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Mighty Europe

Article by Mark Leonard

September 15, 2006

Beneath the rows and gesture politics, Europe’s big three countries have stealthily begun to make the EU a serious force in the world, as the secret negotiations last autumn with Tehran over its nuclear program made clear. At the Brussels summit last December – while the world focused on the clashes over voting weights – EU leaders quietly agreed to establish a military planning capability, put in place a mutual defense clause and, most importantly, a European security strategy.
Iraq may have hastened progress towards a new consensus on the EU’s long-term security goals. Britain, France and Germany have recently demonstrated a solidarity that Tony Blair tried–but failed–to engender in the late 1990s. This shows that the Iraq-era divisions between “Old” and “New” Europe need not be permanent or unbridgeable.
The December agreement to the EU’s Security Chief Javier Solana’s new security strategy marked a real departure for a continent that always preferred to discuss its institutions rather than its role in the world. Though the agreement has been diluted from earlier drafts and mentions of “pre-emptive engagement” replaced with the less threatening “preventive action,” the document remains almost Rumsfeldian in its warnings about terrorism and rogue states.
Most importantly, it sets out two overarching goals for the EU. First, transforming authoritarian and failing states – particularly in the Middle East and former Soviet bloc – into democratic and well-governed ones. Secondly, ensuring that multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, World Trade Organisation and the International Criminal Court are “relevant” enough to avoid being sidelined by great powers such as the U.S., China and Russia. The significance of the document is that it moves on from the traditional idea of multilateralism for its own sake to a determination to achieve results. It boldly declares that “We should be ready to act when their rules are broken.”
Such targets are easier to agree on than to achieve. But the paper’s goals are not necessarily unrealistic. Having helped convert most of the Warsaw Pact into well-functioning democracies, the EU has the capacity repeat its success in its new “near abroad”. And on tough multilateralism Europe has recently shown how it can achieve results by flexing its collective muscles. George W. Bush capitulated on steel tariffs – after a WTO judgment – when the EU stood firm and threatened to boycott U.S. imports. Equally, Iran’s apparent willingness to sign the IAEA protocol had more to do with the determination of Europe’s big three than a Pauline conversion in the mullahs’ attitude to nuclear weapons.
But to realize Solana’s targets, Europe must get better at being consistently tough. In the run-up to the March 2002 presidential elections in Zimbabwe, the EU failed to use the threats of a reduction of aid, the deployment of election monitors, or either targeted and full economic sanctions in a co-ordinated way. In spite of the fact that the security strategy defines climate change as our biggest strategic threat, the EU did not threaten any economic consequences when Russia, a huge beneficiary of European aid, refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol.
Europe could become a multilateralist superpower tomorrow without spending any more on defense. It would need to play more of the cards it already holds, from access to an $8 trillion market to an aid budget that dwarfs that of the U.S. In the words of British diplomat Robert Cooper, Europe “speaks softly and carries a big carrot,” placing its faith in trade and aid inducements rather than the threat of force. But this would be more effective if the EU was willing to withdraw its largesse from countries that violate standards of democracy and human rights or willfully undermine the international rule of law.
Under a tougher regime the EU could automatically enhance its influence over developing countries by tying aid deals and preferential trade agreements to states’ progress toward democracy and rule of law. This could be measured through an annual audit carried out by the European Commission. Making this publicly available would make it more difficult to fudge demands on human rights – for example maintaining aid flows to the Algerian Government in spite of its repression of opposition forces – because the media will hold any inconsistencies up for scrutiny.
Greater European toughness is demanded with reference not only to democratization, the WTO but also the ICC and, above all, the U.N. The year 2003 saw a small French force carry out a UN mandate in eastern Congo. The establishment of the proposed planning cell may indicate that more such operations -and bigger ones – are to come. But if the EU is prepared to revitalize the U.N., the U.N. will have to change. The EU should also be able to decide the conditions for its engagement with New York, ending anomalies such as Libya’s chairmanship of the human rights committee.
In the future European countries must make it clear that multilateralism is a central part of their national interests rather than simply a tool to achieve particular policy goals. Others should understand that attempting to undermine or take malicious advantage of multilateralism is not very different to meddling in the politics of Brussels or even national capitals.
Europe needs to show that it is not constrained by a psychology of weakness. The Solana strategy is a first attempt to demonstrate this. If the EU is prepared to take stock of its current and potential capacities, it may at last find the political will to become a global force.

Mr. Leonard is director of the Foreign Policy Center in London (, where he runs the Global Europe Program.

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