Influencing the World or Organizing Europe?

As I was about to board a plane at Oslo Airport yesterday I found myself confronted by a dilemma. Do I read the latest Dan Brown novel, based at it is on Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth century classic “The Inferno,” or do I read the new “Towards a European Global Strategy,” Europe’s eternal infernal? Push came to shove and I finally decided I would read the fiction and sat down to read the latter. Now, don’t get me wrong. EGS (as it is known amongst European strato-wonks) is well-written and well-structured.  Moreover, reading it took me back to my distant past when I used to write this stuff for the now long-dead and ever-so-slightly misnamed Venusberg Group…and moreover believe it!  In fact the idea that European nation-states should work very closely together for the common good in this world is still something in which I profoundly believe. 

And, even though one can feel the pain of those involved in its drafting, EGS is a classy piece of work.  Although led by four worthy and well-respected think-tanks, EGS was instigated by the foreign ministers of Italy, Poland, Spain, and Sweden.  Not surprisingly, whilst EGS is strong on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of strategy, it is necessarily weak on the ‘why’ and the ‘how,’ even though it has a stab at the ‘when’. 

There is of course much talk of ‘solidarity,’ i.e. those of us with not-so-much debt (I speak as a Dutch taxpayer) should pay ever more for ever more those with deep-pan pizza-loads of debt.  There is also the usual wonk-speak of “strategic objectives” and “instruments” and the need for a deepened Europe to influence “multipolarity” and a “rules-based order,” whatever that means. Apparently, it is precisely that order upon which Europe is today built and which should be exported via example first to the wider European region and then to the world.   However, this report should not be under-estimated.  The ambition of getting Europeans to “think strategically about their global role” is to be commended as is the analysis which fuels it (or is that the other way round?).  The EU is (for the moment) the world’s largest trading bloc with over five hundred million people and “European engagement should be proactive not just a response to changes in the global environment.”  The attempt to strike a new balance between improved coordination and integration is also sound.

Furthermore, the focus for much of the report on interests is sensible as it addresses this very contradiction at the top of power in Europe’s strongest state–Germany.  It was fascinating talking with a senior German recently.  For all the Euro-speak that Berlin generates, Germany has a very clear sense of its national interest and a strategy to realize it. This involves a determinedly German focus on global out-reach (see Berlin’s China policy) whilst championing ‘Europe’ to organize Germany’s neighbors in pursuit of Berlin’s strategic goals. This was confirmed to me by a senior Dutchman who told me that in spite of appearances from time to time the Netherlands will ultimately do what Germany tells it to.

However, having waded through the inevitable strategic political correctness and Euro-speak there are two innate tensions implicit in the report.  First, the need to ‘contain’ Germany flows through the report like spilt Schnapps on Roesti. This is clearly the work of four peripheral powers the futures of which are now so tied to Germany that their entire foreign and security policies must reflect the strategic choices Germany makes, the willingness of German taxpayers to fund ‘Europe,’ and the extent to which Germany is prepared to be constrained in the name of ‘Europe.’  Second, in trying to define an alternative “rules-based order” one can feel the pain of the authors as they try valiantly to resist clear pressure from the European Commission and strike a new foreign and security policy balance between Brussels and its member-states.  In the end the report fails to deal adequately with either option or find any middle way between them.    

Rather, implicit in EGS is a stark choice; German power or Commission power.  On balance (of course) EGS rejects the greater Germany option and opts for what is believed to be the lesser of two-evils. It is the very subterfuge the European elite have always practiced on the rest of us–the presence that ‘progress’ is a partnership between Brussels and its member-states when in fact the transfer of ever more ‘sovereignty’ is the very replacement by Brussels of the member-state. 

The subliminal message of EGS is thus: either the European nation-state is too weak or too dangerous to survive.  The choice is thus between the “Infernal” and the “Inferno.”  As ever influencing the world comes second to organizing Europe.  

Julian Lindley-French is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisory Group. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.

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