Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

US elections – EU implications

No matter which way you look at it, the result of tomorrow’s election will have knock-on effects around the world.

It’s easy to paint Bush as a wannabe unilateralist, avoiding the traditional channels of the UN, NATO etc. in his efforts to advance his foreign policy, and not caring tuppence for the views of other nations while he pursues policies he thinks best for America. But lest we forget, it is his job (at least for another few months…) to act in what he sees to be America’s best interests, not those of any other country. And as Iraq has (mostly) shown, America IS capable of going it (largely) alone, so what need allies?

Kerry, meanwhile, claims to be in a better position to regain the unprecedented global support America had in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks. He lauds the UN, and promises to take a multilateral approach wherever possible; for his pains (and the fact he can speak other languages than English) he has been labelled “the Frenchman”. The world favours Kerry largely because Kerry seems to accept that other countries may have some valid contributions to make to any US foreign policy decisions. Kerry, meanwhile, has perhaps noticed that in every war that America has won, it has had enthusiastic allies. (It may also be worth noting that in every major war America has won, France has been one of those allies, and that in Vietnam the war was lost after France pulled its support…)

The approach of the Republicans under Bush has largely been to charge ahead with no heed to their erstwhile allies, drumming up American xenophobia (as the “Freedom Fries” escapade amply demonstrates), and trying to convince the country that multilateralism is an evil if other countries disagree with the US (while claiming a multilateral venture in Iraq thanks to a few hundred non-US troops, which make up but a tiny fraction of the total force in the country). While claiming to be spreading democracy, Bush has ignored the democratic vote of the UN, and while trying to make the world a safer place has irritated most other countries.

But for the European project, which is better – President Bush or President Kerry?

At first, the answer seems obvious. Kerry is a Europhile and wants to talk with and listen to the likes of France and Germany, who have been largely ignored by the White House for the last few years; Kerry must be better for Europe, right? If he talks more with EU countries (including those who aren’t helping out in Iraq), the foreign policy divisions which have split the continent over Iraq can more easily be ironed out, and the EU can start working more harmoniously again.

Not necessarily.

As was the case during the Cold War, when the first big drive for closer European co-operation started up, a common enemy is a great unifier. The threat of terrorism united the world behind the US in late 2001; large chunks of America remain united against this threat just as they were against the USSR during the latter half of the 20th century.

In Europe, the threat of terrorism remains ever-present, but this seems to be far, far less of a concern to most people than it is in the States (perhaps because Europe has lived longer with terrorism than the US?). What has polarised opinion in Europe – bringing together people from all parts of the political spectrum – has been the response of the US to this terrorism.

Those who have supported the war in Iraq have forged closer links; those who have opposed it have done the same. Britain has become closer to the likes of pro-war Italy, Poland and Spain (while Spain was still actively involved); anti-war France and Germany have tightened their already close friendship, and brought in new anti-war buddies to boot. Meanwhile, the people of every European country have been vocal in support of or opposition to their governments over their nations’ stance on the war, and have been linking up with people of similar views across the continent to pressurise their governments – as the recent European Social Forum amply demonstrates (even if it was a bit of a shambles).

Europeans of every nation have been communicating with each other and entering heated political dialogue, all thanks to President Bush’s foreign policies. The sense of European community (deliberate lower-case “c”) has been strengthened as a result – people started paying attention to the views of voters in other European countries, and discussions started about whether or not Europe should speak with one voice on the issue. Although there is still no European consensus, cross-border political co-operation has, thanks to the polarising influence of the Iraq question, at long last become a reality. Bush has inadvertently strengthened European unity.

Of course, divisions have also been strengthened due to the sharply differing opinions Bush’s Iraq policy has fostered. But the divisions were there anyway – they are simply now more obvious, and so easier to identify and tackle. Moves are already being made to heal the rifts of Iraq, even while the fighting continues. While the EU member states have recognised their foreign policy divisions, they have likewise been striving to find areas on which they agree in an effort to maintain some semblance of European unity in the run-up to the ratification of the new constitution.

Foreign policy has – to date – not been an official part of the EU project; the divisions over Iraq do not matter for the EU’s success. And even while there were splits over Iraq, Europe was united behind the EU’s condemnation of US steel tarrifs. On trade, consensus remained – and trade is at the heart of the EU, after all.

So, if President Kerry were suddenly to come along and remove the polarising catalyst for this remarkable boom in Europe-wide political discussion and co-operation, might this not be a bad thing for the EU? Could it be that having Bush in the Oval Office, implicity or explicitly slagging off various European countries, will help the EU band together?

No one likes a bully; eventually the weaker kids will band together and take a stand. Is this the way Europe is going? Is Bush inadvertently helping the EU become stronger and more unified? Or is his work here already done? Is it time for Kerry to come in and help heal the rifts?

This line of argument naturally has many flaws (not least that any potential benefits to European unity of four more years of Bush would almost certainly be far, far outweighed by the downsides – and that I’ve just rattled this off in 20 minutes during my lunch break), and I reckon almost every European government would rather see Kerry sworn in in January, but there could be something in it. Is a friend really what the EU needs right now?

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