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Can the European Union Check US Power? - 2004-03-17

Is the European Union an emerging “counterweight” to U-S power? Some analysts say an enlarged European Union may become a model for organization of states. Others are doubtful, calling the European Union economically stagnant and geopolitically weak. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that nuclear inspectors, temporarily barred by Tehran, will return to Iran this month. At the same time, Iran’s top nuclear policy maker Hassan Rowhani, visiting Japan, stated that his country “will continue working hard until the international community believes that Iran’s nuclear development is based entirely on a peaceful purpose.”

Europe is celebrating Iran’s decision as a crown to its diplomatic efforts that began in October last year. British, French and German foreign ministers visited Tehran and obtained Iran’s temporary agreement to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and allow inspections.

Some analysts note the European Union has achieved more through diplomacy in Iran than the United States with its harsher stance. Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says Europe has more power than is generally thought and can serve as a corrective to some U-S actions.

“I think it has economic power in terms of its ability to play a significant role in trade and investment and regulations, says Professor Nye. "And Europe has ‘soft power,’ which is the ability to attract others by its culture and its political ideals. Look at all the countries lining up wanting to join the European Union.”

On May first, the European Union will expand from 15 to 25 members. With about 450 million people, its population will be almost twice that of the United States. Some analysts say Europe’s federal institutions are also gaining power. Its constitution, although not finalized, suggests the emergence of a solid organization that might serve as a model to other nations wishing to form unions.

Joseph Nye says the desire to join the European Union has spurred many countries to modernize their political and economic systems. He cites Turkey as a good example of what “soft power” can do: “Turkey is a significant Islamic country, which could turn to the Middle East. It could turn to a more extremist version of Islam. But Turkey has become more and more moderate, in part because it wants to join the European Union. It’s attracted to Europe. So that’s a clear example of Europe’s ‘soft power’ in a very important case.” Professor Nye gives more examples in his new book “Soft Power.”

But some analysts say it would be wrong to view the European Union as an emerging “counterweight” to U-S power. Niall Ferguson, author of the book “Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the lessons for Global Power,” says Europe’s enlargement is more a sign of waning than growing power.

“Far from approaching a kind of parity with the United States, whether in economic, cultural, political or in international terms, in reality the European Union is an entity on the brink of decline and even of dissolution,” says the author. He adds that Western Europe, the core of the Union, is declining in many areas, including culture, institutions and economy. He says its record for the past decade compares unfavorably with that of the United States.

“In every year of the last decade but one, that was 2001, the economy of the United States has grown in real terms faster than that of the European union," says Niall Ferguson. "In every year of the last eight years but one, productivity has grown faster in the United States than in Europe. If you look at the average of unemployment, and these are the standardized measures of unemployment that the OECD uses, you can see that on average in the last decade, unemployment in the European Union has been nearly double than what it has been in the United States.”

Niall Ferguson says the cost of adding ten new states will be very high, at least initially. So at least for some time, Western Europe will not reap any real benefits. Some new member states may be disappointed as well, he says: “Let me merely point out that one respect in which central European economies have coped with their relatively lower productivity compared with Western Europe since the ending of communist rule in those countries nearly 15 years ago, has been by working longer hours.”

Working long hours is something that new European Union regulations may curb. Niall Ferguson notes that the number of working hours per year has declined in most western European countries during the past decade, especially in those once known for their “Protestant work ethic,” such as Germany and the Netherlands. Quite the opposite has happened in the United States, says Mr. Ferguson. An example that many Eastern European economies have followed.

“My question, and it is rhetorical one, is whether Eastern Europeans who have discovered the benefits of economic liberty since the fall of the Berlin Wall may not find that liberty circumscribed by the mass regulations and rules that emanate daily from Brussels.” These rules will be more burden than benefit, says Mr. Ferguson. Europe is full of old and “moribund institutions” that once embodied grandiose plans for the continent.

“Think, for example, of the Bank for International Settlements or the International Labor Organization. There’s scarcely a European capital without a relic of some past plan for greater European integration." says Mr. Ferguson. "My suggestion is not that the European Union will vanish, but simply that the institutions are in danger of atrophying and that it too may one day be no more than a humble data-gathering agency with expensive but impotent offices in the city of Brussels and elsewhere.”

Even though few critics have such bleak predictions for an enlarged Europe, nobody doubts the hurdles ahead. Foreign affairs, for example.

Klaus Larres, professor of international relations at the University of London, says given the disagreements, it is hard to fashion a foreign policy. Witness the difficulties over the war in Iraq or the various conflicts in the Balkans, he asks: “Each and every country of the European Union still pursues its own foreign policy in a very traditional way. They look after their own national interest. But beyond that, the EU in certain areas, on certain problems does have a foreign policy.”

Klaus Larres says recent EU diplomatic efforts in Iran and rapprochement with China show that France, Germany and Britain are now determined to take an active role in global politics rather than follow the US lead: “(Chancellor) Schroeder’s visit to China indicates that both Germany and the European union want to have a position on China, that they don’t want to leave relations with the Chinese to the United States as a leader of the western world, so to speak. That it is not what should be acceptable any more.”

However, none of these moves are meant to undermine the United States, says Professor Larres. The European Union and the United States have most interests in common – number one, eliminating global terrorism. But they have different approaches to such problems. Europe favors a multi-lateral, diplomatic and negotiated style. The United States is presently inclined to use economic or military pressure to achieve its goals. Different situations may require different measures. For best results, says Professor Larres, both may be necessary