- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

When "Europe in the New Century" and "Rethinking Europe's Future" were commissioned, the subject they addressed doubtless seemed likely to remain at the very forefront of international affairs. With Euro notes soon to be issued, a European army in the wings and Euro-ambitions for superpower status at a zenith, even quite technical discussions about Europe's future acquired a new significance. Supporters and critics, Europeans and non-Europeans, could all agree that in Europe History (with a capital "H") was being made. Then on Tuesday, September 11 America and the rest of the world were reminded what really makes History. In the aftermath of those events, the European project will inevitably be measured by different and less indulgent criteria.
In the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, let alone the broader war against terrorism, Europe's role has been undistinguished. Only Britain, the perpetual odd-man-out in the European Union, spoke and acted from the first as a committed ally. It was largely British influence which pushed continental Europe into even formal declarations of support. But in a deeper sense the Belgian foreign minister, acting as president of the EU, spoke for Europe when he referred to the "limits to [EU-US] solidarity," to the risk of giving America a "blank check," and to the danger of Europe's being led "blindfold" into support for U.S. action. Belgium, it is true, is more rootedly hostile to America than are most other EU countries.
Italy under Silvo Berlusconi's center-right government would at least like to be helpful. But the unarguable fact is that the European Union lacks the means, even if it could summon up the will, to engage in serious military action alongside America. As was brutally exposed by this crisis, Europe is for the most part an international irrelevance.
Yet both these volumes argue the opposite. The subtitle of "Europe in the New Century" says it all "Visions of a Superpower." The book itself consists of an unwieldy collection of contributions by leading European political figures, journalists and miscellaneous "young people" (of which more shortly). The tone throughout is unrelentingly positive and uncritical.
Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, calls on the EU in his foreword to the volume "to exert true global leadership." Mr. Prodi's piece should be compulsory reading for members of the U.S. administration. In it, he expresses himself with the frankness that has got him into trouble on other occasions. For Mr. Prodi the European superstate he is creating is just part of a bigger picture. He wants to see a "multilateral system of global governance" and adds that "strong regional entities similar to the EU will have to be created elsewhere." Mr. Prodi's fellow presidents, Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin, could hardly have put it better. The challenge to U.S. world dominance is the greatest single force driving European integration forward.
But the American reader can also usefully reflect upon a marked difference in tone between the the volume's British and its continental European contributors. For example, the British Commissioner for External Relations, Christopher Patten, goes as far as he prudently can to contradict Mr. Prodi. Mr. Patten thus asserts that "the EU is not a superpower in the traditional sense and does not cherish the ambition to become one."
He also somewhat disingenuously explains the significance of Europe's ambitions in the fields of foreign and security policy as being a means "finally to make burden-sharing a reality." Even if the facts are against him, Mr. Patten's desire to minimize the federalist significance of integration is very clear. A similar tone of caution runs through the contributions of the British journalists.
But the contrast is sharpest when it comes to the essays which "young people" from different European countries were asked to write for the volume. Naturally enough, all are enthusiastic about Europe. In the case of the continental European youngsters, however, the gush is truly embarrassing. For the Belgian, "the European Union is a great thing." The Dane claims to have "become addicted to Europe." The Frenchman feels that "Europe is a great adventure." The Italian is "heeding the call of Europe." The Spaniard intones that "multicultural education plays a role as fundamental in the construction of Europe as the access to work and capital."
In search of a Brit who would do his best to emulate this stuff, the volume's editor alighted on a London Labor Party councilor of Cypriot extraction. But even this polyglot's views are a good deal more nuanced than those of his continental counterparts. He explains that he is emotionally attached to London, is proud both of his Britishness and of his Greek origins, but feels that "in the journey of [his] life so far … [he] has always been at the heart of Europe."
Which is a fair point, though hardly representative. A recent opinion survey of European 21- to 35-year-olds showed that while, for example, 40 percent of Italian youngsters thought of themselves as Europeans first and Italians second, only 25 per cent of their British equivalents took a similar view. What all this means is that the British, even with their enthusiastically pro-European government, remain instinctively averse to the project of creating a European superstate/superpower. If America wants an ally in opposing that misconceived enterprise, it knows where to turn.
The trouble is, though, that the United States spent most of the postwar era pressing greater European integration. And even now, when that tide of opinion in Washington has started to ebb, a large swathe of U.S. liberal intellectual opinion remains captivated by the European dream. David Calleo, author of "Rethinking Europe's Future," is clearly in that category. But in Mr. Calleo's case it is soon apparent that what really worries him is America: Europe's role is important to him, and doubtless to those who share his views, because the Europeans may yet be able to do what the Soviets could not namely, cut America down to size.
So whereas most American policy makers urge the European Union to follow NATO in rapidly taking in new members, Mr. Calleo counsels caution. This is because the stresses and strains of absorbing further countries will be huge and will threaten the project of creating a superstate with a single central government. As he rightly observes: "For today's European Union, the issue of size versus consensus is suddenly critical."
Mr. Calleo examines European developments with reference to the works of political thinkers Plato, Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and James Madison are among those who put in an appearance and also against the larger trends of political history. In fact, the analysis is unnecessarily complex, and the accompanying references frequently superfluous. Nor does the author's style help his case. Assertions which, penned by a defter hand, might be lapidary become with him portentous. And at every turn banality masquerades as profundity.
Thus: "Interdependence may not condemn European states to disappear, but it does compel them to cooperate". Or: "Arguably, Marx's practical contribution to the postwar order was the Soviet Union." And (astonishingly): "The Cold War was so beneficial to West Europeans and Americans alike that it is tempting to suggest that they invented it together".
"Rethinking Europe's Future" is, in reality, and contrary to the sense of the title, part of an exercise in rethinking America's future. America, in Mr. Calleo's eyes, is a superpower locked into inevitable decline. It is frequently inclined to triumphalism, overrates its military technology, irresponsibly tinkers with an unworkable missile defense, and lacks a political system conducive to the satisfactory conduct of foreign policy. Thank goodness there is another superpower on the horizon the European superstate.
In the light of the success of American-led campaigns in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and of the failure of the Europeans to perform in the first or participate in the second, comment on Mr. Calleo's broader thesis is surely superfluous. Europe will, indeed, probably go the way suggested by this book, that is towards deepening before widening. The introduction of the Euro has, in any case, more or less guaranteed a two-tier Europe for the forseeable future. But the core of Europe's problem is its lack of a coherent political identity for which its people will make sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice. To that there is no evident remedy.
By contrast, after September 11 another power has suddenly assumed much greater significance than Europe. Russia is again a major global player as the world's second military power, as a guarantor of stability in the oil-rich Caspian region, and as a bulwark against Islamic extremism in Asia. Perhaps in the future as a counterweight to China? Russia's leaders are brutal, her attitudes antiquated, and her economy a mess; and she will never again be a world superpower to challenge America; but "rethinking Russia's future" is a more fruitful topic than re-thinking Europe's.

Robin Harris was director of the Conservative Research Department and a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street Policy Unit. He is now a freelance writer.


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