GREAT EXPECTATIONS: The Future of the European Union

Monday, October 25, 2004

For some six decades, the continent of Europe has enjoyed remarkable peace and prosperity. What role has the European Union played in this success? And what role should the European Union play in the future? According to some European leaders, the purpose of the European Union is to create a superpower capable of counterbalancing the United States. Is the goal of a superpower Europe a good idea? Is it even possible? Peter Robinson speaks with John O'Sullivan and Adrian Wooldridge.

Recorded on Monday, October 25, 2004

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge: Europe tries to give us something besides another war.

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation.


Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: the future of the European Union. According to many European leaders, the purpose of the European Union is to create a superpower capable of counterbalancing the United States. Are the Europeans pursuing this goal in a reasonable way? In 2003, for example, a European Constitutional Convention proposed a new Constitution for Europe that runs to more than two hundred pages. For that matter, is the goal of a superpower Europe a reasonable goal in the first place?

Joining us, two guests. John O'Sullivan is editor of The National Interest magazine and a fellow at the Nixon Center. Adrian Wooldridge is the Washington D.C. correspondent for The Economist magazine.

Title: Great Expectations

Peter Robinson: Former President of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, addressing the European Constitution Convention in 2002, "If we succeed in twenty-five or fifty years, Europe's role in the world will have changed. It will be respected and listened to. Not only as the economic power it already is, but as a political power which will talk on equal terms to the greatest powers on our planet." Are those the words of a serious person or of a man who is suffering at once from an inferiority complex and delusions of grandeur? John O'Sullivan?

John O'Sullivan: They are the words of a serious person who is suffering from delusions of grandeur.

Peter Robinson: Adrian?

Adrian Wooldridge: Well, he's half right. It's an economic power. It's a very serious one. As a potential political and military power, it's not going to be serious by then.

Peter Robinson: It will not be serious.

Adrian Wooldridge: No.

Peter Robinson: Beginning question, as we look to the European future, it's important to get right the European past. Brief summary of the last six decades. After centuries of war, sixty years of peace, economic prosperity such as the continent has never before known, democracy across the continent instead of in two or three countries--including in nations that within living memory were ruled by fascist dictators or communist apparatchiks. Now, a multiple-choice question. You must choose, to tell me that Europe owes these accomplishments principally to: a) the European Union b) The spread of free markets and international trade or c) The European Alliance with the United States. Adrian?

Adrian Wooldridge: B.

Peter Robinson: B. Free trade. John?

John O'Sullivan: B and C.

Peter Robinson: B and C. We'll give you that one. But neither of you said the European Union.

Adrian Wooldridge: I don't think the European Union is irrelevant. I think that the way in which the European Union has managed to hold out the carrot of membership and use that carrot of membership as a way of goading countries into structural reform, some of which is about introducing democracy or human rights. Some of which is about opening markets, introducing better competition policy. That is a serious benefit to the world.

Peter Robinson: All right. Let me read to you something that has become famous: Robert Kagan's statement. He's written--it began as an article and he's written a book about the difference between Europe and the United States, but here's his statement about the way European elites themselves tend to understand these last six decades. Quoting Kagan now, "European life since World War II has been shaped not by the brutal laws of power politics but by the unfolding of a miracle of world-historical importance: The German lion has lain down with the French lamb. The transmission of the European miracle to the rest of the world has become Europe's new mission."

Now, it leaves out entirely the role of the United States.

John O'Sullivan: Yes, and that's one of things that are wrong with it. First of all, by the way, not all European elites have that vision. That would be true, I think, for the elites of France and Germany and possibly of Spain, Italy, one or two other of the original countries. It is not true of the elites of Eastern and Central Europe and the Baltics.

Peter Robinson: Britain?

John O'Sullivan: Oh, it's not true of Britain. There are people in Britain who have that view, but they're not a hundred percent of the elite as--or ninety percent as it would be in France and Germany. Secondly, the dates are against the elites here because the European Union is established quite plainly after stability has been established in Europe by the United States and it's the continuing presence of the United States which makes it possible for France and Germany or any other European power not to fear their neighbor. If you have the Americans in there, you just don't have to worry that your neighbors are going to come pouring over the border in tanks at some point.

Peter Robinson: So, the French and the Germans and all the elites who do take this view are simply mistaken.

Adrian Wooldridge: Well, I think there is also a generational thing here. I think there's a certain generation of European elites who do firmly believe that in France and Germany and the core countries. I think younger people are believing that a little bit less unless they have jobs in the foreign office. I think, no, I think that that absolute, that sort of messianic, mystic belief in the European Union as the agents of peace and prosperity is declining amongst younger people, but it's not being replaced by any great faith in the transatlantic alliance.

Peter Robinson: Next, does the size of the European Union threaten its unity?

Title: Too Big for Its Britches

Peter Robinson: Admission of ten countries to the European Union in 2004 brings it from the original six countries who formed a coal and steel combine in 1957, quite right, twelve years after the end of the second World War to the total membership now of twenty-five. Test case on how unified those twenty-five are: the war in Iraq. France, Germany, Belgium and others oppose the war in Iraq. Britain, Poland, Italy, Spain and others support the war in Iraq. Has the European Union become so large that it simply cannot hope to be a coherent political entity? Adrian?

Adrian Wooldridge: Yes.

Peter Robinson: It has.

Adrian Wooldridge: I think it has on issues that are--that are divisive issues about the relationship primarily with the United States. There is such big divisions between old and new Europe, between Britain and France, for example, that you're never going to get an agreement. You might get a majority within the European Union voting for a certain policy, but, no, the wider it becomes the less deep it becomes.

Peter Robinson: Well, let me ask you--let me ask you to answer the question as if you were Valery Giscard d'Estaing. What would a French--member of the French elite say to that question that it has become too big. He'd agree with you? Is that the widespread view now across the continent as well?

Adrian Wooldridge: I think a lot of people in the core of Europe, in France and Germany, are very, very worried about it becoming too wide. They really want deepening more than widening, whereas the Anglo-Saxon axis wants widening rather than deepening.

Peter Robinson: John?

John O'Sullivan: I would agree with that. I would say that--but the French expressed this point of view, for them it is a fear. I would differ very slightly with Adrian in thinking that at the present degree of expansion, if no more people were added and in particular if Turkey is not admitted, I think it is possible for the French, the Germans and the bureaucratic elites in Brussels, in particular, to imagine that they will be able to bribe enough of the new countries--there are after all small populations, small economies--it wouldn't require a lot of money to bribe them--to go along with the centralizing tendencies--the deepening that Adrian talked about.

Peter Robinson: Well, you certainly could bribe if--Estonia and Lithuania small populations--narrow economy and so forth, but Poland, Hungary, those are pretty big ec--countries--pretty big economies.

Adrian Wooldridge: Well, people--when the Eurocrats talk about this...

Peter Robinson: Is Poland bribable?

Adrian Wooldridge: When people, Eurocrats, talk about this they actually say that the size of the economies that are being introduced is about the same as introducing Spain and Portugal and not huge economies. They are a lot of people...

Peter Robinson: Oh, oh...

Adrian Wooldridge: ...and they may have rapid growth, but as economic entities they...

Peter Robinson: Okay. Still on the waiting list, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey which is a)--I'm doing my a, b again--it's not even in Europe, oh well, that little bit of Istanbul, it's in Asia, and, of course, whereas Europe would be described properly as, what, a post-Christian state now--culture? In Turkey you have a believing Muslim culture...

John O'Sullivan: Yes..

Peter Robinson: and large. Although it's officially secular. And so, what do you reckon? Should Turkey be admitted? What would its admission mean? How big a fight?

John O'Sullivan: We've already seen one aspect of this when the European Union effectively told the Turks that if they were to be admitted to the Union they would have to decriminalize adultery. I mean, as a young man in England, I often thought that European values included adultery, but I never expected to get official confirmation of it from the European Commission. But you're quite right; there is a nervousness in Europe about the admission of Turkey. I think because of immigration, because of...

Peter Robinson: Once you're in the EU, your citizens may travel to any country within the EU without a passport, no im--you lose any hope of controlling where the Turks go. Is that correct?

John O'Sullivan: That is true. Free movement of labor although it probably would be postponed, but secondly, the fact that Turkey is so large, it would probably be by the time, eventually, the largest single nation in Europe and thirdly, because of the cultural differences that you alluded to. So, I think there is an enormous risk about this. At the same time, there's an enormous risk in excluding the Turks and telling all Muslims worldwide that Europe is a Christian club which doesn't want to have anything to do with Muslims, particularly when Europe has large Muslim minorities.

Peter Robinson: What sort of timetable is this on? The Turks would have liked to have been admitted the day after--the day before yesterday...

Adrian Wooldridge: Yes, but I think it will be sort of a rolling admission with different degree of rights. An increasing degree of rights, but I think you have a very simple response to the Turks which doesn't involve the religious question which is--which is this, Turkey is not a European country, so why should it be admitted to the European Union? We don't have to get involved with Islam. It's a simple question of geography.

Peter Robinson: Aside from the Turks, who wants Turkey in? France? The Germans?

John O'Sullivan: The British and the Americans.

Peter Robinson: The British and the Americans.

Adrian Wooldridge: Yeah. I think that a lot of the pressure for this is coming from the United States. The United States is very, very keen on Turkey joining the European Union because it's regarded as a stabilizing thing, bringing, you know, an example of a Democratic secular Islamic country.

Peter Robinson: And because they remember the NATO Alliance...

Adrian Wooldridge: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: ...a reliable ally in that world.

John O'Sullivan: I think the Turks would say in response to Adrian that they're a European in terms of their history. They've been part of European history for several hundred years having, for example, put late siege to Vienna.

Peter Robinson: As recently as 1683.

John O'Sullivan: That's right and, secondly, they, under Kemal, and now even under an Islam--an Islamic government, the Turks think of themselves, or claim to think of themselves as Europeans and not as Middle-Easterners.

Peter Robinson: Now let's discuss the proposed European Constitution.

Title: The Dustbin of History

Peter Robinson: 2003, the European Constitutional Convention of which--over which Valery Giscard d'Estaing presided, produces a document, whereas the American Constitution runs to only a couple of thousand words, the European Consitu--the proposed European Constitution runs to tens of thousands of words. Whereas the American Bill of Rights contains ten clauses, the European contains fifty including rights to join unions, rights to undergo free vocational training, rights to receive paid maternity leave. The Economist magazine, which has long supported the European project says, "The Constitutional Convention did not even try to write a lasting constitutional settlement." They proposed the Constitu--and your magazine proposes the Constitution should be dumped, quote, "in the nearest bin". Explain the position of your publication.

Adrian Wooldridge: Well, we have, on the cover of The Economist that week a picture of a trash can with the European Constitution put in it and we have the ultimate accolade of The Sun newspaper reprinting that cover on its own cover. I think that it was just a terrible document. It was an attempt to give everything to every possible (?) you can imagine. It's not a--a Constitution is something which lays out, one hopes, in elegance and compelling language a certain set of basic rights, not gives out a series of concessions to every conceivable interest group one could imagine in thousands of pages.

Peter Robinson: Eleven of the European Union's twenty-five countries have already committed themselves to holding referenda on the Constitution including the United Kingdom. The law of the European Union is such that if even one country rejects the Constitution, it can't take effect. Now, Giuliano Amato, Vice President of the Constitutional Convention, quote, "Legally we could not proceed", that is to say if they got even one rejection, "but politically, we could not stop." What on earth is going to happen here?

John O'Sullivan: First of all, the political realities are not exactly as Signor Amato described. If one large country, Britain, possibly France, that's not out of the question, were to reject it. Or one or several small countries, then I think that the Constitution could not simply go ahead. What could happen, and what probably would happen, is that the countries that wanted to go ahead would do so under a separate heading. And, frankly, I don't object to that. I think it makes perfect sense for countries which want to have--which want to have close integration economically, politically, a common foreign policy, a common defense organization, I think it makes perfect sense for them to go ahead and other countries would remain with them in a free trade area, but without the political baggage.

Adrian Wooldridge: I think what tends to happen in Europe is the European elites keep asking the question until they get the answer they want.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Adrian Wooldridge: And so, I mean, I agree with John that I would like to multi-speed Europe and, yes, let core countries go ahead if they want to.

Peter Robinson: Multi-speed Europe. Explain.

Adrian Wooldridge: Different degrees of integration that you don't have one size fits all, that France and Germany can be more deeply integrated than the...

Peter Robinson: So, you'd let France, and Germany and Belgium seize their dream and go ahead and become truly politic--or at least let them try while Britain, Poland, Spain, Italy at least as long as Berlusconi and his party run the place, say wait a minute, what we really want here is the benefits of free trade while retaining our sovereignty, right?

Adrian Wooldridge: That would be my position, yes.

Peter Robinson: And you think that's--that's the way things are beginning to play out?

John O'Sullivan: Well, it rather depends on whether or not the elites are sufficiently confident to think that they can get away with the policy which Adrian described absolutely accurately of saying, well, this is the right answer, so we're going to keep asking the question until you come up with it. I beginning--I think that they are beginning to believe they cannot get away with it on this occasion.

Peter Robinson: Next question, should the United States continue its long-standing support for greater European integration?

Title: All Together…Not

Peter Robinson: Let me quote to you Mark Steyn, "What's happening in Europe today is a refinement of western anti-westernism. A system of remote unaccountable, post-nationalist, pan-continental institutions urged upon the Continent by America has become the principal vehicle for anti-Americanism. 'A politically united', he's quoting now Strobe Talbott, 'A politically united Europe will be a stronger partner to advance our goals', insists Strobe Talbott", senior State Department Official in the Clinton Administration. Steyn says, "Tell that to [Swedish Prime Minister] Persson, who says the purpose of the European Union is that, 'it's one of the few institutions we can develop as a balance to US world domination.'" It is time for the United States to stop encouraging European integration and do what? Do you agree with Steyn here?

Adrian Wooldridge: I think whether Europe becomes a counterbalance to the United States, I don't think that's viable in practice. I think there are too many divisions within Europe...

Peter Robinson: There are a lot of elites who do truly want that.

Adrian Wooldridge: I think that's true, but I think what he's not grasping is the extent to which you have anti-Americanism now with deep and growing roots within individual countries outside the level of the trans-European bureaucracy you have anti-Americanism on a Europe-wide basis. And I think in practical terms will Europe ever be a counterbalance? No. Is Europe creating anti-Americanism that isn't there within different cultures? I don't think that's true either. I think there are much deeper reasons for the growing anti-Americanism, not to do with this European project.

John O'Sullivan: I'm rather more sympathetic, in fact, very sympathetic to what Mark Steyn said than Adrian. I'm sympathetic partly because although I believe that the European Union can't achieve its objective of being a coherent power which would be a counter-weight to the United States that does not mean that such an attempt won't be tried. We know the European elite are extremely determined and they keep asking the questions until they get the answer they want. And the fact that something can't work, when it is tried, does just produce a lot of great difficulties. Now I think that one of the difficulties is anti-Americanism. In order to make the thing work, you've got to have some kind of glue and that isn't the glue of normal patriotism. People don't feel themselves to be Europeans. So, what you do is you try to use America as a--anti-Americanism as the glue that will turn eventually into a European patriotism. I think that's partly happening naturally as Adrian said, and I think it's partly being stimulated and directed. I think Mark is right about that and this means, so it seems to me...

Peter Robinson: This is a critical point. What you're saying is that the elites who are trying to build a European Union have a very powerful incentive to play upon, to foster, to promote anti-Americanism.

John O'Sullivan: Absolutely. And I think they're doing it and, I mean, you will get statements like Persson's that you quoted from other people as well. I mean like from--from Francois Mitterand in his day. But let me make the point here. Different European elites have different ambitions here. The Germans are, I think, as utopian as Mark paints them. I think some of the bureaucrats in the smaller countries are. The smaller countries, in general, like Europe because it amplifies their voice. The French, it seems to me, are using Europe as an instrument of their own national interests. And they are quite rational. They may be opposed to us on occasion, but they're very often there when we need troops.

Peter Robinson: They are...

Adrian Wooldridge: This division between paradox and a power operates within Europe as well. The French, the British exist in this world of (?) politics, just as much as the Americans do.

Peter Robinson: Now, advice for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Title: Rue Britannia

Peter Robinson: You are now advising British Prime Minister Tony Blair and let's assume that it's next June. He's been reelected and he's still Prime Minister. What do you tell him to do differently about the European Union? Hold the referendum quickly? Change your policy? Make a--what is your advice to Tony Blair?

John O'Sullivan: Well, you see, the advice I would give, he would not ever want to accept because I would argue very seriously...

Peter Robinson: I wave a wand. I here--hereby bind him to accept your advice, John.

John O'Sullivan: Well, very broadly, I would say put all of your effort into decentralizing Europe on the one hand and into--in brining Europe and America together on the other. Put some muscle behind the concept of a transatlantic free trade area. Try to bring the Turks into that which would give them membership of free trade area without the right of--without augmenting Muslim communities throughout Europe. I think if you were to pursue such a policy...

Peter Robinson: You want to bring Turkey in largely because--precisely because it's so indigestible.

John O'Sullivan: Well...

Peter Robinson: You bring them into--you bring them in and all you can get out of it is a sort of free trade area. You can't get political union because Turkey will remain so fundamentally different. Is that the idea?

John O'Sullivan: Well, I--I--no, because I wasn't arguing at that moment for the entry of Turkey into the EU. I was arguing for the creation of a large, a grand free trade area including the United States into which the Turks would be admitted precisely because they weren't being admitted quickly enough perhaps to the European Union.

Peter Robinson: Oh, I see. I see. So, you want Blair to set up kind of a competing entity--free trade union?

John O'Sullivan: Well, a free trade union that would include the EU and the United States, Britain, Turkey and other powers. Now, the advantage of that...

Peter Robinson: Next cover for The Economist here. O'Sullivan's advice.

Adrian Wooldridge: It would be a very good cover.

Peter Robinson: Your advice to Blair.

Adrian Wooldridge: Well, the essence of British policy has always been to be as close to the United States as possible and as close to Europe as possible. Blair's great dilemma is that he's perceived as being too close to America and I would say to him, yes, by all means, try and get closer to Europe, but don't think that the best way to--of getting closer to Europe is to champion the idea of a European Constitution because it's not going to work and it's going to discredit you and undermine you within the Labor Party. Choose another mechanism.

Peter Robinson: Can I say something? So neither of you is going for what I thought one of you--I rather suspected, John, that you would go for this, which is to say, look, denounce Europe. Walk away from it. It is a snare and a delusion that European population is falling, that the Muslim population is large and proving difficult to assimilate. That the continent has suffered with, Britain aside, the continent has suffered from double-digit unemployment for decades now and that all of this is a snare and a delusion and a distraction from Europe's real problems which are enormous.

Adrian Wooldridge: I think Blair has proved to himself to be a fairly conservative labor leader, but I don't think he's going to be quite that conservative.

Peter Robinson: All right.

John O'Sullivan: Well, actually, in some ways, it's not a conservative position. What you just outlined is a kind of coherent radical critique and attack on the EU. I think a lot of it holds water, but from a political standpoint I don't believe it has the slightest prospect of success. British policy has never been in favor of massive radical change in Europe. What is in favor is evolutionary change and I think that, frankly, the British people are not in the business of wrecking Europe. They are in the business of hoping to make it more habitable for them, which it isn't at the moment.

Peter Robinson: Finally, advice for President George W. Bush.

Title: Tough Turkey

Peter Robinson: Now, Adrian, your advice for the President of The United States.

Adrian Wooldridge: Over Europe, I would say be very careful about the American long-term commitment to bring in Turkey into Europe. It may prove to be a snare and a delusion.

Peter Robinson: Really? John?

John O'Sullivan: About Turkey I would say--well, you know what I've said, namely create an entity in which it can be accommodated reasonably comfortably. I would say, also, look around the world. Europe is a traditional ally, try to keep it that way by a more vigorous intervention in European policy--politics, but also look around at Australia, at India, at Britain, the so-called Anglo-sphere countries because they are with you. They see the world the same way roughly because of the...

Peter Robinson: They all read The Economist magazine.

John O'Sullivan: Yeah. And they're willing to take part in military interventions when they believe it to be necessary. Think of developing that kind of alliance, not in contra--contrast or in a hostile way towards Europe, but just to have another arrow in your quiver.

Peter Robinson: Adrian?

Adrian Wooldridge: I think that the extraordinary thing about the European Union then, the puzzling thing about the European--the frustrating thing about the European Union is it's a mixture of good things and bad things. The good things is that it has encouraged free trade. It has encouraged countries to adopt a better (?) policy, better deficit policies, better competition policies, quite often, but the price that you pay for being drawn in is also that you've seen some of your sovereignty over other things not related to commerce and trade. That's difficult. But it's not all bad, the European Union.

Peter Robinson: Mark Steyn's gorgeous huffing and puffing is only half right.

John O'Sullivan: Well, I think it's right, but that's partly because it's an extension of the bad that Adrian is describing and it is not impossible to have some of the good things without these excrescences which actually are not a necessary part of European cooperation, integration, and free trade.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Now last question. Very briefly, describe for me the European Union as you think it will exist a decade from now. Will it indeed have taken a couple of steps closer to the realization of Giscard d'Estaing's political union that can look any superpower on earth in the eye? Adrian?

Adrian Wooldridge: No, I don't think so because I don't think the European's have got the collective will to shift resources away from the welfare state which is increasingly expensive and increasingly difficult for them to sustain towards military power. They will make a few gestures in that direction; they have not got the will to really finance it. So, no, that is not going to happen.

Peter Robinson: John, what do you see in a decade, say?

John O'Sullivan: Well, I would generally agree with what Adrian said with one caveat and that is, supposing over the next four or five years Al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorists wage a really serious terrorist campaign in European countries, as well as in the United States. I think that could produce the same kind of change of mood, attitude, and a willing--create a willingness to spend more on defense and shift resources in a way that Adrian thinks necessary, but won't happen. I think it could happen under the pressure of radical terrorism.

Adrian Wooldridge: Although the example of Spain is not encouraging on that.

John O'Sullivan: That's the very beginning, isn't it? I mean, it takes a long time before a revolution--the threat of a revolution like that changes minds. Remember it took about five or six years before people woke up to the reality of the French Revolution when Burke was originally writing, people dismissed him as a hysteric.

Peter Robinson: And on that note, Edmund Burke, not a hysteric. John O'Sullivan, Adrian Wooldridge, thank you very much.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge, thanks for joining us.