions would be easy to realise (but has the euro been a simple undertaking?), and I do not ignore the many problems stemming from these suggestions. The point is only, that, if the EU really wishes to move ahead with a single-voice approach in foreign policy, there are many areas out there, in which the EU could actually improve its visibility and external representation, if the political will were there. And if the EU does not, it should at least consider the loss of influence, if it does not live up to its own potentials. I am personally convinced that the EU had much to gain – also in terms of transparency and visibility for citizens – if it had a ‘single voice’ in, say, the IMF (with the potential, as the biggest ‘stake-holder’, to bring the IMF-headquarter to Europe), or within the G-8. Even if to many this sounds first glance as being perfectly unrealistic, one should not forget that the EU took 30 years from Werner plan to 2002 to realise the euro. When thinking about a ‘single voice’ approach in foreign policy, it is therefore necessary to put the efforts in a realistic time-line. ‘Pooling sovereignty’ in foreign policy within the EU may well be an undertaking for the next 30 years or so, with slow incremental process; it won’t come all of the sudden.

II. The EU and Russia

When thinking about the as global actor, the most important task in the future will be to figure out the relations of the EU to the other world’s biggest player, especially Russia (as it is somehow on the same continent and neighbour) and, of course, the United States of America, allied with Europe since World War II. Of course, China and other players are also important. But Russia and the USA (see point 3 of this presentation) are especially important as they are both the former external federators of the EU – the one, the former USSR, as the ‘negative federator’, providing a fundamental security ‘threat’ as basis and need for European integration (and transatlantic cooperation); and the other, the USA, as the ‘positive federator’, promoting European integration in order to stabilise it precisely against the Soviet threat. Evidently, the relationship of Europe (the EU) with both, Russia and the US, must change with the course history has taken in 1989 and 2001. In a way, they both, Russia and the US need to be in parallel, separated from and newly integrated into the new European foreign policy structures.
Russia matters a lot, especially because of the European energy dependency. And for EU-Russia relations, Germany is key. In a nutshell: a crucial point for future developments will be whether or not Germany ‘goes national’ with its policy towards Russia, or whether Germany will be ready to sort of ‘Europeanise’ its own relations to Russia. For evident historical reasons, Germany has a very privileged relationship with Russia, which, in tendency, resembles a German ‘hegemony’ within European relations to Russia. German has certainly the strongest impact on Russia, but it also the most dependent partner from Russia (also in terms of energy). The point is that one can draw an analogy to the Euro. Germany had, with the D-Mark, the strongest currency among the European currencies and the D-Mark was the anchor currency in the EMS. However, Germany decided to ‘pool’ monetary sovereignty and opted for the euro (despite heavy domestic discussion about ‘abandoning’ the D-Mark), so it basically gave up its ‘hegemonic’ position that it had in monetary policy for a common approach, which revealed to be a ‘win-win’ story for everybody. The point is whether or not Germany is ready and able to do the same with respect to European relations with Russia. EU-relations to Russia are strongly related to energy and energy policy is probably the most important policy field in the future, where the EU should act united as much as it can. Seeking for a common energy policy reminds also the very fundamentals of the EU which started with the ECSC, a community for coal and steel, with the intention to ‘merge’ the resources which are most rare (and of which misuse could lead to war. For oil and gas, the same applies today. A single market and a euro-zone are difficult to imagine without the underpinning of a single energy policy, in which all countries do share the same rights, dependencies and the same standards for energy supply.

III. The EU and the USA: transatlantic partnership on an ‘equal footing’?

The relations between Europe and the US have been continuously changing over the past decade for various and many well-known reasons and need to be readdressed in a fundamental way. The point here is to not be nostalgic about the past, but prepare a new setting for the future.

1. New parameters for the relationship

We tend to neglect the profound changes in perception (and knowledge!) with respect to younger generations when it comes to the old parameters of transatlantic/ international relations that have been valid so far and driving most of our thinking. To start off with one figure: if one polls the sympathy for Russia and the US among German citizens on a 1 to 100 thermometer-curve, Russia comes out with 50% and the US with 51% sympathy. This – somehow dramatically – proves that 18 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the US peace dividend (the gratitude for 40 years of emotional, political, economic, financial, and military engagement) are gone. Other polls show that large part of young people throughout the EU do no know what NATO is nor have they ever seen NATO in action. They have seen the US, but not Russia in war, which means that large parts of reference systems that formerly hold together the Atlantic Alliance during Cold War times has gone – and so has the validity for the international system and institutions that have been set up post WW II. In Turkey, ‘sympathy’ for the US ranges 6% which is another key figure for the shift of thinking and in values (Turkey is a long-standing NATO member!) when it comes to international relations. All this has to be taken into consideration when it comes to reassessing and readdressing transatlantic relations

2. The problem with ‘equal footing’

The biggest problem in EU-US relations is the fact that an increasing number of Europeans wishes to be more on an ‘equal footing’ in international politics with the US – but that this is not always easy to realise in concrete terms. Partly, the faults are on the European side. It is ‘chicque’ in European foreign policy to declare its own country ‘best friend of the US’. This is the position that the Czech as much as the Dutch or Danes or Slovaks – let alone the UK – claim for their country. In short: the EU is far from being united when it comes to how behave with respect to the US – and many do not dare to take different positions too openly. (Footnote: My personal experience from 10 years of international conferences is that Europeans DO speak differently on both, policy issues and the US, when no Americans are in the room, than when there ARE Americans in the room.) So there is a European problem to unite positions when it comes to the US and transatlantic relations (as many do not want to harm the US), and when it comes to creating a ‘reality’ the US could deal with, i.e. giving them the one ‘position’ (or phone number…..) the US many times wishes.

However, there is a US fault-line, too, as often, when the EU, indeed, gets its act together (so when it does precisely what the US wishes), the American reaction is often ambivalent, to say the least: this has been so with the introduction of the euro, as much when ESDP has seen substantial progress or even when the EU talked about the ‘Constitution’ that has also been seen as a ‘security risk’ for the US in some circles. The situation resembles the one of a child that grows out of the family (but sometimes still need the parent’s credit card). The EU and the US must learn to somehow move out of each other in a reciprocal and mutually encouraging momentum. The US will ultimately cede to be balancing power on the European continent and must accept this without nostalgia; and it’s Europe’s duty to create the reality of a European ‘single voice’.

3. NATO as a case study

Perhaps the necessary changes in transatlantic relations can be best explained when looking at NATO and the EU-NATO relationship. In a way, the talk about ‘improving EU-NATO’ relations is structurally misleading and one should stop it, as both institutions cannot be compared: NATO is a single-issue, international institution; the EU is a comprehensive and (partly) supranational entity. At best, NATO and ESDP can be compared, with ESDP not being the strongest element of the EU. Within an EU-NATO setting, one problem is that (most) of the EU countries ‘talk to themselves’, as there is large congruency in membership. The only country that really matters and which is in NATO and not in the EU is the US. It is precisely because the US is in NATO (and not in the US) that there is a natural tendency of the US to channel policies towards Europe through NATO, but the EU. The problem is, however, that for most of the recent or current transatlantic problems and contingencies, NATO is no longer the most appropriate institution. Firstly, because topics like Iran or Iraq or things like the Chinese arms embargo are not on the NATO agenda. Secondly, because the institutional setting of NATO (unanimity) does NOT allow Europe to ‘voice difference’, when it comes to policy decisions on how to deal with a threat, although this is precisely what European citizens and governments want (and what they experienced during the Iraq war). So NATO makes it systemically and institutionally difficult for Europe to remain friend but ‘voice difference’ with the US.

The point is not that NATO is obsolete (we still need it for article 5). The point is that NATO cannot deliver on what the US wants most on the European continent: when it comes to questions like Turkey or Balkans (Kosovo) or Ukraine, it is the EU that can deliver ultimately peace, prosperity and stability through a membership perspective or active neighbourhood policies, whereas NATO was essential to secure peace (i.e. in the Balkans), but can not offer a future.

All this leads to say that EU and US relations should be put on another setting, also institutionally, in order to better prepare the – different – future of the relationship, rather then wanting to rebuild the past.

IV. Europe in the world

The last short sentence or thought of this presentation is that, whatever Europe does globally and in the world, or whatever it wants to do together with the US, it should learn ‘limbo-dancing’ – meaning that ultimately, the EU, but also the US (or ‘the West’) will loose influence on a global scale. One figure is that by 2050, the US and the EU combined will account for only roughly 7% of world population. This is to say that international relations are about to change drastically, as the ‘West’ will probably no longer set the rules and the tone (nor the institutions?) of the international system of the 21st century. This accounts also for international crisis as the current one on the nuclear proliferation of Iran or other sensitive issues. I do not think that ultimately, the ‘West’ will have the right (nor the power) to impose or to decide for to the rest of the world what they have the right to possess and what not. More importantly, it can not be expected that the other parts of the world will durably allow 7% of population to consume nearly 60% of the world resources (energy, water, metals….). Either the EU (and the US) anticipate actively these changes and promote them, or they risk both to be out-ruled in some time to come. We need to think over the standard sentence of transatlantic relations which is that if only the US and the EU work together, the world is a better place – a sentence which is not so much believed in many other parts of the world.

The EU could have the ambition to become a (soft-) superpower. It could try to go for a sort of (positive) ‘Euro-Nationalism’, if it wants to live up to its potentials. In a multi-polar world of increasing regionalisation and an increasing number of (national) big players (as there are China, India, Brazil, US and Russia), the EU should think about the question of its sustained influence, if it ultimately does renounce on playing a ‘Euro-national’ card and if it shows unable to clearly define ‘European interest’ in a broader sense than a zero-sum game of 27 national interests within the EU. Those reflections should also lead the EU’s thinking of Turkey. Taking Turkey into the EU is probably the most important question in international relations in the 21st century, as the EU is the only political entity that can proof Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisation’ wrong, by taking Turkey into the EU and, thus, by demonstrating, that the EU is not a ‘Christian club’, but a political entity based on rule of law, good governance and human rights, able to promote a moderate European Islam. This is the prominent role of the EU, when it comes to solving the dichotomy between ‘the West’ and the ‘Muslim’ world, which I consider increasingly misleading, and which ought to be overcome, but which may determine large parts of international relations in the 21st century.

Dr. Ulrike Guérot
European Council on Foreign Relations
July 2007