Globe and Mail
July 12, 2008
The shy, introverted superpower
LONDON — When Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes 40 other leaders to Paris tomorrow to launch a new international body called the Union of the Mediterranean, he will be urging everyone to ignore his better known title, President of the French Republic, and instead recognize him as the president of something far larger and more important, a global superpower whose 500-million citizens share a single democratic, federal government and operate the world's largest economy.
Mr. Sarkozy is, after all, the "President of Europe," and has been since France took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1. That makes him, for the next six months, the top executive official representing this putative superpower to the world.
But Europe is not a superpower, not the way the United States is, despite having more money, more people and arguably better tools for bringing change to the world, and its efforts to become one, for the second time in three years, have just come crashing to the ground.
Days before Mr. Sarkozy assumed his new role, the people of Ireland voted No in a referendum to ratify a new constitution for Europe. The Treaty of Lisbon, as that constitution is known, would have replaced the overlapping pile of institutions that govern Europe with a far more democratic parliament, a real president and an elected foreign minister, a proper charter of rights and, in general, a much more recognizable and unified presence in the world.
It would have made Europe more like a real democratic federation, such as Canada or the United States. It required unanimous ratification by all 27 EU member nations. Ireland was the only one that dared put that decision to its people, after the experience of 2005, when the people of France and the Netherlands rejected a similar constitution. It is widely believed that the Lisbon Treaty would also have been rejected by the French, the British and maybe even the Germans. It is not a constitution that European people believe in, though polls show they support the idea of the EU.
There are many, including Canada's leaders, who would very much like to see a proper European government. It would make Europe a nation-like entity that could make its own decisions in diplomatic and eventually in military matters, and probably make it easier for outsiders like Canada to negotiate trade relations with this economic giant (a long-thwarted Canadian goal). If Mr. Sarkozy had attended this week's G8 summit as the president of a functioning Europe, and not just as the guy from France, we might have seen far better progress on climate change, stronger action on Darfur, and a trade deal that might have effectively eased the food crisis. Instead, the EU was a marginal presence, and its four G8 countries contradicted one another.
HANDS ACROSS THE SEA
A sobering demonstration of Europe's current reality will be seen tomorrow at the opening of the Union of the Mediterranean. The leaders of all 27 EU nations plus a dozen African and Middle Eastern countries inaugurate an institution that was meant to link Europe economically and politically with its poorer southern neighbours.
Instead, the Mediterranean Union will be mainly a French affair, designed to further Mr. Sarkozy's goals of cleaning up France's relations with its former colonies, building closer ties with Israel, and stopping the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean. Spain, which already has its own strong ties with its southern neighbours and is far more welcoming to immigrants, is a reluctant partner. Italy, which is having a moment of extreme xenophobia, is even more reluctant. Germany and Britain are attending, but their leaders are wondering openly why.
It is to the world's great disadvantage that Europe will almost certainly not have a proper government for at least the next several years, especially when the United Nations is weak. The decisions of the United States will, for example, continue to dominate relations with Iran. The European nations are too divided over something as simple as cutting off banking ties to Iran, to say nothing of missile tests.
In Brussels, the Irish No is seen as either a tragedy or an absurd anomaly that will soon be corrected. Mr. Sarkozy took the latter view on Thursday when he addressed the European Parliament. While he dismissed the idea that Ireland might be persuaded simply to run its referendum a second time in hopes of a better result, he said he was confident that he would find a way to get the constitution ratified by the end of the year, through persuasion.
Half the EU's officials seem to believe that the democratic defeat of the federation's constitution by one of its most successful members is just a passing inconvenience. Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, yesterday made a big show of congratulating the governments of Belgium and the Netherlands for having ratified the constitution, as if a document requiring unanimous consent still maintains a ghostly presence in the netherworld of non-ratification.
"In Brussels, they keep believing that if they can just get the formula right, they will start to dominate the world the way the United States has done," says Hugo Brady, an Irish economist with the London-based Centre for European Reform, a pro-EU think-tank. "They don't notice that European voters are much more interested in an inward-looking, socially oriented sort of government, and they keep trying to find a way to trick people into saying Yes to being a superpower."
This is an embarrassing spectacle. It should be clear by now that Europe's people do not want to be part of an outward-looking world power that its leaders so want the continent to be — and that the world in many ways could use. Europe has spent the past 60 years building a grand institution of consensus and quiet agreement. To bring these forces back to life, and to create a passion for Brussels, will not happen so soon.
"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity." So said Robert Schuman, France's first postwar foreign minister, on May 9, 1950, when he created the beginnings of European government by launching the European Coal and Steel Community, a characteristically humble, bureaucratic and invisible beginning to a continent-wide federal government that now writes and controls more than half of the laws of its member countries.
But first, Mr. Schuman added, Europe had to put an end to its nationalist ambitions — in particular the mutual animosity of France and Germany, which had bloodied and divided the continent for almost two centuries. Bringing democracy by force to nations living under tyranny, as Napoleon attempted, wasn't going to work. Nor was a will to superpower status, as practised by Bismarck and Hitler. So in that initial proclamation, Mr. Schumann set out the central paradox of the EU: As an increasingly legitimate government, it requires visible and exciting achievements to give its citizens a feeling of "de facto solidarity." But as an institution built on the erasure of nationalism, it does everything it can to prevent such passions.
LIFE WITH NO CONSTITUTION
Nevertheless, Europe manages to accomplish quite a lot without a proper constitution. Just this month, Mr. Sarkozy has overseen the launch of a Europe-wide health and social-security program that would eventually give universal access to free hospital care throughout Europe to citizens of any country (something the United States has not managed), and a law that would allow Europe-wide labour unions. On the other side of the spectrum, he has launched a continent-wide immigration policy, built on deeply conservative and restrictive principles. This is not the work of an impotent administration.
Mr. Sarkozy dared to suggest this week that Europe will stop expanding if the Lisbon Treaty doesn't become law. This is dangerous talk: Croatia, Serbia and Turkey have become much more peaceful and successful countries in recent years because of the prospect of EU membership. It is completely untrue that the EU can't expand: It easily added Romania and Bulgaria in the midst of its supposed "reflection period" after the last constitution's defeat.
Indeed, the lack of a functioning constitution may well have given the EU its best years. (Canadians, with a dysfunctional and never fully ratified Constitution, may recognize this.) The EU has been at its most efficient during this dead period, adding two new members, expanding its scope to the shores of the Black Sea, strengthening its currency, holding back inflation and managing a far better fiscal performance than the U.S. What is missing, to use the oft-repeated phrase of Henry Kissinger, is "a phone number for Europe." For many reasons, this should be the moment when the continent becomes a superpower. The current vacuum in U.S. leadership, the difficult situations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the slaughter in Sudan, the energy crisis, the food crisis, the inflation crisis, and definitely the global-warming crisis all could use a powerful leader representing those half-billion people, not 27 leaders with often contradictory aims.
So the defeat of Lisbon is the world's loss. But it isn't necessarily Europe's. It will become a superpower when its people feel it deserves to be one. And they might not feel that way about Europe until they need to defend it from a threat to its existence. That is how true federations are born.
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