Globalist: Divided we grumble: Europe's loss of focus

Posted in Europe | 09-Jun-04 | Author: Roger Cohen| Source: International Herald Tribune

Pierre Lellouche
PARIS For Pierre Lellouche, a center-right French legislator, there is one central factor behind European-American tensions: "Europe is going through a period of weakness and the less we weigh on history the more we rail against the power that determines history. The weaker we are, the more we hit out."

It is an interesting theory. The Iraq war posed an intra-European crisis that was as acute as the trans-Atlantic crisis. The European Union was split. Most member states, if reluctantly, were inclined to support America. Most European citizens, and two of the biggest states, were strongly opposed. So deep was the division that no serious attempt to reach a united EU position was made. Javier Solana, the top EU foreign policy official, became a voice in the wilderness, irrelevant because he represented a vacuum.

This debacle comes at a time when Europe is still casting around for relevance after losing the focus, and room for maneuver between the superpowers, that came with standing at the epicenter of the cold war.

The disarray over Europe's direction coincides with a period of anemic European economic growth, which is running at about half the level of the 4 percent expected this year in the United States. The Continent's comprehensive social security systems are under growing financial pressure as the population ages and heavily regulated economies stagnate. In France, a recent survey by small and medium-size enterprises suggested that more than 70 percent of French youths would be happy to work as "fonctionnaires," or state employees. The appeal of security appears greater than that of risk. More energy goes into preserving acquired rights, including steadily lengthening vacations, than creating new enterprises.

"There is a depression in the European mind," argues Alexandre Adler, a writer and political analyst.

To which, of course, many Europeans would answer that the American mind is afflicted with hubris, one that comes with having an estimated 368,000 military personnel deployed in more than 100 countries around the world; with being a virtually uncontested power; and with exercising an extraordinary cultural and economic influence on the way people live from Beijing to Brasília.

The story of the last year, these Europeans would argue, is one of Iraq's sobering influence on President George W. Bush, who has come to see that American power without the legitimacy conferred by the United Nations has its limits. The French and German position, in other words, has been vindicated by Bush's return to the UN fold and embrace of a fuller Iraqi sovereignty after June 30 than initially envisaged.

This view may appear seductive. But it is not persuasive to Lellouche, who sees Europeans condemned by their lack of unity to the role of reacting to the exercise of American power. The continent is adrift on a "federalist voyage of good feelings," playing the role "of the grand moralizers of the planet," and ignoring the fact that "the peace road only works if everyone wants to take it at the same time," he says.

He argues that France has become a "fearful Republic," its ambitions to counter American power contained within a European project it does not fully embrace.

"Are we really ready to give up the permanent French seat and right of veto on the UN Security Council and hand it to an EU Foreign Minister?" he asked.

That is a central question as Europe debates its future. The 25-member EU exists in a kind of halfway house where national sovereignty has been ceded by many member states in critical economic areas, but the retention of sovereignty in other areas, including foreign and security policy, is viewed by several as of inalienable importance.

For Europe to have real weight, the kind that would focus the minds of American presidents in matters of war and peace, another leap of integration appears necessary. As Simon Serfaty, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, put it in Paris last week: "Europe is a power in the world, but not a world power."

Serfaty was speaking at one of a series of discussions coordinated by Lellouche, called "Liberty Week." The focus was French-American and European-American relations, and Serfaty's analysis was acerbic: "If Europe wants to avoid subordination to America, it has to unite. In the end, the EU is subordinated because it is weak."

But the prospects for any rapid integration of the EU on foreign and military policy appear remote. Europeans are not convinced of the probability or imminence of any mortal threat; any serious increase in military budgets is therefore unlikely.

The new post of European foreign minister may be created under the draft constitutional treaty being finalized, but how much real power the position will wield remains an open question.

Britain and the newly admitted central European states remain, for different reasons, wary of the centralization of EU power and committed to the view that America's presence in Europe is beneficent.

The prevailing tone today in trans-Atlantic relations is one of conciliation after the brawl. Everyone from President Jacques Chirac of France to the American national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is singing the praises of the Atlantic Alliance and speaking of what can be achieved when allies work together.

But the imbalance in power, the differences in threat perception and the diverg