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)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Europe's direction (or lack thereof)

European Voice asks the very valid question of why Europe did not do more at the recent G20 summit. The article is framed very much within a G20 context and does not therefore directly address the security and defence issues which are the main focus of this blog.

However, the question of the European Union and its current and future role on the world stage has arisen many times in our posts so its worth dwelling on the broader question of where Europe is going.

Paola Subacchi outlines four areas where Europe could potentially help move the G8/G20 agenda(s) forward - i/ help the resumption of the Doha Development Agenda; ii/ help switch attention from the G8 aid agenda to the G20 development agenda; iii/ address the issue of rebalancing the world economy; and iv/ address the issue of its own representation by collapsing the four European seats into an EU one.

While the recommendations made by Subacchi are valid (although perhaps a little vague and, in the case of the final point, highly ambitious to the point of being unrealistic), do they address the real existential question of where Europe is heading? Are the four specific areas where Europe can move the agenda forward a means to an end - if so, which end? - or an end in themselves?

Too often in Brussels that crucial distinction is not made. Too often it seems that action, any form of action, will do and questions such as 'where are we going with this?' can be left for later.

Stephen Walt gets rather closer to the crux of the matter by asking where the EU project is headed... and, crucially, stating that "the answer matters".

As an example he refers to two diametrically opposed viewpoints from the other side of the Atlantic. Rosato goes very far in stating that "nothing can be done to salvage the [European] dream" for, as Moravcsik says, people have predicted the demise of the EU since before its inception and yet its still here. I do however find it very striking that Rosato makes exactly the same point about the European Union that many make about NATO - that without the Soviet threat it has no raison d'etre.

However, I digress for the real issue is this:

Walt is not the first person these days to ask where Europe is heading but he is one of the few to suggest that merely conjuring up an answer is not enough - it has to be a good answer.

I'm reminded here of Jonathan Powell's warning on political negotiation. Ambiguity in negotiations is complicated and needs careful handling. Although almost always necessary at the beginning, 'constructive ambiguity' must be squeezed out (painfully and over time) as a project cannot endure on the basis of an ambiguous understanding.

The building of the European Union is one big project in political negotiation but after 50+ years can we really say that constructive ambiguity is being squeezed out?

I think few will disagree that the European Union needs a greater sense of direction but how many leaders and policy-makers have given serious thought to what the direction should be? How many have weighed up the different options, run a cost-benefit analysis on each of them and decided what direction they want to pursue, either for their own nations, for Europe as a whole or for both?

I have said it before and will undoubtedly say it again but it is high time that hard questions were asked in Brussels... because the answers matter.

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