The European Union should concentrate on forging a common foreign and defense policy. In this area, the national ambitions are relics from bygone times and change is overdue. Only a united and empowered European Union can be an equal partner to the United States and carry its part of the responsibility for the future of democracy. The development of the European Union is still hanging in the balance. It is not a matter of detailed economic or political calculation but depends on the moral capital available.
Today the Founding Fathers of the EU would have considered all their
expectations fulfilled or surpassed. The Union has not only realized an open
market economy, converted a couple of autocratic countries to democracy and
established a high standard for human rights. It has also served as a model for
corresponding endeavors on other continents.
The European Union is in a key position but has its hands full with internal problems. Has-been European great powers strut, alone or in groups, around the international scene as if the good old days were here again. Global politics is still seen as a zero-sum game, a short-term competition for influence and economic gain. National egoism seems to be the watchword for the EU-policy of many countries, a narrow-minded but infectious attitude. Until recently, opposing America almost became a conditioned reflex on the French model.
Already in 1957, Paul-Henri Spaak (1899–1972), Belgian statesman and general secretary of NATO, curtly stated: “there are only two kinds of countries in Europe today, the small ones who know it and the small who do not know”. A healthy realism is eventually making its appearance, not least in France. Nicholas Sarkozy, the new President, distances himself from arrogant national self-sufficiency and stresses the role of the United States as the leading democracy in the world. France may be readying itself for a profound change.
The call for help sounds ever higher from countries where the government has to be rebuilt from the ground up, with or without democracy. The European Union is developing its capability to project ‘soft power’ by preventive action. How this will work out is an open question; at the time of writing the outcome of interventions in Lebanon and Congo is pending. In general, the actual application of force still falls to the United States, which is becoming increasingly reluctant to engage itself in unpopular international policing.
The United States is undergoing a moral reappraisal which exposes all the rifts in society. In Europe, sensitive antennae are required to detect weak signals in this direction. But I believe that ultra-liberalism has passed its best before date in Europe, too. Europeans, though, have not yet achieved a common consciousness which would provide a base for a passionate debate as well as for genuine solidarity within the Union.
The future of the European Union is still hanging in the balance. In many ways, the EU resembles an immature democracy. Most people favor broad cooperation but few are committed to the wider community. The Union is becoming the scapegoat for the failures of the national politicians while the voters persevere in their lack of interest. The Brussels bureaucrats have not made things better by occasionally over-exploiting their mandates.
More than anything else, the European Union is a moral challenge, a measure of our moral capital, of our ability to play plus-sum games. Under conditions of unprecedented complexity, religions and values must be reconciled, language barriers surmounted, old enmities and prejudices overcome. A clutch of nationalities with century-old traditions of hostility and bad will are forced to agree among themselves and on their relations with the surrounding world.
In the European Union, the fertility varies around 1.5; Italy and Spain are
at rock bottom with 1.3. The population of Russia, Ukraine and Japan is already
dropping whereas the United States features a fertility of 2.1. The poor
immigrants probably compensate for the fertility deficit of the well off. A
similar relation certainly holds in Europe too.
Manuel Barroso, the Chairman of the European Commission, recently announced that up to 2050 the number of retirees (above 65 years) will increase by 58 millions while the active population (15- 64 years) will decrease by 48 millions. No response has so far been elicited by this distress call. The imbalances cannot be solved by immigration without the risk of a dangerous discontinuity in the societal development.
The endemic unemployment in many West European countries indicates that something has gone wrong. In Germany, one half of the unemployed are long-term, whereas in the United States the corresponding proportion is one out of ten. The safety nets have become hammocks; unemployment benefits, supplemented by incidental untaxed income successfully compete with wage earnings. A rising proportion of the registered unemployed are dropouts, unable or unwilling to work; their claims on societal solidarity, if any, derive from their unemployability. But in many countries, the eighteen year old are steered directly towards the support system and early on learn to consume without working.
Within the EU there is enduring pressure to harmonize taxation, social welfare, industrial working conditions and so on. Such legislation, at best, brings only marginal utility and sometimes it is outright harmful, tarnishing the image of the Union. A strict adherence to the principle of subsidiarity is the only viable policy. Instead of socio-political fine-tuning, the Union should concentrate on forging a common foreign and defense policy. In this area, the national ambitions are relics from bygone times and change is overdue.
The principle of subsidiarity has been unanimously accepted by the European Community, but will time and again be called into question both by the central bureaucracy and by articulate spokesmen for underprivileged groups. If the United States can be taken as a precedent, the pressure will be intense, sustained and well-nigh irresistible. In Europe, though, old-fashioned nationalism and newly-awakened regionalism provide formidable counterforces which may yet save the day – if they do not blow up the prospective Union for good.
The European Union has presently come close to a standstill even if the
member countries stitched together a meager compromise on the Reform Treaty, a
sort of quasi-constitution. It was promptly sabotaged by an Irish referendum,
although Ireland owes the Union its present prosperity. After much haggling the
treaty was finally secured in November 2009. The Union now has a ‘President’ and
a ‘Foreign Minister’ but their authority is very limited.
The recruitment of new members is the one thing which has kept up the dynamics of the Union and that too is threatened by a xenophobic backlash. Internal consolidation is not necessarily at odds with enlargement. On the contrary, by continued growth the European Union has fulfilled its mission to expand and deepen the plus-sum game in our part of the world. Without this challenge, the Union would have drowned in qualified bickering about minutiae. Only a higher purpose can keep the Union together and turn the members into enduring plus-sum players.
At present, the EU is in the grip of enlargement fatigue. Muslims evoke allergic reactions, which reflects on the negotiations with Turkey. This indicates a lack of trust in the vitality of our own values. A defense-oriented strategy vis-à-vis Islam is anyhow obsolete. There are approximately twenty million Muslims within the EU borders; the overwhelming majority are peaceful people who can hardly be expelled. The Muslims do not need to convert to Christianity but they can and they should become good citizens and democrats. Turkish membership provides a unique opportunity for the European Union to realize its mission. Olli Rehn, the Finnish EU Commissioner for Enlargement, is in Europe’s Next Frontiers (2006) making a forceful plea for preserving the Turkish option.
In a wider perspective, one can imagine a network of associated countries which would enjoy different degrees of close cooperation without participating in the joint decision making (Norway, Switzerland and Greenland are already in that position). A long list of candidates would range from the rather eligible, like Ukraine, Moldavia and Georgia, to the less plausible such as Russia, Israel and the Maghreb countries. A strong opinion within the EU countries believes that an associated status suffices for Turkey. This would seriously compromise the potential influence of the Union in the Near East and in the Maghreb. Turkey should be accepted in the EU. There are risks but to avoid risk-taking is often a greater risk.
Common positions on foreign policy and security issues could be controversial
but in due course they would create a distinct identity, internally as well as
around the world. A community must clearly distinguish itself from its
surroundings to earn the respect of its neighbors and the loyalty of its
members. A joint appearance on the international scene would at one stroke put
the European Union on an equal footing with USA. That would be in the best
interests of the United States, too.
A pan-European membership in NATO should be the self-evident first step in this direction. But the aversion of a few smallish countries to the American led coalition makes a breach in the European front and further undermines the influence of the European Union on NATO decisions and policies. The political leaders lack the will or the capability to turn around the conservative opinion in the countries referred to.
Resistance to the integration of foreign relations and the armed forces is massive, though the Reform Treaty ventures a few hesitating steps in that direction. In trade, the EU-commission has a strong mandate but in foreign policy it is a supernumerary. The European Council of government heads, too, is devoid of power in these matters and mostly acts as a discussion club. A serious international crisis is needed to force a rethink among the peoples and the relevant bodies. A single EU-representative in the Security Council of the United Nations would be a significant move.
We cannot have a Europe without Europeans. We sorely need nationally rooted
movements which speak for the Union and consistently approach the political
problems from the Union point of view. The preconditions are better than one
could expect. A recent study shows that a European identity is in the offing,
particularly among the young. But constructive proposals are easily drowned by a
cacophony of discord from injured special interests and short-sighted populists.
A fresh initiative is called for from committed opinion leaders in the
individual member countries. In democracies, a small group can eventually
achieve a breakthrough if they strongly believe in a worthwhile cause.
The European Union is facing a historic choice. We can drift into an introverted, parochial stance, jealously protecting our local turf. Or we can set about to reform the decision making structure and confer a strong security and foreign policy mandate on the European Union. Immigration and aid to the LDCs should also be elevated to the EU-level. Then the Union could fully participate in preparing the ground for a better, democratic world. This would of course serve its own long-term interests and would require only good cooperation between the members of the Union – still a formidable moral challenge.
New funds of moral capital are required to safeguard sufficient cohesion during the advance from a collection of nation states to a regional federation or confederation on the EU model. The European Union has successfully projected democracy to its surroundings and surpassed expectations in many other ways. But the feeling of community is still underdeveloped which seriously restricts the international influence of the Union.
The breakdown of the Soviet Union opened a window of opportunity for expansion but simultaneously undermined the cohesion of the Union. The disappearance of the outside threat started the regression of the core countries into parochial nationalism and internal squabbling. One should be cautious when talking about historic turning points; here and now the future is always at stake. But we have forfeited a unique opportunity to create an exemplary form of government if the European nations insist on a sterile status quo and refuse to accept the challenge of an integrated Union.
Let’s be honest: It is not a matter of detailed economic or political calculations but simply of cooperative morale. Are we capable of subordinating national interests, can we suppress atavistic emotions and are we up to the development of an overarching, supranational plus-sum game? All this calls for an increase of moral capital and would constitute one step on the road to sustainable global collaboration. A worldwide sense of community still belongs to the region of utopias. This is another good reason for Europe to concentrate its scarce moral resources on the EU project which today lies at the limit of our capability.
The future of the European Union is pivotal. A failure would make our part of
the world impotent and deprive us of control of our own affairs. Europe would
also fail in its mission as a guide for supra-national consolidation. The EU has
been the model for regional cooperation around the world. NAFTA and ASEAN are
rather well-established free trade areas whereas the AU (African Union) and
UNASUR (a Latin American Union) are still in the starting blocks. A setback in
Europe would further delay the indispensable consolidation on other continents.
In future, the competitive edge will emerge from a superior capability to play plus-sum games at all levels and in all contexts. A momentous challenge is to devise cooperative rules for the nations within a developing superpower structure. The experience of the European Union shows that it is a lengthy learning process – the US model cannot be copied outright. It will take time and time is short. Even if the nuclear threat recedes and the population explosion fizzles out, there are other known and unknown instabilities in the offing that may upset the political and ecological balance. There is no time to loose, either for the EU or for other potential superpowers.
Only a united and empowered European Union can be an equal partner to the United States and take on its part of the responsibility for the future of humanity – liberty, justice, prosperity and security on a global scale. Such a democratic mission is, to my mind, the only way to protect our inalienable heritage. It is also the only passage to sustainable progress for less privileged groups and nations. Violent conversion is out of the question but unacceptable behavior has to be checked. A sufficient military preparedness exerts a salutary influence on potential troublemakers.
The success of the European Union would entail the arrival of a new, strong and responsible actor on the world scene. The globalization of trade and finance is an encouraging signal of worldwide cooperation in the making, but we are in for a long wait before our moral evolution creates the preconditions for a political analogue.