Is European Union on the decline?

ppgj

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The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Is European Union on the decline?

Is European Union on the decline?
Jorge Heine December 3, 2009


THE 'MEEK' SHALL INHERIT THE EU: The newly appointed European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, centre, talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean Claude Juncker at the European Council building in Brussels, on Nov. 19, 2009.. Photo: AP

The EU is the biggest market in the world, but its politics is all about divvying up the enormous amount of money on hand, rather than about anything else, "a supersize Switzerland," as Simon Hix of the London School of Economics put it.

Henry Kissinger, always ready with an apt turn of phrase, once quipped: “if I want to speak to Europe, which number do I call?” Thirty-five years later, the European Union has made some progress, and there is now an EU President. The question today is a different one — who is this gentleman? How do you spell his name? Where exactly does he come from?

The election of a President is a step in the right direction, and will help to create a more perfect union. The same goes for an EU Foreign Minister. One cannot but wish them well. Yet, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this election is a prime exhibit as to why the EU has been declining. The choices made by the 27 heads of government reflect precisely what is wrong with Europe today, best summed up in the motto, “Think small, and carry a small stick.”

The notion that Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, the sum total of whose experience in prime time politics is a scarce 11 months in one of Europe’s smallest countries, could defeat Tony Blair, for 10 years British Prime Minister and the only Labour Prime Minister to win three elections in a row, is so counter-intuitive as to be numbing. I do think Mr. Blair made a serious mistake in Iraq, and I do have many misgivings about the intellectual cover he provided to President George Bush’s wrong-headed approach to the so-called “war on terror.”

But the fact remains that Mr. Blair is one of the great political figures of our time, a giant among the candidates for the EU presidency (a close contender was Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg; I am not making this up). Mr. Blair’s profile was also ideal for the job. A man from the centre-left, he gets along with the right — so much so that at one point both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw their weight behind him. He knows the United States well, and is widely respected there; he has recently launched his “Faith and Globalisation Initiative” with Yale University. He would have opened many doors in the Global South, where people know his incisiveness as a policy wonk, his eloquence as a communicator and his ability to get things done.

As a Brit, he could have been an honest broker between the two European heavyweights, France and Germany, while also considering the interests of smaller states. With Britain not being part of the Eurozone, Mr. Blair was also a compromise between the all-out federalists and the Euro-sceptics. In this age of fraught relationships between religion and politics, he is that rara avis in secular Britain — a politician who takes his religion seriously, so much so that he recently converted to Catholicism. At 56, he is still young, with plenty of energy and adrenaline for building up the EU. Mr. Blair was also available, something which cannot be said of another outstanding potential candidate, Felipe Gonzalez, former Prime Minister, who ruled Spain for 14 years.

Mr. Blair will thus continue to deploy most of his enormous talent as Middle East envoy, as well as at his Faith Foundation, his African Governance Initiative and at making obscene amounts of money at Tony Blair Associates — all endeavours which, though enough to keep a dozen men busy 24x7, still underutilise his capabilities.

Was the election of Mr. Van Rompuy merely a fluke?

Hardly, since his main competitors were mostly like him, unknown quantities from small member-states. In fact, one of them, when asked to come up with a job description for the new EU President, volunteered that what was needed was a chairman of the board rather than a president per se (he would, wouldn’t he?). But assuming that the European heads are so insecure as to be intimidated by the possibility of having a genuine peer at the helm of the EU, one could have thought that, at a very minimum, they would have settled for an experienced and knowledgeable EU Foreign Minister, in the tradition of Foreign Affairs EU Commissioners like Christopher Patten and Javier Solana. This position will, after all, be the face of the “new” post-Lisbon treaty Europe to the rest of the world.

Some of the names on the table certainly fitted that bill — Massimo D’Alema, the suave former Italian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister; Joschka Fischer, the brash, Green former German Foreign Minister; David Miliband, the brainy U.K. Foreign Secretary; and Carl Bildt, the experienced former Swedish Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister.

Any of these candidates would have sent the right message about the EU being genuinely interested in reaching out to the world, rather than being consumed by internal squabbling and petty infighting. The spectacle presented by a number of the EU’s smallest members — most prominently the Czech Republic’ s delay in giving the go-ahead for the EU Constitution, haggling over exemption from the EU rules, including compensation for property expropriation — has been such that outside observers find it difficult to take the EU seriously. The EU is the biggest market in the world, but its politics is all about divvying up the enormous amount of money on hand, rather than about anything else, “a supersize Switzerland,” as Simon Hix of the London School of Economics put it.

Most people had never heard of Lady Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, currently EU Trade Commissioner (a position she has held for a little over a year), who has now been chosen next EU Foreign Minister. She is a protégé of Prime Minster Gordon Brown, who tipped her for the job once David Miliband declined. She may very well be talented, and is apparently an effective negotiator, but no one claims that she has any foreign policy experience. The lack of name recognition and of foreign policy credentials does not bode well. This is the person President Barack Obama is supposed to call when addressing a U.S.-EU issue (will he?). This is not her fault. The “lowest-common-denominator” decision-making process the EU has adopted feeds on itself. Once you elect an obscure EU President, you may not be willing to put a star next to him as Number 2 (or such a nominee may not be willing to take it), so you keep going down the ladder.

Who should be blamed for this? Why is it that the great promise of European regional integration, one that raised so many hopes around the world and has been so widely emulated, has boiled down to this? Why is it that institutions that have taken eight years to build at great cost — whose very purpose, in Valery Giscard D’ Estaing original design for a European Constitution, was to allow the EU to project itself more effectively on the global scene — are handed over to newcomers whose appointment signals that the intention is to keep Brussels in the hands of Eurocrats (it has been said the real winner of all this is EU Commission chairman Jose Manuel Barroso) rather than established political leaders? Aren’t Europeans aware that the first incumbent of any senior political office sets the tone and pattern of how the powers of that office will be exercised long after he or she is gone?

It is easy to blame the small European countries, always worried about being trampled by the EU “elephants.” Yet, they can hardly be faulted for defending their interests. The British Tories, in Opposition and true to form, took the lead in opposing Mr. Blair’s candidacy, though their leader, David Cameron, has largely modelled himself after Mr. Blair, and his party fully supported the Iraq war. Saying the election of the latter by the EU would be “a hostile act,” the Tories are already showing how they are likely to rule — with the fiercest and narrowest of partisanships.

Yet, in the end, it would be silly to blame the bit players for this outcome in the Great Game of Europe, though it is somewhat puzzling to read an editorial in the Financial Times lamenting the EU’s small-mindedness and “minimalism,” when the same paper editorialised against Mr. Blair’s candidacy (“Beware of what you wish for…”). The EU was originally born out of the need of France and Germany to bury the hatchet of war. When all is said and done, it is still Paris and Berlin that call the shots. Unfortunately, on this occasion the successors of General Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did not show either the grand vision or the fortitude of their predecessors. They let themselves be intimidated when they should have stuck to their guns. Europe is all the worse for it.

(Jorge Heine holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, is Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario.)
 

Yusuf

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The European Union is a monetary union. It did not try to project any political power which it could have using the clout it had. If it had tried doing that, it would have grown quite a lot in the international scheme of things. The problem is that its a union of countries which have their own interests in mind as nations than as a union.
 

Vladimir79

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With the signing of the Lisbon Treaty the EU will be a more centralised state. Soon there will be an EU wide income tax. Italy is now calling for a national army. If this came about, it would push out the influence of NATO and drive the EU even further to becoming a Super State. Why Tony Blair would be a good candidate when the EU is voting centre right is beyond me. People all across Europe see him as a US sellout getting the UK forces into international quigmire of Iraq and Afghanistan. His appointment as the ME envoy is seen as a joke as well. Klaus finally conceded because with the US withdrawal, he needed stronger security guarantees NATO can't provide. The EU is getting stronger, you see it come with the legislation month by month. The ratification of Lisbon is the catalyst people needed to get this train going... just watch it.
 

Flint

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The biggest threat to Europe is demographic changes. The "native" Europeans are not having any children, while the immigrants are reproducing at much higher rates. The effects will become apparent in the coming decades.
 

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Asian giants can imbibe Europe's values

WORLD VIEW

Asian giants can imbibe Europe's values

José Manuel Barroso, 24 January 2010, 01:26am IST

BRUSSELS: Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the contours of world order remain in the making. But two “mega-trends” seem clear: the broadest and deepest wave of globalization the world has ever seen, and the rise of new world players from Asia and elsewhere. We also hear ever-louder calls for more effective global coordination in meeting the great challenges of our times. As the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, the European Union is, i believe, uniquely suited to take on its leadership responsibilities.

Asia and Europe have been well served by economic globalization. Asia’s dynamic economies supply the world, and its remarkable economic growth has lifted millions out of poverty and created major new opportunities for investment and prosperity. This has helped great nations such as China and India assert themselves self-confidently as global powers. Europe has capitalized on globalization to consolidate its position as the world’s major economy and trader.

But globalization also increases competition and exposes weaknesses. Workers globally fear for their jobs and feel bypassed by economic change. The economic crisis has exacerbated the perceived downside of globalization. As a result, our economic interdependence requires careful coordination, not just in the coming weeks, but, crucially, in the longer term.

We need to revisit the structures of global governance, to ensure that they work better for people everywhere, and in the interests of both current and future generations. The EU has led the discussion within its own structures and taken it to wider international fora. We welcome the emerging economies’ call for reform of global institutions.

Trade is a case in point. It is in the enlightened self-interest of us all not to give in to the temptations of protectionism. The economic crisis has made progress in the negotiations of the Doha Development Agenda in the World Trade Organization even more important.

The WTO framework, to which the EU has always given priority, is increasingly recognized as being fundamental to our prosperity. It helps to anchor the global economy in an open, rules-based system that is based on international law. It is good to see the more proactive attitude of our Asian partners toward taking this process forward, but more needs to be done.

Security is another challenge, with the world facing traditional and non-traditional threats. Many of our countries are targets of terrorism, which, eight years on from the attacks of September 11, 2001, we must recognize is down, but by no means out.
There are fragile states to contend with, as well as the dangers of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, authoritarian regimes, and the threat of extremism. Globalization has also thrown up non-traditional security challenges that do not respect national frontiers. Global pandemics can spread faster; a lack of secure and sustainable energy could push us into a worldwide recession; and climate change, beyond its environmental consequences, could have serious geopolitical and social repercussions.

Multilateral engagement is essential for dealing with these threats. The EU has multilateralism in its DNA. Others, too, can benefit from its experience. Europeans are long-standing champions of the United Nations and international cooperation, and continually seek to ensure that stability, freedom, democracy, and justice prevail as cornerstones of international relations.
The EU is also doing its share of the heavy lifting. It has nearly 100,000 peacekeepers, police, and combat troops on the ground in the world’s hot spots, helping to consolidate peace. At the political level, too, the EU is increasingly shouldering its share of the burden. An example was the EU mission to Moscow and Tbilisi by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and me. This allowed us to make concrete progress on implementation of the EU’s six-point ceasefire plan between Russia and Georgia.

Reaching agreement on climate change is an immediate priority for all of us. We can only tackle this if we work together. We all stand to suffer significantly from the effects of climate change, including increased droughts, floods, and other extreme weather conditions. The EU is facing up to its responsibilities as a major source of past emissions. It has set itself ambitious targets for the future and is taking the lead in seeking a comprehensive global agreement, including a very significant effort on funding.

Climate change also represents a case study of how we can make a virtue out of a necessity, and an opportunity out of a threat. The development and use of green technologies can be new sources of growth. Building a sustainable European economy will help to ensure our peoples’ prosperity.

It also shows how Europe can meet its objectives at home only with a proactive and global approach. It is this approach that underpins our external policy. We cannot meet the challenges faced by the EU effectively and successfully without a strong Europe in the world. Prosperity and growth, security and stability, and the long-term sustainability of our societies require the promotion of our interests and values abroad, and engagement with external threats and global challenges.

The EU’s commitment to the multilateral system of global governance through the UN and other bodies is clear. We already speak with conviction and clarity on the major challenges that face us. The Lisbon Treaty allows us to achieve a greater coherence and gives us a much greater capacity to act. It will allow diplomacy, crisis management and an emerging European defence capability to be used hand in hand with more traditional policies, such as trade and development.

It is often said that the EU’s comparative advantage lies in its normative power, or the power of its values. I think this is right. In a post-crisis world, when people are looking for new ways to ensure their well-being, peace, and prosperity, the European experience has a great deal to offer.

José Manuel Barroso is president of the European Commission.

Copyright: Project Syndicate
Asian giants can imbibe Europe's values - All That Matters - Sunday TOI - Home - The Times of India
 

badguy2000

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EU does not decline. it is just those EU states that are busy quarreling with each other.
 

Armand2REP

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The EU presidency never had any real power, it is just a bully pulpit and mediator to push forward the EU agenda. The only way it would make any difference who held the position is if they were able to gain more power and make it a true executive post. As far as the decline of the EU, it hasn't declined at all. Member states are giving up soveriegnty every day. France is eliminating huge redunancies in military R&D and procurement as part of the reshuffling of the defence sector. More and more projects are being placed on JVs with member states. The procurement from the US has greatly declined since past decades with the EU relying on her own developments. The consolidation of major national defence companies into major entities like MBDA, EADs and huge JVs with giants like Finmeccanica and Thales have enabled Europe to overcome a disjointed effort when it comes to R&D and procurement. Nations will always argue over cost and funding which slows JV projects, it would be easier if there was one EU national defence policy.
 

amoy

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it would push out the influence of NATO and drive the EU even further to becoming a Super State-------------------------------------- It's very doubtful i.e. NATO phasing out
 

Armand2REP

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it would push out the influence of NATO and drive the EU even further to becoming a Super State-------------------------------------- It's very doubtful i.e. NATO phasing out
Well, US has withdrawn many bases out of the EU. With the threat of Russia gone, there really isn't any need for it. Europe just liked having the US spend most of their money on our defence but that time is passing. Trying to get troop commitments from NATO into Afghanistan has been like pulling teeth. With EDA and EUBG forming a framework of common defence, and EUFOR being deployed constantly, it makes our NATO mission redundant. There is going to come a day when a new alliance treaty will be drafted to meet the Post-Cold War climate.
 

badguy2000

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as for EU.

even if EU were really to become a confederate, EU would just be one of global tripolar(USA, EU and CHina) at most.

If EU member were to keep state quo, then EU major powers such as UK, German and France would have to stay in the second class coach with Japan,Russia and INdia.
 

Armand2REP

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as for EU.

even if EU were really to become a confederate, EU would just be one of global tripolar(USA, EU and CHina) at most.
EU is already a confederation, we are watching it become more like a Federation day by day. A federated Europe would dwarf any other entity.

If EU member were to keep state quo, then EU major powers such as UK, German and France would have to stay in the second class coach with Japan,Russia and INdia.
EU isn't keeping the status quo. France, Germany and Italy are calling for a Federal Army. UK has given it tacit support with the inclusion of of an EU force HQ. It is US that wants to keep the status quo, once we have had our fill of Astan things will move more rapidly.
 
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The Chinese like to think they are number two after USA in their arrogance forgetting the EU which has a GDP 5 times the size of China.
 

GokuInd

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Yep, the EU is totally a force to reckon with when it comes to economic power. It is still the largest exporter of finished goods and has so far the biggest share in the service sector compared to the US and Japan.
Ironically the bonhomie within the EU with emphasis on economic relations is excellent, whereas issues on security, foreign and defense policy formally enshrined in the CFSP and CSDP are still superimposed by national egoisms. Progress in this field has been somewhat sluggish still.

Edit: If the Chinese are so bent on acquiring Global Power Status (and they don't seem to lack confidence), why are they still asking the EU to lift the arms embargo?
 
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nrupatunga

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Eurosceptic Parties Gains in European Parliament Elections
Far-right and Euroskeptic parties made sweeping gains in European Parliament elections Sunday — triggering what one prime minister called a political "earthquake" by those who want to slash the powers of the European Union or abolish it altogether.

Voters in 21 of the EU's 28 nations went to the polls Sunday, choosing lawmakers for the bloc's 751-seat legislature. The other seven countries in the bloc had already voted in a sprawling exercise of democracy that began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands.

One of the most significant winners was France's far-right National Front party, which was the outright winner in France with 26 percent support— or 4.1 million votes.

"The sovereign people have spoken ... acclaiming they want to take back the reins of their destiny," party leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement. She called the results "the first step in a long march to liberty."

The National Front like other far-right parties across Europe promote anti-immigrant and often anti-Semitic policies.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in an impassioned televised speech, called the National Front win "more than a news alert ... it is a shock, an earthquake."

French President Francois Hollande's office announced he would hold urgent talks first thing Monday with top government ministers in what French media called a crisis meeting.

All of Europe will have to deal with the fallout, analysts and politicians said.

Pro-European parties "have to take very seriously what is behind the vote," said Martin Schulz of the Socialist group in parliament.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal caucus in the European Parliament, conceded as much but said even after the vote, two-thirds of the European lawmakers would be "people who are in favor of the European Union."

Despite the Euroskeptic gains, established pro-EU parties were forecast to remain the biggest groups in the parliament. The conservative caucus, known as EPP, was forecast to win 211 seats, down from 274, but enough to remain the parliament's biggest group.
 

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