The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Hard question needed in Brussels: are you sure?

As a reply to Patrick's post I would like to make some comments regarding the 'EU-global player' debate. I just wrote an article about this issue but it's in German so I won't post it here. But here are the main points:

The EU consists of Member States (MS) with totally different foreign policy goals and priorities: some Eastern European MS are still worried about their territorial integrity, particularly after the Russia-Georgia crisis. The UK tends to follow the US in matters related to foreign policy. And other MS would like to deepen the relationship with Russia for energy reasons and are generally hesitant to engage in out-of-area operations. I think it is fair to say that it is very unlikely that those divers interests can be captured in a consistent foreign policy agenda. To prove my point: the European Security Strategy offers a great analysis of the current geopolitical situation. But it falls short of developing a strategy, identifying geoplitical goals and targets and where the EU wants to be in 20 years.

Foreign policy issues the EU will probably not manage to formulate common interests. As Patrick pointed rightly out, in trade and commerce realted issues, those common interests have alreday been formulated. Not shy of taking on the mighty US when it comes down to Bananas, steel or distorting practices of US companies, the EU has an agenda and uses its weight to defend its interests. This indicates that in fields where the EU has stakes, they will act. It does not act in fields where the common interests are not identified.

Apart form the diverse interests there is also simply no need for the EU to get its acts together. That is because the US persues a foreign policy that is to a large extent in the EU's interest. And since the US bears the burden and the European voters are reluctant to spend money on defence or military operations, the EU MS keep the US more or less happy with small troop contributions to its operations.

Although the defence expenditures increased in absolute numbers between 1999 and 2009 from 163 billion US $ to 210 billion US $, it actually shrank as percentage of the national budgets from 2,1 % to 1,7% in the same period of time. The effects of the financial crisis on the national bugets will further decrease these numbers.

To sum up:
The EU will not beef up her power projection capabilities because

  1. the EU couldn't agree on what to do with it anyway
  2. there is no need because the US will continue to bear the burden and defend our interests anyway
  3. the voters in the EU are not convinced that we are threatened and therefore will not vote for an increase of the defence budget
I think the hard questions are not needed in Brussels but in Washington.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I'm sure Frederik. I think you make a number of very valid points and I can find fault with none of them. It seems to me though that, in accurately describing the situation as it is, you are merely reinforcing my assertion that hard questions need to be asked in Brussels.

    I agree that hard questions are needed in Washington too but I don't see why this precludes the same need in Brussels.

    I do have some questions for Washington though. Kissinger famously complained that there was no single phone number for Europe but, at least as regards security and defence, does the US genuinely only want one European phone number?

    Let me explain - despite American complaints at what they perceive to be minimal European contributions to, for example, overseas expeditionary operations, I wonder if they are not secretly content with the lack of European unity which allows the US to play European nations off one another to a certain degree.

    Is Washington content to deal with 27 other Allies either bilaterally or as the single largest member at the table of the North Atlantic Council?

    Or would Washington genuinely prefer to see Europe as united and strong on security and defence as it is on bananas and steel? Would Washington be prepared to exchange some of its influence in European capitals for a strong, united Europe exerting its power - soft and hard - around the world?

    I don't know how people in Washington would answer those questions but I would certainly argue that such a scenario is both in Europe's and America's interests. All the more need therefore for hard questions in both Brussels and Washingtons, followed by some hard answers.