Friday, June 03, 2005

The Lost World

The Guardian:
Europe's constitutional crisis has many faces, some yet unseen, some perhaps becoming clearer when Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder meet today to consider their options amid an acrid whiff of panic about the poorly performing euro.
But it is already clear that one result of the French and Dutch referendums is to damage seriously the credibility of the EU's ambition to be a global actor. READ MORE

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, made clear she understood this on Thursday by calling on Europe to be "outward-looking not inward-looking".

Divisions over what to do next mean it may be hard to stick to policies that are already agreed: membership talks with Turkey will proceed as planned in October, but they are likely to become even more difficult and drawn-out, with all the implications for a backlash in Turkey and the wider Muslim world.

Britain, France and Germany, the EU's "big three", will have to take care to ensure that their differences do not hamper efforts to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and make it easier for the US to maintain its disapproving distance from their diplomacy.

The disarray may enable George Bush to ignore the EU's long-standing demands that he take a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Plans to lift the EU arms embargo on China, already in doubt, look less likely. US neocons will doubtless be delighted to have new opportunities to cherry-pick coalitions of willing European allies. Transatlantic trade disputes may be harder to resolve.

Until the EU summit in mid-June, the constitutional treaty remains formally alive. But when it is pronounced dead - as it surely will eventually have to be - some important reforms will probably die with it. The first is the creation of a permanent president of the EU, serving a renewable two-and-a-half year term to replace the current "musical chairs" system of rotating the presidency between member states every six months - thus the incumbency of Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, during this fraught and potentially fateful period. The second is the creation of an EU foreign minister, ending the institutional split between the European commission and governments, with a diplomatic service to represent the EU round the world. Both are designed to answer Henry Kissinger's famous question: "Who do I call in a crisis when the US wants to hear what Europe thinks?" But they have a larger purpose than making life easier for the White House or state department: to add diplomatic and even some modest military muscle to an entity that was long described as an economic giant and a political dwarf, yet now suffers serious growth problems in both departments. Progress in the Balkans in recent years, where the magnetic promise of EU membership has combined with increasingly ambitious peacekeeping and nation-building commitments, shows that Europe's "soft power" is more than an empty slogan or rationalisation of its weakness.

It is troubling that these aspects of the constitution were so absent from the French and Dutch debates. It is ironic that many on the left, rightly concerned about the dominance of our world by an unassailably unilateralist US, have become so blinded by fears about globalisation and economic liberalism, or by largely imaginary threats from Brussels, that they are prepared to sacrifice the laudable ambition for a more powerful Europe on the altar of protectionism tinged with xenophobia. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief now blocked from becoming a fully fledged and more powerful foreign minister, has long talked of the need for the EU to learn the lessons of the Iraq war to provide "effective multilateralism". The demise of the treaty and the raising of national drawbridges will make that task much harder.