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Sunday, March 25

Happy 50th Birthday, European unification project! But is America the EU's doberman?

I'm not sure that the European Union and its precursors can take the lion's share of credit for decades of more-or-less peace on the European continent, but the unification project was there and growing through the past half century, so let's be generous. For the most part the Europeans decided on negotiation instead of war, which is a huge improvement over the half century leading up to the end of World War Two.

In the March 17-23 issue, The Economist pulled together a special report on the EU at 50 titled, Europe's mid-life crisis. It's worth the trouble to obtain the report, which is cogent, comprehensive and sprightly -- the last meaning that you will not fall asleep while reading.

The EU, according to The Economist, is not so much beset with crisis as with three complex interrelated challenges:

> Revving up the lagging EU economy and dealing with how some EU members are handling the euro currency. On one level the euro currency has been successful; it now accounts for a quarter of the world's foreign currency reserves. But the success of the euro within the EU bloc depends increasingly on national EU governments implementing stiff internal economic reforms which are generally unpalatable to an electorate.

> Finding agreement on what, if anything, is to be done about the EU draft constitution in limbo since the Dutch and French rejected it; and

> Working through the perceived "democracy deficit" that EU member nations feel in their relations with the EU bureaucracy.

The report explains each issue and also analyzes how Brussels is dealing with foreign relations. While the EU has no formal foreign policy to speak of (that will change if the EU Constitution ever gets ratified by all members), it wields enormous influence in international affairs, which as Pundita readers know I've endlessly groused about on this blog.

The Economist highlights a fact that doesn't receive much remark in America:
By far the most successful EU foreign policy has been its own expansion. In the 1980s the prospect of joining [the EU] played a critical part in ensuring a smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy in Greece, Spain and Portugal. More recently it has transformed the east European countries as they moved from communist central planning to liberal democracy. And Turkey has made wholesale changes in its politics, economics and society largely to boost its chances of joining.

Indeed, judged in terms of success in exporting its values to its backyard, the EU has done much better with its neighbours than the United States has with central and south America, largely because of the carrot of enlargement.
However, EU members are now feeling "enlargement fatigue."
Opinion polls for the whole region union still show a narrow majority in favour [of continued EU expansion] but in some countries the mood has turned sharply against. [...] Brussels folklore has it that widening (admitting new members) naturally conflicts with deepening (further integration of existing members).
Although there are ways to mitigate the widening vs deepening conundrum, the controversy about Turkey's ascension to the EU, which The Economist report examines, has been a lightning rod for qualms about further EU expansion.

But the problems don't take away from the stupendous fact of the union. The Europeans are creating a sort of new Roman Empire, but one based on trade benefits and negotiation instead of military aggression. That is a great accomplishment, even if cynics would remind us that the union has relied on US military might to conduct their expansion in peace.

Before raising my glass in a toast, I will strike a cautionary note for the United States. I am prompted by remarks in The Economist's projection of what the EU might look like at 100:
In the dangerous second decade of the century, when Vladimir Putin returned for a third term as Russian president and stood poised to invade Ukraine, it was the EU that pushed the [Barack] Obama administration to threaten massive nuclear retaliation.
If you tell me that surely The Economist writer is joking, I'd call it a Freudian slip. There's a feeling among the EU leadership (and in Moscow) that the US is so anxious to hold onto the Nato alliance that Brussels can manipulate Washington into doing just about anything if European security is directly involved. This helps explain Putin's actions to limit EU-US machinations in Russia. And it explains Pundita's sour-grapes view of Brussels when it comes to US foreign policy matters.
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