WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 (UPI) — The distinction between “Old” and “New” Europe, introduced by U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, seems to have taken root in public discourse. This distinction is exemplified by the letter of support for the American position on Iraq recently released by eight European leaders, most notably Britain, Italy, Spain, and the principal Eastern Europeans. It is counterpoised to the ongoing resistance to military action on the part of France, Germany, and others. Rumsfeld’s distinction reverses the assumptions of most of the past decade’s commentary on European unification.
Since the Maastricht Treaty turned the European Communities into the European Union, this dynamic engine (went the spin) would create an economic vortex that would suck in Eastern Europe and transform it as well, and detach Britain and Ireland from their traditional economic and political orientation to the United States. It was this united Europe, led by its Franco-German axis, that was supposed to have been the New Europe.
Behind the facade erected by this spin, however, was an economy with substantial and growing structural problems, naggingly persistent high unemployment, a highly imperfect single market that still held embedded national barriers, a single currency that offers some benefits but freezes into place a one-size-fits-none fiscal policy dictated from Frankfurt, and a mostly-unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels that increasingly alienates the electorates of more and more of the member-states of the EU. In a fairly short space of time, people began to realize that the supposed New Europe was actually an old, increasingly problematic social-democratic model that was failing adapt to the challenges of its mounting demographic changes.
What accelerated this realization in the international political and military spheres was the post-Sept. 11, 2001, action in Afghanistan and the threatened action against Iraq. The American action in Afghanistan quickly demonstrated that a new reality has emerged. This reality has effectively laid the lie to the Europeanists’ pretensions to equal power status with the United States. They have also caused a serious re-examination of the relationships underlying NATO.
As the program of what we might call the “old New Europe” — the Franco-German axis — gradually shredded itself, we saw the rise of a different concept of Europeanism. This arose from the three sets of governments in Europe who have motivations to differ from the Franco-German consensus, each for different reasons.
The first camp consists of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his adherents. Blair’s government in Britain continues to be Anglospherist in spite of itself; that is, despite Blair’s Euro-enthusiasm, he realizes that Britain’s realistic national interests lie mostly in aligning with America. Additionally, Blair’s moralistic Gladstonian ideological roots (distinct from the reflexive leftism of many Laborites) drive him simultaneously in two directions, one aligning with Bush in opposing genuine evil, the other binding him to the U.N. process. So long as U.S. President George W. Bush can retain an arguable legitimacy in the U.N. process, Blair can reconcile these drives. Thus, his need is to prevent a head-on confrontation between the Bush administration and the United Nations. This places him in direct confrontation with the Franco-Germans, who need to aggravate the U.S.-U.N. relationship as a tool to distance Europe from America.
The second camp consists of the conservative governments of Spain and Italy. Although public opinion in these countries follows in general the sentiments of the rest of Western Europe — that is, not enthusiastic about war over Iraq — their governments for a variety of reasons shy away from confrontation with the United States. Not least among these is their desire to balance European integration, which they genuinely favor, with sufficient trans-Atlantic ties to avoid being under the thumb of the Franco-German axis.
Finally, the third camp is that which truly can be called the New Europe. These are the new Eastern European members of NATO, who are also now on the verge of entry into the EU. Having for so long given up their sovereignty to one integrating political-economic union, and having so recently regained it, they are uneasily weighing the benefits of European integration against the costs of ever-increasing encroachment by Brussels on their self-determination. And having experienced for the same length of time an indifference to their freedom by many of the Western European left, while remembering that it was America and Britain that continued to press for their eventual liberation, they are far less enamored of the fashionable anti-Americanism of the Franco-German axis and their camp-followers in Europe.
It is overstating the case to say that these three camps together, or even including, as some do, Ireland and Scandinavia constitute a New Europe that will act as a permanent counterweight to the Old Europe of the Franco-German axis. Each camp has, as we have seen, permanent interests in opposing a further-centralized European structure or a reflexive anti-American posture. But they do so for different reasons, and with different degrees of enthusiasm. And in some cases, particularly in regard to Italy and Spain, the camps reflect a political party’s position, rather than a national consensus. Two cabinet crises could change the Spanish and Italian positions overnight.
Both Britain and the Eastern Europeans, however, have substantial public support for their New Europeanism. It would take a palace coup against Blair by an Old Laborite that to change Britain’s course of action, and that could quickly be reversed by a subsequent election. Whatever changes occur in Eastern Europe, there are no major forces that are substantially more pro-European and anti-American than those already in power.
What is likely to fall out of the current New Europe-Old Europe face-off is a gradual drift toward a two-speed Europe. This would have an inner Franco-German core that pursues closer homogenization, perhaps even to the point of the “Frankenreich” Franco-German federation proposed some weeks ago. The outer area would be the “New European” lands of Eastern Europe and the European Anglosphere — Britain and Ireland. These would be linked in a loose free trade area and cooperative framework, permitting each member to maintain their other, outward-looking historical ties. It is a tossup as to whether Scandinavian lands and the Mediterraneans would choose the inner or outer affiliation, or craft some position halfway in between. A logical culmination would be a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area that permitted North America and all of Europe, whether inner, outer, or otherwise, to enjoy mutual open markets unmediated by Brussels.
British foreign policy has for decades opposed a two-speed Europe from fear that the inner core would be the high-speed part, and that Britain would be rendered irrelevant in a slower outer area. But events have demonstrated that it is the inner Franco-German core that is Old Europe, the Slow Zone. The current New European alignment should not be used merely to coordinate foreign policy on a single issue, no matter how important. It should be used as a medium for exploring newer and better ways to link Europeans with each other, and with the rest of the world.