Speech on Europe given at Pittsburgh University

Pittsburgh University
The EU’s Future : Faultlines and Fundamentals
25 March 2009

The current issue of that fine journal Foreign Policy carries an 8 page advertising supplement on the European Union. It looks like one of those paid for pages inserted by minor 3rd world nations or those ending in ‘stan’ to try desperately to inform readers about the worthiness of the nation and its leaders. I don’t blame EU public diplomacy people but I always worry when the only way you can get your story into the paper is by buying space.
But the EU office in the USA has little choice. The chances of the average American policy-maker let alone the average American knowing anything about the EU is slim. And Europeans are little better. President Sarkozy is seeking to rekindle the French people’s love affair with him by attacking the EU Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. The European left are hoping to win support of voters in the June elections to the European Parliament by attacking the European Court of Justice. According to Die Linke, the new nationalist-populist German left party headed by Oskar Lafontaine which is credited with 15 per cent of German votes in current opinion polls, the European Commission is to be blamed for most world disasters.
Meanwhile Rightist parties like the rising British National Party share the same Weltanschauing on Europe as their leftist colleagues and accuse the EU of allowing too many foreigners into Britain and other ills that only withdrawal can put right. The British Conservative party answer to Europe is to cut all links with its sister parties in the EU. Despite David Cameron’s ambition to become Britain’s Prime Minister he has cold-bloodedly pulled his party out of formal links with the ruling centre-right parties of the EU. This is the first time in British political history that any mainstream party had adopted such institutional political isolationism as formal policy and it reflects the disarray and lack of confidence, support for and commitment to the European Union as a whole. Some East European leaders argue that they are being treated as poor relatives in the current world crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists Germany will not follow the US example in using fiscal stimuli to tackle the recession. To read the European press there is a cacophony of voices on how Europe should respond to the credit freeze, the slump in demand, and the spectre of mass unemployment.
Pity poor President Obama. Every previous US President from Harry S Truman to George W Bush has supported European integration. One associates Mr Bush with his Defense Secretary’s crass division of Europe into ‘old and new’ but read President Bush’s Bundestag speech of June 2001 with his endorsement of European unity including praise for the then new currency the Euro and it is in line with all previous US presidents who have always supported European integration against the vagaries of European nationalisms. Now Mr Obama has to find the right words. He is the first president without any real knowledge or experience of Europe. His predecessor sat at his father’s feet and the first President Bush was a committed East Coast Atlantacist. His son faced criticism from Europe over Iraq but so did Presidents Johnson and Nixon over Vietnam, President Reagan over Star Wars and Nicargua, and President Clinton over footdragging in the Balkans. In the last period of the Bush presidency there was a determined effort to patch up relations with Europe and the EU and the restoration of State Department ‘jaw-jaw’ over Defense Department ‘war-war.’
The last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was a European-influenced, Oxford trained, Atlantacist social democrat. He played Europe like a violin and in Tony Blair found a partner that up to end 2000 looked as if a real Euro-Atlantic Politik was coming into being with joined up foreign and security policy in the Balkans, in supporting open trade, in building correct if cautious relations with China, in increasing development aid to Africa and treating Latin America in an adult way. Tony Blair, it should be noted was the first serving British prime minister to visit South America as well as Mexico in those halcyon days before 9/11.
By contrast, there is no recorded interest in or commitment to Europe from President Obama. His references points beyond continental America are Hawaii in the Pacific, Kenya and Indonesia. This gives him a unique profile not shared by his predecessor or all his white European counterparts but it gives him little direct understanding and knowledge of Europe. He may well say next week "Ask not what Americans can do for Europe ask rather what Europeans can do for themselves."
The gathering storm of a systemic world crisis has left Europe exposed. The complacency of the European Dr Panglosses that they lived in the best of all possible worlds is now being put to test. I want to argue today that the European Union as an institution has three major fault lines which will test it to the limits over the next period. But also three major fundamental strengths that will help it to survive. Much in the end lies in the hands of voters as it should do under democracy. Who will they elect as MEPs in the June election? Who will they chose to lead Germany, still the primus inter pares of European powers? Will the voters of Ireland ratify the Lisbon Treaty in October and bring to an end the messy unsatisfactory constitutional condundrums that have dominated European debate so far this century.
Where are Europe’s leaders?
Fault-line number one is undoubtedly the leadership question. Europe has no Delors, Hallstein or Jenkins able to shape and control the European Commission with command and confidence. This is not a question of the character of the Commission president and with the backing of three centre-left governments – Spain, his native Portugal and Britain – and no real opposition save rumbling for internal political reasons from President Sarkozy, there is little doubt that José Manuel Barroso will be awarded a second term. But a successful Commission President can only offer real leadership if there he has strong support from major national leaders.
Hallstein had Pompidou and Brandt. Jenkins had Giscard d’Estaing and Schmidt. Delors above all had Mitterrand and Kohl. Despite almost religious incantation of the importance of the Franco-German motor that one hears in Paris there is little disgusing the lack of bonding and common vision on the part of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel. They simply do not get on. They appear to irritate each other. One is a free trader. The other indulges in protectionist language. Merkel is hemmed in by internal politics and life in an unhappy coalition. Sarkozy is supreme pontiff of France checked only by street demonstrations which are growing in intensity. But neither have a common project for the next developments in Europe.
There are no other commanding leaders in Europe. Mr Berlusconi is locked in Italian politics governing on the basis of sudden populist announcements based on maximising headlines and throwing the opposition off balance. The Italy that was a player and shaper of the EU is now a memory. Spain is also increasingly inward looking and together with other European national governments which are losing popularity as voters blame them will-nilly for the economic crisis, Madrid like Stockholm or Amsterdam has no national leaders with a convincing vision for the EU.
An interesting and unexpected exception is the British prime minister Gordon Brown. With a reputation of caution bordering on indifference if not hostility to Europe from his time in tandem with Tony Blair, Prime Minister Brown is now showing a remarkable energy and enthusiasm for the EU. He is the lead figure in shaping a European response to the crisis and using his presidency as chair of the G20 meeting next week he has travelled the world, in effect on the EU’s behalf, to try and shape a common response.
Yet in a speech to the European Parliament just before the London G20 summit his words were almost lyrical. I quote what Mr Brown said: " I stand here today proud to be British and proud to be European: representing a country that does not see itself as island beside Europe but as a country at the centre of Europe."
He went on to declare: "Our Europe is the richest of human inheritances: formed over 25 centuries in which we have shared, followed, improved or refined everything from each other’s philosophy, art and literature, to our laws and customs. But we are also so much more than neighbours on a continent, or travellers in one another’s cultural currents.
"Because we have built a unity of purpose, a partnership of values, we have a union that is far more than the sum of national interests alone, and so we can show the world that by committing to continuous discussion and dialogue, cooperation between nations can become more than simply a necessity – it can become the foundation for shared values – and become part of the very DNA of a nation."
I quote Mr Brown at length because I do not believe we have heard such pro EU language from a British prime minister, including his predecessor, for some time. Is this Mr Brown making a bid to establish himself as dominant force in Europe, engaging fully in European affairs rather than reacting to developments dictated by other European leaders? Time will tell and voters will have to decide if they want Labour to stay in power in Britain or not. If Labour does form the next British government I would expect Mr Brown to emerge as a serious EU player.
The leadership faultline in Europe can be closed if the Irish vote Yes in their referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. This will allow the election of a President of the European Council and a stronger role for a foreign policy High Representative. Again choosing the right people for these posts as well as choosing a new cadre of EU Commissioners will be a test for Europe. The temptation to opt for a lowest common denominator outcome is always there. If Europe elects not to be led and if in particular, the next German Chancellor refuses to engage fully in European construction then the fault line of leadership will widen.
Where is Europe’s Global Policy?
The second fault line is the lack of a common European foreign policy. France’s reintegration into Nato is a positive step which will reduce the sterile quarrel between so-called European defence and Atlantic defence. In effect, we can expect to see a Nato with a European profile and the EU continuing to out together missions in its own name in addition to the 22 missions already despatched so far this century. Nato can allow more heavy lift capacity and move the potential for the EU to undertake military operations beyond low level quasi policing activity. Whether national governments are ready to collapse national industrial procurement policies into a common EU set of standards and arms manufacturing, as well as develop common doctrines on war-fighting remains an open question. The military are there to apply foreign policy and it is by foreign policy that a state defines itself. And here the EU clearly is not a state as the elaboration of a foreign policy that is continuous and clear has proved remarkably difficult.
On Russia, in Iran, on China, on energy, on dealing with Islamism, on relations with the United States – at least under the previous administration – there are 27 different foreign policies in Europe. Even on a relatively minor question like the status of Kosovo, Spain breaks ranks with the majority of western and northern EU member states and refuses to recognise Kosovo. Mr Sarkozy rushed to Moscow after Russia invaded and dismembered a UN and Council of Europe member state, namely Georgia. He signed with President Medvedev a six point agreement. Since then the Russians have reneged on three of those six points and the reaction of the EU has been to restore normal relations with the Kremlin. Countries like Ukraine are left swinging and anti-Muslim political forces in Europe damp down enthusiasm for Turkey’s EU aspirations.
Europe is unable to influence events in the Middle East as the Israelis refuse to deal with an EU which seems keener at time to find excuses for the Jew-killing ideology of Israel’s enemies than to face them down and urge Arab countries to open diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. President Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union initiative was innovative but seems not to be able to translate aspirations into concrete programmes. Europe might develop a policy for the MAT nations – Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia with a view to drawing them closer to the EU. But differences between Spain and France over the Sahara and foot-dragging by other EU member states without an interest in Mediterranean politics prevents this.
Where are Europe’s Economic Reforms?
If leadership and foreign policy are two fault lines in today’s EU a third remains the inability to reform economies to correspond to the post-material society and to globalisation. Even before the crisis too many EU nations lived with high levels of unemployment which required state benefit payments that were a massive drag on government budgets. Europe produces automobiles that can do 250 kph but it is left to Japan to produce automobiles that use electric motors and do not pollute the environment. Europeans still boast about TGVs and Airbuses but it has been North America and East Asia which have given the world Blackberries, Google, lightweight lap tops, and almost all the consumer electric goods Europeans buy.
EU universities get half the share of GDP that American universities receive in income because of an obsession with statist provision of university teaching and the refusal of European academics to change their status as state functionaries. This failure to change the EU economy to one based on creativity and knowledge rather than classic productivist economics has cost Europe dear and as the new world emerges from the present crisis will cost Europe jobs and income as her best brains flee to where intellect is rewarded.
The debate about whether state control will replace so-called neo-liberal economics is a fake one. Most EU states take between 40 and 55 per cent of GDP into state hands to be spent under public control. There will be new paradigms of regulation and excesses of finance capitalism will be reined in. But the EU is not going to abolish market economics, or replace capitalism with North Korean dirigisme. Europe still has to ask itself why it was and is growing so slowly relative to other parts of the world both before, during and after the crisis.
Part of the answer lies in the very small resources available to the EU. EU income is just one per cent of Europe’s gross national income. Of that one per cent 85 per cent goes straight back to national governments in the form of agricultural subsidy payments and regional fund support. In other words, the European Commission has about one seventh of one per cent of Europe GNI to spend on promoting its own policies. 27 commissioners fight over their share and 27 national governments have their say as well. The lack of own resources for the EU is now a serious impediment to the EU’s ability to promote economic growth and will have to be addressed.
So much for the fault lines. What of the fundamentals. Here we see a much more positive picture. I quoted earlier Gordon Brown’s almost lyrical enthusiasm for the EU as adding value to all that each of its member states does. He is right. In every previous economic crisis of the scale and extent now being traversed there was a political response in the direction of nationalism, populism, protectionism and authoritarianism – the four horsemen of the anti-democracy apocalypse. Signs and words of all four can be seen and heard, not the least in votes for extremist parties, but Europe has rooted in democracy and rule of law and open market economics in its part of the world.
But Europe Promotes Democracy
The acquis that people talk about have as their strongest element the concept of democracy, separation of powers, freedom of expression and the right of citizens to live freely. 19th and 20th century Europe with its lack of democratic freedom in so many of its nations truly is a thing of the past. Moreover, Europe is showing how different peoples, races and faiths can co-exist even if there is a great deal of scratchiness at a times as they rub against each other. Britain has more foreigners living within its borders than ever before. 800,000 Brits live happily in Spain and 400,000 French and half a million Poles work in Britain. 350,000 British firms operate in the EU and similar statistics apply to other nations.
This is an extraordinary historical achievement and despite some xenophobic voices is not fundamentally under threat.
And the Euro Has Succeeded
A second fundamental that has proved its worth is the Euro. Just consider what would have happened and did happen 15 or 30 years ago when economic crises occurred. There were massive speculative attacks on weaker currencies with forced devaluations. Today the Euro is a force field that protect weaker currencies and ensures that currency breakdown is not part of the overall credit and demand crisis. Yes, there are pressures on the Euro but the ECB moved swiftly to inject liquidity into banks in 2007 andnow has cut interest rates to virtually zero. There is talk of the Euro zone breaking up as weaker economies are forced out but were that to happen the debt that currently poses the major problem would still be in Euros and would cost far more to service in a weaker currency. Germany needs Europe to buy its good and can have no interest in seeking devalued currencies making German exports more expensive.
So in contrast to the earlier decades of European construction the existence of the Euro is a fundamental tool in integrating Europe and building the European Union.
Europe is (slowly, but steadily) Finding an Identity
The third fundamental is the steady growth of a European political identity. This is difficult to quantify and measure in political science terms though I would commend it as a doctoral thesis. By political identity I mean the individuals who as elected official like myself or as state functionaries or as intellectuals and business leaders, as teachers and community leaders now have taken part in, been active in, or benefitted from some aspect or other of European integration. Even Eurosceptics contribute unwittingly to the creation of European identity. After all if it did not exist why waste all that effort denouncing it.
There is a narrow European political class – those who work directly on EU affairs or are MEPs. But there now exists a much wider European political class, the MPs and deputies, the business outfits, the university departments and so forth who have to integrate some aspect or other of EU activity into their political thinking. What has been fascinating to observe in the last five years has been to see the Europeans from the new EU member states take to European politics as if their earlier experience of communist authoritarian rule or the grandparents’ experience of nationalist authoritarian rule belongs to a Juraissic age.
Visit Warsaw and Prague or even Sofia or Ukraine and you see new European cities of life and colour and vitality growing out of the carcass of drab key pre-EU politics and infrastructure. I walk though London and I hear a babble and babel of European voices and across the Channel, English is imposing itself as a common EU tongue. Lawyers, planners, architects, doctors and all the network of professional classes now work outside their own countries, on a short or longer term basis, in different EU countries much as a graduate of Pittsburgh University may end up working anywhere in North America.
This is an unforced, freely engaged construction of Europe which is happening below social science radar screen and is unquantifiable. This is the unknown unknown of Europe but it is real and is happening and will, in my judgement, help create a European polity that will resist the pressures to revert to a Europe of competing, conflictual nation states protected by frontiers.
The Irish will help decide if this hidden European consciousness and identity takes more institutional shape when they vote on the Lisbon Treaty which does offer a more coherent institutional launch pad for the nest stages of European construction. I think they will though the wish is father to my thinking. What happens then will be worthy of study and analysis but will constitute a fundamental new moment in European history of greater importance than the fault-lines I indicated above. I hope to come back next year and discuss with Pittsburgh University how to write the next chapters in EU history.
And perhaps then if there are any newspapers still printed in America, there might be a journalist willing to report on Europe and the EU public affairs people can spend their advertising budget on promoting more work in US universities on this great adventure across the Atlantic.