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Europhoria

Reinhard Hesse
27 February 2002

There is a generation, a young generation that is feeling genuinely European.

Do you remember the Prime Minister of Belgium calling Laeken a time to redefine and reinvent Europe? Unwise, I thought. What could possibly come of it? More incomprehensible documents which nobody can understand? I predicted that the introduction of the Euro would work, but also that it would be dull.

What happened with the Euro launch stunned me.

I was quite unprepared for the discovery that across Europe, in streets, bars, schools, there is a generation eager to celebrate, who identify – in one way or another – with something bigger than their nation. They are not at all worried about whether we have really created the economic basis for the European project. Despite the politicians, they feel European.

The party atmosphere stretching from Paris to Berlin, from Athens to Madrid and Helsinki made me think there is a European spirit which may find lasting forms of influence.

A European foreign policy

What do we owe this younger generation? All the more urgent in the aftermath of 11 September is the need for a European foreign policy.

After 11 September Tony Blair played a positive role in reining in the American response. But, I would have vastly preferred this to have been a European effort.

I hear a lot of English people saying that what happened was proof positive that while the EU might be very nice for discussing European banana standards, it won’t stretch to international politics. Each should go its own way: we Brits will nourish our own special relationship with the Americans, and avoid crossing swords too much with our other NATO partners, Germany and France.

It is true that Europe has lacked clarity. Mr. Solana and Mr. Patten did not play a bad role, but we were far from exercising truly European leverage on an international scale. The EU was terribly busy preventing a re-nationalisation of foreign policy. Smaller EU nations were disturbed at what they saw as an exclusive Big Three initiative by Britain, France and Germany.

It’s odd. I hear the English say they are embarrassed when Europe is represented by Belgium or that they do not feel they should have to ‘get into conversation about international terrorism with Denmark’. But here we are, building a coalition with Saudi Arabia or with Iran.

I am strongly in favour of such coalition projects. Yet at the very moment when you go out of your way to foster an alliance with states with dubious democratic practices and social fabrics far-removed from ours, you want to neglect those with whom you have been trying to integrate for forty years: Belgians, Danes, Dutch.

At any rate, to think that these European partners can be dismissed, and that Europe is re-nationalising, misreads the tide of recent events. Take the impact on Germany. 11 September challenged it to act as a fully-fledged player on the international scene. This has been impossible hitherto, for obvious historical and political reasons.

It was not done during the Gulf War. The Balkans prepared the way, within a European framework. After 11 September, Schröder and Fischer’s task was to ensure the German people faced up to the fact that they live in a country that can and will respond to such conflicts.

The average German understands perfectly that if neighbouring Kosovo is insecure, Germany cannot be secure, albeit from the influx of refugees who would arrive as a result. Afghanistan is something else. It is far away. Those committed to fighting terrorism are not always sure they agree with this military effort.

A second level of debate was less visible. Even inside the Pentagon there was a clear understanding that this conflict could not be won by military means alone: it was the direct product of the failure of intelligence and the failure of cooperation on the international level, from hunting terrorists to banking.

Here, at least the problems have now been spelled out. Europeans, having made enormous efforts, are so far delivering rather better intelligence than the Americans. On banking and financing, Europe presented a united front from day one.

We all see the need for coordination on intelligence, banking, and most challenging of all – peace-making. So with the Afghani conflict becoming what it should have been in the first place, less a fully-fledged war than a police action with military means, I think Europe is not in the mood to let the moment pass. We should have a thoughtful public debate about the need for a European foreign policy.

Europe’s different take on “security”

This will not be achieved through sheer enthusiasm. Even if everyone agrees we have to do it, we have to think through what might be special about any European approach.

Maybe Europe is much better educated than the United States when it comes to foreign policy. Maybe not. But you won’t get far with a display of European arrogance on such matters. There is no denying the fact that when it comes down to world politics, the Europeans can do nothing without the United States, let alone against them.

This is not only because of the balance of power. Local activists in conflict regions would not accept any solution brokered only by Europeans. They would love the Europeans to be part of the game. They would try to play us against the Americans; something we should avoid. But ultimately, they would always ask for American guarantees. This is fact: and anybody who nourishes illusions about this is on a high road to nowhere.

Does this leave enough space for a European approach which is different? In my opinion, yes: and the difference lies in ‘security philosophy’.

Ever since the end of the Cold War we have been debating: what is security? The official American security establishment advocates the line that security matters are basically military, including the need to ensure military security of raw materials like oil.

A more European approach links security with political stability: with social security, justice, and expanding the rule of law, and efforts to reconcile social divergences.

Of course, you need military muscle to enforce whatever agreement has been reached on the ground. But Europe’s approach should not focus solely or even mainly on the question: where can we or can’t we exert our military influence?

Take Central Asia...

Recently the American plan to ‘dig in’ in Central Asia has made headlines, namely in Kyrgystan, Kazahkstan and Uzbekistan. As someone with direct experience of this part of the world, I think this is a dangerous idea.

Why a permanent military presence? The Americans may well want to signal that they will not abandon those areas as they did Afghanistan in 1989, once the conflict cools down. Equally understandably, these peoples and governments cherish ambitions to market their gas and oil resources. But this dangerous cocktail could easily turn sour. Europe should step in.

Good as the current rapprochement with Russia is, Americans lack sensitivity to Russian interests in Russia’s backyard. Europe is rather more practised at approaching Central Asian issues in the ‘Post-Soviet’ context in which they remain firmly embedded.

However, there are lessons Europe would do well to learn. In Kazahkstan and Uzbekistan, for example, several hundred millions of dollars in aid advance lie unused by governments who refuse to match the standards of European-funded projects.

These are basic checks and balances: “have a clear project description; rule out corruption; don’t take your 15%.” (The human rights issue has yet to be addressed.) But the Kazakh Government prefers not to touch European aid, because these conditions do not accommodate endemic wheeler-dealering. This is important; the Americans are apparently ready to give help to those who help them.

You may never know whose interest has the upper hand in the US. Is it the UNOCAL people who tried to strike the deal over an Afghanistan pipeline; is it Enron; or is it the crowd working for drilling in Alaska? Three or four years ago, they were on the verge of internationally recognising the Taliban. Now, they might favour the much easier option of a Russian pipeline. Who can tell? But when it comes to international aid, you can be sure of one thing: the Americans will be far less constrained by any ‘code of conduct’ than the Europeans.

We Europeans are over-strict, and lack a culture of negotiation. Instead of acting like an International Court of Justice, we need to get closer in to the fabric of local societies, and learn how to perform more like a bazaar; while standing firm on that 15%.

We might even bring ourselves to entertain a ‘nasty’ thought from someone much misread: “Corruption provides the means for assimilating new groups into the system”, Samuel Huntington wrote in Political Order, adding, “The selling of parliamentary seats, for example, is typical of an emerging democracy, and preferable to armed attacks against Parliament itself.”

Democracy in the Middle East?

In the Middle East, we have exactly the reverse problem.

After all, when it was relatively peaceful, there was a good European effort trying to build up a Palestinian society. It hit the buffers when it came to resistances on the ground. Because there, of all places, we Europeans decided to be much less rigorous. It’s true Europe, and Germany in first place, has a “special obligation” towards the state of Israel. But that should not include that we stand by while Israel is destroying all the infrastructure Europe has financed in the Palestinian territories. It should not mean that we apply double standards: When Israeli soldiers shoot at cars carrying pregnant women on their way to the hospital that is not really a lot better than Palestinians attacking army personnel in the occupied territories – I’m not talking about those “suicide attacks” killing people in a pizzeria, here.

But we’re not rigorous on negotiation, either. Asked about corruption on the ground, we would say, ‘Yes, we know about Palestinian corruption, but we’ve seen much worse. It isn’t an issue.’ Yet it is my firm conviction that the only way you can eventually achieve peace between Israel, the Palestinians and Israel/Palestine’s Arab neighbours is through creating true democracy throughout the region.

Israel will only drop its ‘security fears’ when it is surrounded by democratic states. Only then will Arab states demand with credibility that Israel respect international law.

Shamefully, since the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian ruling elite has done nothing to build up a democratic society in the areas under their control. The eruption after Camp David would have been much easier to deal with. They would have had a real alternative to Israeli policy to put to their own people, and to the world.

Instead, you now have a majority amongst the Israeli people who are not willing to compromise any more with the Palestinians, including large sectors of what used to be the peace camp. On the Arab side, ever-increasing evidence of the American bias towards Israel means growing reluctance to make compromises for the Americans.

Even if Europeans agree there has to be a fresh political approach, actors on the ground – Palestinian and Israeli – would never sign an agreement not guaranteed by the Americans.

Some hope, though, may be around the corner. For a few weeks now, we’ve heard that there is a fresh, non-violent, secular Palestinian political camp emerging. It is headed by people such as Haidar Abd-el Shafei, Mahmoud Darwish, Edward Said, or Ali Jerbawi, the head of the Palestinian Human Rights movement.

Their approach is that the experience of an ‘armed Intifada’ has been futile and counter-productive. Their agenda: end occupation now. And change the process of Palestinian decision making now.

Yes, that would mean fresh elections. When all is said and done, the current Palestinian Authority plus the Islamicists don’t muster more than 40 per cent of popular support. So, maybe these others are the people we want to talk to…

Nation-building for Iraq?

There is one example of an urgent need for peace making, where the western approach should never have bowed to the Americans: Iraq.

Given the capacity of Iraqi society, and the important role it could play in the environment foregrounded by the events of September 11, it is a big failure to have relinquished Iraq to the Butcher of Baghdad. We need a development perspective.

We need a European approach alongside that of the Americans, in which the democratic character of society and its internal structures are seen as part of the security agenda.

The concept of nation-building raises a lot of fears in the United States. The Afghans had to meet in Koenigswinter, near Bonn. Europeans let the United Nations act up front, and get on with what needs to be done behind the scenes to build or rebuild nations.

We are good at that: and this is surely something which can inspire those younger generations of Europeans, who, as I said at the beginning, we now know are much, much more politically dynamic than our own European political classes.

It is one thing to wish for it, another to make it happen. I am certain that Chirac, Jospin, Schröder, Blair would sign up to this European presence if they thought it could be done. And if they keep their word, in five or six years we will see the European Rapid Reaction Force leading the way in creating a European security identity and military options. Still, when it comes to any crunch situation, will the European nation states prefer this over their own military capacities?

We must do as we have always done in the process of building Europe: wait for the dynamics to be right.

Growing Insularity?

What of Britain in all this? Sooner or later, Britain has to relate to the euro. Financially, it might be possible to remain inside Europe but outside the euro. In the near future your European partners would still bend over backwards to help.

But if you wait and see until it is a ‘sure thing’, you might well find them less inclined to make your euro entry path smooth… Is this insularity politically viable? That is the question.

People say, if you held a referendum tomorrow, there would be no majority for entering the euro. (There would never have been a majority in favour in a German referendum. It’s handy that the German constitution, thanks to our particular plebiscitory history, has forbidden the use of referenda since 1945. Although that is about to change.)

However, nobody is well served by being exposed to a referendum on such an issue. People need practical experience of this emerging Europe before they can decide. And such issues as the nature of the European Central Bank, or a common taxation system, are extremely complicated.

There will be tests on the road toward a European foreign policy. One key test looming – if the United States goes in to Iraq without UN support, it’s very hard to conceive that France or Germany will stand behind the action. Where will Britain stand?

I don’t think Europe should leave it to Colin Powell to do all the talking in and with the U.S. administration. And as we have just seen in the Schröder/Blair proposals for streamlining the process of decision making in Europe, Britain is not just standing by when it comes to Europe. Hopefully, together we could develop an alternative to military action: step up the pressure on Saddam and press hard for a settlement in Israel/Palestine.

We Europeans should always keep in mind that it all starts at home. What is at issue is not so much power politics as the opportunity to offer a healthy political perspective. ‘Our’ model of integration, prosperity and social justice is a key factor when we talk about peace making and stabilisation in other areas of our continent, and the world. In Central Asia, in the Middle East or in the WTO – that’s what Europeans have seriously to advertise and work for.

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