It’s been exactly a year since cranky French and Dutch voters rejected the European Union’s draft constitution, and pundits can’t resist hyping an EU “crisis.” A steady stream of copy is provided by die-hard federalists in Brussels, ever disappointed by slow movement toward a “United States of Europe.” But Anglo-Americans seem particularly prone to mood swings from Euro-enthusiasm to Euro-skepticism. Citing the failed constitution, anti-immigrant sentiment, and economic performance, Charles Kupchan of Georgetown (who used to be bullish on Europe) claimed last week in the LA Times that Europe faces its “most serious crisis since World War II.” The EU is “at risk” unless its leaders take “urgent action.”
Muscular rhetoric, great story line. Yet the truth is just the opposite. And it’s not just liberals like my Princeton colleague John Ikenberry who see this, but recovering Europe-bashers in the Bush Administration as well.
If you judge by concrete actions, rather than constitutional rhetoric, the EU is riding high. Over the past decade, Europe has completed its single market, eliminated border formalities, launched the Euro, and strengthened foreign policy coordination. Over the past year alone, since the constitutional “crisis” began, Euro-leaders have resolved a long-standing budget wrangle, taken a courageous decision to open membership talks with Turkey, liberalized trans-border service provision, and launched a deregulation initiative.
Neighboring countries are voting with their sovereignty. In 2002, Europe enlarged from 15 to 25 countries, taking in much of former Eastern Europe. Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, and Turkey are queued up next. Surely this ranks as the single most cost-effective Western instrument for expanding global peace and security since the end of the Cold War. Just compare the stable democracies and growing market economies Europe has secured there (for about $100 billion) with the US quagmire in Iraq (at $300 billion, 2000 American lives and counting).
And what about the constitution? It was, I argue in detail elsewhere, an essentially conservative document that combined modest changes in real policy with lofty ideals aimed at increasing Europe’s popularity. The PR strategy failed and, one hopes, the idealistic federalist will be weakened, as Europe gets on with pragmatic policy-making. But there is, as Ikenberry felicitously puts it, “there is an opportunity for a humbled America to approach a humbled Europe to talk about a renewal of NATO and the Atlantic security partnership.”
The EU is now a global superpower in every respect except high intensity military force: trade, aid, multilateral membership, peacekeeping and policing, and ideological legitimacy. Europe garners uniform praise in Washington for their homeland security cooperation. Robert Kagan, who gained great celebrity a few years back for ridiculing European weakness with the phrase “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus,” has been saying in public that he wishes he had never coined the phrase. Eric Frey reports from Europe that America is increasingly seen as not just feeble, but uninspiring. Global anti-Americanism is increasingly aimed at American domestic values and institutions, not just Bush administration policy. The US is no longer a model for the world.
Even the Bush administration is moving in a pro-EU direction — a fact some hard-core unilateralists just cannot stomach. Pity poor Jeff Cimbalo, a Virginia lawyer and an old grad school buddy of mine, who has been pitching a revival of Don Rumsfeld’s 2003 strategy of “divide and conquer” — only to have the Bush administration repeatedly pull the rug out. A year ago in Foreign Affairs he advised the new administration to issue threats in order to block the European constitution, lest it undermine NATO. Instead W listened to Condi, made up with the Europeans, and became the first American president to pay a visit to the Brussels institutions.
Undeterred, Cimbalo now has a piece out in National Interest claiming that European disunity is undermining US policy in Iran, and the US should circumvent the EU and deal bilaterally with individual European governments. This would be futile. For years European governments (even the Brits) have been united against fantasies of military regime change in Iran. It’s not just liberal multilateralists who reject Cimbalo’s Realpolitik fantasy; the Bushies themselves have abandoned ship. In the past week — better four years late than never — the Bush Administration finally moved in a “European” direction, offering direct talks and economic carrots to Iran while downplaying the (ever less credible) military stick. And it was EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana who went to Teheran to deliver the news.
Oh yeah, and that bit about the declining European economy? My advice, cum grano salis: Buy Euros. A buddy of mine in the currency business, who has made a bundle betting against the dollar in recent years, thinks holding the European currency is a “one way bet”. The dollar (which has gone from 85 cents to $1.28 to the Euro in recent years) may drop further to $2 or even $3 as American deficits come home to roost.
Moravcsik is Professor of Politics and Director of the European Union Program at Princeton University, and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.