RealClearWorld Newsletters: Europe Memo

Europe's Foreign Policy Headache

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A well-crystallized debate rages on across the member states of the European Union. On one side are those such as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who push for further integration as the palliative to the many ills of a still-incomplete union. To wit, in Juncker's State of the Union speech: "There is not enough Europe in this Union. And there is not enough Union in this Union."

Juncker is right. Yet it often seems like the problems in Europe stem from years where too much union was achieved, too fast. Such is the case with the waves of EU enlargement in the decade previous to this. They were a marker of success at the time. But as Wolfgang Munchau points out in the Financial Times this week:

"Enlargement affected Europe's ability to respond to the shocks of subsequent years in two ways. First, it forced the EU to take its eye off the ball at a critical time when it should have focused on building the institutions needed to make the euro work. Second, enlargement meant that EU countries that were not in the eurozone suddenly found themselves in the majority. That shift naturally shaped the EU's own agenda. I recall the obsession during those years with competitiveness, a typical small-country economic issue. Debates on the reform of Europe's treaties during those years focused on voting rights and the protection of minorities. It was the overwhelming view of European officials and members of the European Parliament that the eurozone itself did not need to be fixed."

Building on Munchau's recollections, let's shift the perspective to the notion of a European foreign policy.

Europe does have a formal, if embryonic, foreign policy. European power projection in sunnier days expressed itself most vividly through enlargement -- accepting new members -- and ventures such as the Eastern Partnership.

Europe's foreign policy chief, the Italian Federica Mogherini, took to office promising a "strategic rethink" of European foreign policy. The first stage of that review has concluded, and the European Council on Foreign Relations this summer issued a paper on "The Road Back to European Power."


"The gravity of the crises that surround us and the depth of the fundamental changes underway in the world mean that the EU cannot afford to persist with policies that are rooted in an outdated picture of Europe's influence or left without clear definition in order to conceal a basic lack of alignment between European countries."

ECFR pleads a coherent case for a European foreign policy that doesn't seek the lowest common denominator that Europeans can pursue. Rather, it calls for an approach that sharpens a quiver of arrows, identifying the core and peripheral concerns of each member state and allowing the European approach to attack the most acute edges of those concerns.

There are two obstacles to Europe's foreign policy moving in such a direction: First, before it ever dreamed of a common foreign policy coordinated in Brussels, enlargement was Europe's foreign policy -- or at least, its best policy tool. But there are only so many countries available to take in. It's a comestible and finite resource, and each country the European Union gobbled up left its leaders with fewer opportunities to exercise the Union's evolving powers of persuasion and mold the outside world to its preferences. Had Europe moved slower on the enlargement front, it might have a better idea now of what those preferences are, and on what level they are shared. How can you envision a broader foreign policy after having failed to use the one you had in the wisest way?

Second, foreign policy opportunities became internal political problems overnight. Wary of the eastern extension of free movement within the EU, Britain sought to distance itself from the European project. The development of a two-speed Europe accelerated. The soft-authoritarian turn of Hungary under the Fidesz party, as well as the results of the recent Polish election, show how a flowering of divergent priorities within the Union could make it that much harder now to coordinate common positions and create a more strategic foreign policy.

More integration is indeed needed. The boundaries of Europe as we have known it are fading into an expanded geography whose challenges will scarcely be answered at local levels. The eager miscalculations of a less-troubled past are making it harder for Europe's leaders to make the case for further integration, just when Europe needs it most.

Around the Continent

Turkish defeat: In the lead-up to Turkey's elections, won handily by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development party, Erdogan used German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a campaign prop. Everything up to accelerated Turkish accession to the European Union was on the table, as Europe looked toward its southeastern neighbor for help amid the Continent's refugee crisis.

So is Turkey on the fast track to a closer relationship with Europe? According to Turkish-Dutch journalist Ebru Umar, cited in an interview with the Volkskrant daily, the EU should have taken the chance to draw Turkey in a long time ago; that chance is gone now.

"The EU and Turkey, that's never going to become anything. The EU should have brought Turkey in 30 years ago and made Turks into Europeans -- half of the population already is that, the half that doesn't want Erdogan. The other half is is fed by Erdogan, raised by Erdogan, brainwashed by Erdogan. It is a very different type of country than in Europe.

"It strikes me when politicians say we need Turkey for stability in the region. Well, there is no stability in the region. Turkey's borders are beset by war and chaos everywhere."

Ciudadanos rising in Spain: The insurgent "Podemos of the right" is competitive as possibly the top vote-getter in Spain's December election, according to the latest polling. El Pais reports that Ciudadanos is now just 1 point away:

"The latest survey by polling firm Metroscopia shows Ciudadanos ahead of the Socialists in voting intention, though not in parliamentary seats due to the Spanish voting system.

"The poll shows that despite the Socialists' drop to third spot in votes, it would still take 88 to 98 seats in Congress ahead of Ciudadanos, which would secure 72 to 84. The PP would win a new term with 93 to 100 seats."

And what of Podemos, the "Syriza of Spain"?

"Meanwhile, left-wing anti-austerity party Podemos is experiencing a notable rise in popularity again after sagging in the wake of the local and regional elections of May 24. Podemos reached its popularity peak early this year, when some surveys ranked it first or a close second."

Brexit update: Politico EU's Denis MacShane believes the British will leave the European Union, and he gives 12 reasons why. Among those reasons are what he perceives as missteps by prime ministers former and current:

"The former Labour prime minister [Tony Blair] was pro-European, but he dodged all difficult European decisions. He offered a referendum on joining the euro, which meant the pound would never fold into the single currency. He offered a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty, which forced Jacques Chirac to do the same, and thus, with the help of a divided French Socialist Party, brought European integration to a full stop in 2005. Cameron has copied Blair by offering a referendum on Brexit. At least Blair was smarter. He bought time with referendum pledges but never actually held one."

Meanwhile, a poll by Conservative Home finds that 71 percent of UK Conservatives support Brexit, up from 58 percent in June; and Germany's Merkel said she backs British calls for reforms to the European Union.


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