Europe’s Dilemma – A Confused Power?

Credit: EPA

Credit: EPA

 
Europe is of little help. Internal European divisions mean that no European government, not even the one led by Angela Merkel in economic powerhouse Germany, can provide a clear definition of and support for a European consensus on dealing with the currently troubled world (Stanley R. Sloan 2014).

Since the collapse of the financial markets leading to a deep economic and financial crisis in Europe, the European Union’s aspirations to contribute to global security have slowly disappeared. With its array of foreign policy tools and its defense and security policy – the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) – the EU seemed like a well-versed regional and global actor at least on paper at the start of the millennium.

The recent crises – Russia’s annexion of Crimea, continuous war in Eastern Ukraine, rise of ISIS in Iraq, destruction of a civilian airliner by pro-russian militiamen over Ukraine, instabilities in Sahel and Middle East & North Africa (MENA), war in Gaza, among others – have clearly demonstrated the inaptitude of the EU and its Member States in their willingness to tackle these challenges and be actually able to play the game of world politics. It has appeared that the EU seems unable to operate in 21st century world politics and incapable to formulate a unified response to pressing crisis.

As most Western powers, but especially for the EU which does not have a standing army and a clear national interest, Europe’s dilemma has always been in balancing values with interests. For a long time, values and interests tended to be closely intertwined (remember Kagan’s argument of a 21st century power, or Cooper’s argument of Europe as a post-modern state). Europe’s foreign policy tools shaped by soft power – EU’s behaviors based on international law, institutions and multilateralism – seem to be an effective road for all European agents. The EU had soft power, while the Member States had hard power. It seems to be a good balance as the EU was not overshadowing active foreign policy Member States, like France or Britain. However, the academic literature has for some times wondered about the sole influence of soft power in order to shape world events and stabilize regions. It seems that soft power may very well function in times of prosperity, peace and most importantly international stability provided by a hegemon. For instance, hard power was required and necessary in order to stop the vicious wars in the Balkans during the 1990s. After the use of military power, Europe’ soft power has been a successful instrument in order to stabilize the region. But, since the 2007 financial crisis, the international order has been progressively shifting leading to a rebalancing of world powers and their roles onto the international arena.

china-u-s-europe-trade-economy5Back to the original theme, Europe’s dilemma is dealing with the balancing act between the EU and its 28 Member States in shaping world events. The perpetual question in European domestic circles has always been: what has the EU done for us? When studying the CSDP, the real question should be what have European powerhouses done for the CSDP? At first, France and Britain were the initiators behind its creation in 1998. Paris and London were strong supporters – even though they have had some divergence in terms of the role of CSDP and its interactions with NATO – and the first decade of the CSDP was to some degree successful with a broad range of civilian and military CSDP missions and a charismatic High Representative in Javier Solana. Then, the financial crisis, causing clear domestic shifts, has contributed to the demise of the CSDP. European powerhouses have since tried to lower their commitments to the CSDP and lessen their desires to foster a common voice when tackling new challenges. This has been the challenge for the EU these last 7 years, saving the CSDP and EU aspirations to shaping world events.

Britain – all about leaving the EU?

Since the election of David Cameron as Prime Minister, Britain has been more concerned CAMERON-UK-EUabout promoting and defending its interests within the Union. Most EU Member States do so, but Britain has been principally concerned in bringing-back its perceived lost powers from Brussels to London. Britain has been in the business to defend British interests at the expense of European way of doing business, compromise. Additionally, Britain is facing a tense period of its history with the looming Scottish referendum of September 18th, 2014. The financial crisis has severely hurt the British economy and to some degree Britain’s global aspirations. It has translated to a lesser active Britain in promoting the CSDP.

In the case of the tension with Russia over Ukraine, Britain has long defended its interests by avoiding meaningful sanctions against Russia. Britain sought to protect Russian investments in the City and massive Russian influx in its country. Nevertheless, the recent EU sanctions, adopted mid-July, demonstrates the commitment by London to challenge Moscow and take Russian leadership accountable. The destruction of the Malaysian airplane was a turning point for Cameron and his European colleagues.

France – all about promoting French interests?

French security and defense policy is moving into an opposite direction than the common one. On one side, France has been extremely active on the international stage leading the multilateral military intervention in Libya, and then going alone in Mali (Operation Serval starting in 2012), Central African Republic (started in 2014) and now throughout the Sahel (Operation Barkhane). Each time the EU and the CSDP were sidelined and left with small missions that it can difficulty undertake due to limited support back in Europe. In the case of Libya, Mali and CAR it was difficult to materialize EU Member States’ words with actions and materials.

Second, France is seeking for a solution to its dire financial and economic climate. France stands behind the fact that it will sell its Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia so Paris can protect

Credit: Newscom

Credit: Newscom

domestic jobs and economic growth. But, recently France has claimed that the delivery of the second mistral ship will depend on Russia’s attitude. Moscow’s response was that it will not be paying until the two ships have been delivered. Even former Defense Secretary Gates has expressed during an interview his incomprehensions concerning the French sale of military equipment to Russia. Such move by Paris illustrates the large margin of action offered by Europeans to Putin. Despite annexing Crimea, arming al-Assad and the pro-russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine, using hydrocarbons as a weapons, France still perceives that it is in French national interest to provide high level military equipment to a regional power in search for greatness and perpetual challenge of Western interests. Such move by Paris is incomprehensible.

Germany – still a reluctant foreign policy actor?

Germany and Italy are naturally protecting the influx of Russian hydrocarbons. Germany has remained a quiet actor within the EU in matter of defense and security policy. Aside from its contribution to NATO mission in Afghanistan, that ended in 2007, Berlin has not be a major European foreign actor. Germany has been called a reluctant foreign policy actor especially after its abstention to contribute to the NATO-led mission in Libya in 2011.

Germany’s priority has been about stabilizing the Eurozone crisis and re-launching growth in Europe. Germany has been choosing its foreign policy battles. For instance Germany has increased its foreign policy game in recent months through its diplomatic rift with the US on the spying scandals and finally agreeing on tougher sanctions against Russia. However, on the recent crisis in Iraq, Germany was one of the obstacle at the recent EU meeting in order to coordinate a unified EU response. If France and Britain are willing to send weapons and assist the Kurds in their fight against ISIS, Germany has expressed its reluctance “to test the limits of its policy prohibiting the export of weapons to conflict zones.”

So much for a 21st century power!

The EU, which has identified and promoted itself as a soft power, is even unable to behave as one. Member States are too concerned about their short-term interests over their owns and EU’s actual long-term interests. The unwillingness to sanction Russia, at first, for its behavior in direct violation of international law – Syria, Crimea, Ukraine, Chechnya, among others – exemplifies Europeans’ perpetual defense of their national interests. As demonstrated in Dempsey’s excellent piece, European powerhouses are continuing ‘business as usual’ with Russia. It took months for the Union to finally agree on a set of sanctions against Russia that actually could have a real effect on the Russian economy. However, the EU and the US changed their position early August with the adoption of stronger sanctions (watch here a good video on the topic) against Russia leading to a Russian response to import bans on select EU foods (an extraordinary meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council will take place early September to assess the impact of these measures and the appropriate response). The sanctions are targeting Russian financial, energy and military sectors. Russia may be a tough case to crack for the Union, but it plays within a broader spectrum of regional stability. The EU is not in position to assert its influence and power. Since the financial crisis, the Union has been catching up with world events in its neighborhoods rather than influencing them.

Back to the original question, what have European powerhouses done for the CSDP? Since the 2007 financial crisis, not much. National interests have ruled over the any types of

common interests. The CSDP was created back in 1998, at the bilateral meeting in Saint Malo between French president Chirac and British Prime Minister Blair, to finally provide the Union with a civilian-military instrument to solving pressing regional crises. The wars in the Balkans – Bosnia and Kosovo – were clear illustrating of European inabilities to assure security in its neighborhood. Over a decade later, the lessons have been already forgotten. Member States are more committed to their national interests. The example of the selection process of the next EU diplomatic chief, which should be understood as a clear fiasco, demonstrates that Member States rather have a mediocre diplomatic chief not overshadowing their interests and influences – for what there are worth – than a clear diplomatic leader with a vision for the EU and the CSDP on the global stage. It seems obvious that the Ashton mandate did not overstep over national interests, but what was the real costs to Europe’s influence and credibility on the international stage? And was the Solana’s mandates so damaging to French and British interests? The selection of the next HR does matter and could affect the future of the CSDP (read here the excellent article by Ian Bond, Denis Corboy, William Courtney, Craig Dunkerley). A top diplomat at the helm of European diplomacy and foreign affairs may simply be what Europe needs in order to find a new direction and get a second wind.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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About politipond

Author - Maxime H. A. Larivé, Ph.D., is a European and transatlantic expert. His book, titled 'Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity,' is published with Ashgate.
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