July 20, 2000

EU vs. NATO:
Battle of the Acronyms

The outline of the next Administration’s agenda is becoming clear. The overwhelming priority will be to try to halt the process of European integration. The Kosovo caper has turned out to be one of the greatest US diplomatic debacles of all time. In launching the onslaught on Yugoslavia, the US aim had been to prove the indispensability of NATO by demonstrating that Europe is unable to act except under pressure from Washington. Europe learned its lesson and is now more determined than ever to emerge as a global rival to the United States.

Last December in Helsinki the European Union agreed to create force of 60,000-strong strike force by 2003. Meanwhile, the Europeans are busily promoting the consolidation of their armaments industry. The proposed United European Air-Space Association (EADC) – comprising France’s Aerospatiale, British Aerospace, Germany’s DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, Spain’s CASA, Sweden’s Saab and Italy’s Finmeccanica-Aleni – would produce military aircraft, helicopters, systems for space missions, and long-range guided missiles. The Europeans also intend to develop their own satellite system in space. The goal is total military independence from the United States by ceasing to rely on US equipment and components.

Then in May at the Humboldt University in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer outlined his vision of Europe. He spoke of a European federation, a European Constitution, an elected European Presidency and a European parliament with real powers. The European Union was about to admit new members. Therefore, he suggested, European institutions must become less unwieldy. Majority voting had to replace the current system based on unanimity. The votes allocated to member countries would be directly proportional to the size of their populations.

In other words, before the European Union admits any new members its institutions needed to be consolidated. This is how Fischer put it: "So if the alternative for the EU in the face of the irrefutable challenge posed by eastern enlargement is indeed either erosion or integration, and if clinging to a federation of states would mean standstill with all its negative repercussions, then, under pressure from the conditions and the crises provoked by them, the EU will at some time within the next ten years be confronted with this alternative: will a majority of member states take the leap into full integration and agree on a European constitution? Or, if that doesn’t happen, will a smaller group of member states take this route as an avant-garde, i.e. will a center of gravity emerge comprising a few member states which are staunchly committed to the European ideal and are in a position to push ahead with political integration?" In other words, a European avant-garde of states will set policy for the rest of the Continent. While some countries will be dawdling, others will be busily establishing the future shape of institutions that everyone will have to accept at some point anyway.

The "avant-garde," Fischer explained, would "conclude a new European framework treaty, the nucleus of a constitution of the federation. On the basis of this treaty, the federation would develop its own institutions, establish a government which within the EU should speak with one voice on behalf of the members of the group on as many issues as possible, a strong parliament and a directly elected president." What this means is that the enlargement of the European Union will not happen any time soon. To get in, a new member would have to follow the rigid convergence criteria to qualify for the euro. Most of the successful, prosperous economies had found those conditions extraordinarily onerous. How much more burdensome would they be for the former communist economies of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic! And new members would not have the power to veto EU policies they did not like.

Last month it was the turn of France’s President Chirac to take up the theme of giving the most powerful EU members greater powers the better to dictate policy to everyone else. In a major speech to the Bundestag in Berlin, Chirac spoke of a "two-speed Europe." The fast lane will be made up of France and Germany and anyone else who cares to follow them. The rest can trot along at whatever pace they like. It will not make any difference anyway. They will not be able to thwart the consolidation of Europe. Sooner or later they will have to adopt the European institutions forged by France and Germany. "The powerhouse Europe, which we sincerely call for, this Europe, strong on the international scene," Chirac explained, "must have strong institutions and an efficient and legitimate decision-making process, that is giving all its significance to the majority vote and reflecting the relative weight of member states. In order for European integration to move forwards, we must constantly strengthen the Franco-German friendship. I believe our priority must be to encourage still further this strong momentum towards integration between our economic capabilities and to make the Franco-German duo the driving force of a powerful European industrial center."

Confronted by this threat from Europe, the Americans have toyed with various ideas – none too successfully. First there was smug dismissal. For years the United States did not take Europe seriously. The Americans had supported the creation of the European Union on the assumption that it would help make the Continent a more reliable subordinate to the United States. The EU would be an adjunct to NATO. The creation of a European superstate, on the other hand, struck Americans as self-evidently preposterous. The idea of Europe as a global power was laughable. How could so many different countries speak with one voice? How could the French and the Germans agree on anything? When the Europeans proposed the introduction of a single currency by 1999, the US response was again dismissive. Even today, as Europeans speak openly of becoming militarily independent of the United States much of the foreign policy elite continues to trot out tired clichés. How could the Europeans, addicted as they allegedly are to welfare, cosseted workers, rigid labor markets, and uncompetitive industries, how could they hope to spend the kind of money they need to build up a serious military? The notion is too silly even to discuss. This is the line taken by our old friend Zbigniew Brzezinski among others.

Thus the complacent members of our elite. There is also the panicky faction, embodied by the two-ton hideous harridan of Foggy Bottom. She continues to issue dark warnings about the dire consequences that would surely follow any weakening of NATO. NATO must remain the centerpiece of Western security for all time. Why? Because it is run by the United States. Her hysterical yelping has however fallen on deaf ears. Clearly, a more subtle approach was needed. Bill Clinton offered it in Aachen last month in his speech accepting the Charlemagne Prize. Europeans should forget about consolidation and concentrate instead on enlargement. Otherwise, all those terrible things like racism, exclusivism, xenophobia, ethnic cleansing will make a comeback. The European Union, in other words, had to become like multicultural America. The club had to be opened up to excluded minorities. Of course, the bigger Europe became, the more unwieldy it would be. The more different the people that it incorporates the less will it be able to act as a coherent entity. The speech, incidentally, was a priceless example of Clintonism. He explicitly disavowed on principle the very policies he has pursued relentlessly. He objected to the idea of "forcing people to live together; there is no bringing back the old Yugoslavia." Maybe not. But evidently people can be forced to live together in Bosnia or Kosovo. Clinton also denounced the idea of "giving every community its own country, army, and flag; shifting so many borders in the Balkans will only shake the peace further." Even as he was saying this, his minions were in Montenegro pushing the tiny statelet with a population of 600,000 to separate itself from Yugoslavia.

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Wednesday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

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Clinton urged the European to invite Turkey to join the EU. This is a longstanding American demand. The Europeans are too polite to give the appropriate response. If Washington is so worried about the exclusion of Turkey, why does the United States itself not invite Turkey to become the 51st state? Americans and Turks have at least as much in common as Europeans and Turks. Clinton also suggested that the European Union lets Russia become a member. "The alternative would be a future of harmful competition between Russia and the rest, and the end of our vision of an undivided continent." This from the head of an Administration that overrode Russian protests as it expanded NATO. The United States even wants the Baltic states in NATO – something that infuriates most Russians. The Europeans know very well what is behind this sudden US solicitude for Russian feelings. With Russia in the EU, Europeans will be bogged down trying to address that vast country’s insuperable problems for at least two generations. And Europe could forget about becoming a great power. The Europeans thanked Clinton for his advice and ignored it.

There is yet another alternative, one favored by the American Right and certain sections of the British Tory establishment. Great Britain should be invited to join the North Atlantic Free Trade Association (NAFTA). The idea is the brainchild of a small band of Anglo-Americans hanging around Margaret Thatcher and a few "neo-conservative" think tanks. In Britain it is vigorously promoted by the Telegraph newspapers and Tory think-tanks like the Center for Policy Studies. It bears the hallmarks of the armchair geostrategists who are forever unhappy that the United States is not bombing long or hard enough. Steve Forbes and Newt Gingrich have both called on Britain to join NAFTA. Last December during the Presidential campaign, Senator John McCain declared: "I would welcome any country into NAFTA that would lower their barriers to US goods and services, but I would prefer somebody like the British because we have such commonality of interests. I worry about the very ugly specter of protectionism raising its head in the EU." A few days ago Senator Phil Gramm was in London addressing the Center for Policy Studies. The "special relationship" between the US and Britain was so "special," he explained, that a British request to join NAFTA would be treated differently "from any other trade agreement" under negotiation. A British attempt to join would be an "enforcing action" to stop the EU becoming a block on global free trade.

The Britain/NAFTA scheme is dastardly in its cunning. Britain, as a signatory to the Treaty of Rome, cannot enter into trade agreements with anyone outside the EU. So if Britain is in NAFTA, it is effectively out of the EU. The British people might accept withdrawal from the EU if they have another club to join. With Britain out of the European Union, a number of the smaller powers will start getting cold feet about signing up for an enterprise so dominated by France and Germany. And so they too might decide to jump ship. Indeed, without Britain to lean on, France too might start getting nervous about falling under the thumb of Germany. It might respond by going back to de Gaulle’s idea of a Europe of nation states and perhaps draw closer to Great Britain, the United States and NATO. Thus everything will work out and everyone will be happy. The British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook described the idea as "barmy." It is – much like most of the nonsense that emanates from Conservative circles on both sides of the Atlantic these days.

There is one alternative left and is the one, I believe, the United States will opt for. It will try to build a new alliance of states to rival the European Union. The alliance would include a number of the states of East and Central Europe, particularly those resentful at having been left out of the European Union. Included also would be Ukraine, a number of the oil-rich states of Central Asia, and trusted satellites like Shevardnadze’s Georgia. Included also, would be such traditional client-states like Turkey, Israel and Egypt. The United States will also try to exclude the European Union from the Balkans. Of course, the United States could do the intelligent thing and not stand in the way of Europe. But that is the least likely outcome.

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