Number of analytical papers has been published in recent years regarding the Unites States’ recession on the world political arena. Majority of the analysts reiterate the fact that along with the global politics becoming multipolar and multi-central, the U.S. is rapidly losing its relevance. The analysts highlight the structural, economic and political troubles that surround the second in prominence body of the liberal world order – the European Union – as one of the reasons for Washington to lose its position of a referee, determining the rules of the international order.
Along with supporting the doomsday scenarios for the EU, this analysis also emphasizes the significant problems that may hamper the EU by itself, and jointly with the U.S., in playing a role of a reliable and competent global power.
Initial premise in this regard is a growing gap between the Europeans and EU integration projects. Contrary to the expectations of the founding fathers, the modern European Union is still a long way from producing a common model, called for unification of different Europeans and centered on norms, ideas and policies pertaining to Europe.
According to many analysts, EU is currently facing a “democracy deficit” and so far, it has been unable to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the ordinary people. One of the telling examples of such constraints was the low voter turnout during recent elections to the European Parliament. More than good half of the Europeans ignored these elections. On top of that, majority of the populations in most of the European countries continue to define their identity through their ethnic affiliation and not common European agenda.
For many Europeans the EU is still a bureaucratic mechanism governed by the autocrats in Brussels. In this sense, EU is regarded as some sort of an “elite project” that through the time has become detached from the peoples of Europe. Moreover, regardless of the country of residence, majority of the Europeans are blaming the EU for economic and other grievances. Both the wealthy North and underprivileged South are laying responsibility on Brussels’ shoulder on every issue when debating their domestic problems.
Second reason, also associated with the first, is that most members of the EU oppose the enlargement process and believe that EU’s enlargement towards the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe in recent 20 years has been the source of all the enduring problems.
According to many, westward enlargement was a mistake because neither the potential member states met the qualification criteria nor the EU had boosted its organizational and financial capability to easily absorb those nations. These skeptical Europeans also oppose the enlargement of the EU in the direction of Turkey and the Black Sea basin. This must not imply that failure to do so would preclude the EU from becoming a powerful and reliable actor with global relevance.
However, it is beyond doubt that EU’s appeal for potential new members is eroding and that domestic transformations are drastically curtailing the ability of the nations concerned to develop, based on their own norms and values. For the European Union to capitalize on the degree of appeal for foreign nations located at its borders, those countries must be provided valid membership opportunities.
Domestic transformations for the new members were enabled by two factors running in parallel. Membership is pledged in the event of legitimacy of the EU norms and implementation of membership criteria. Modern European Union can be seen as normative power, in terms of leveraging norms and values, identity and behavior of these nations or otherwise imposing its will upon them. Although, EU is alienating itself from the notion of normative power from the point of view of allowing the neighboring nations to implement domestic transformation in parallel with legitimate and suitable EU norms and values.
Third, EU member states see surging number of supporters of Euro-skeptic and anti-integration political parties. In this regard, victories of the ultra-right and ultra-nationalist parties in the elections in France and Britain speak for themselves. Albeit the number of seats secured by these parties in the European Parliament does not translate into a force that is an immediate threat to the fate of the pro-integration parties, the trends appear to be alarming nonetheless. Integration supporting mainstream European politicians could sustain heavy Europe-wide and national constituent loses as they are unable to find the way out of democracy deficit and question the fact that current problems troubling the of the voter masses can be solved on the EU level.
Fourth premise is that if resurgent nationalism within such “stem cell” union members as Germany and France will be persistent, EU’s credibility as an international actor is impaired. This is extremely significant because the key idea behind EU’s performance as an international player is that above all, peace in Europe and the immediate neighborhood would prevail only if Germany and Britain embrace the notion of Europeanism.
In the past, this was possible owing to the U.S. support and commitment to the integration processes within the EU in the environment of looming Soviet threat from the East and pro-European orientation of the post war generation. Today, none of these factors are valid. Since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has demanded that its European partners enhance their structural and operational capabilities in the areas of foreign and defense policies. However, it is evident that the degree of U.S. commitment to European integration and security has been ebbing.
It is not just that the Americans do not want to see EU as a reliable actor on the international scene; messages on the importance for the Europeans to assume greater responsibility for their security is increasing doubts regarding their commitment to European integration and security. U.S. is growingly emphasizing the idea that the costs of ensuring world security and order must be distributed among all the powers and Washington’s strategic priorities in the Asia-Pacific overshadow the ones in Europe.
U.S. subsidies could indeed encourage the Europeans to bolster their capabilities and provide an impetus to the process of European integration whereas this attitude impels greater doubts among the Europeans regarding the interest of the United States towards Europe. At present the Europeans fail to acknowledge that they lack strategic security perspectives other than that with the U.S. and that they need deeper integration processes to alleviate emerging security problems on the continent.
The idea that Europeanism of Germany and France is crucial for the EU integration process, being the one of peace, is not as welcomed by the member states in the post-Cold War era as it once was embraced by the post World War II generation. The young French are concerned with the lack of protection of their nation’s self-interests when France is incapable of directing the integration process in accordance with its requirements, while Germany regains strength, and EU is helpless in tackling the problems provoked by the new members.
Young Germans on the other hand, fear that in the event that Germany fails to seize the authority in the integration process and is unable to become a genuinely mature nation, it would be deprived of a potential to become a global actor by itself. This thinking of the French and the Germans does not bode well with the integration process proceeding in supranational or federal system. There is no doubt that young Europeans are far less supportive of Atlanticism and integration than their fathers were. Furthermore, given the situation that young generation in the EU’s Mediterranean basin member states find themselves in, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, quite a pessimistic picture clearly emerges.
The final point within this analysis is EU’s damaged image in the eyes of other global players. Determination and capabilities are not enough to become a reliable international actor. It is a must to be embraced by other elements of the system. In a nutshell, neither Russia nor China or the U.S. wishes to see EU as a sole international actor. Russians and Chinese resent multilateral and liberal order advocated by the EU that stems from its core legislature.
These two nations appear determined in terms of claiming their domain of influence, and viewing the world affairs from the prism of power, embodied by realpolitik-centered strongman. Most recent example of such realpolitik in action was signing of historic natural gas contract between Russia and China that stemmed from the global processes provoked by the crisis in Ukraine. In the meantime, U.S. recognizes EU’s integration process as legitimate and continues to buttress bolstering of EU’s foreign and security policy capabilities, provided the former tackles possible problems in cooperation with the U.S. America’s support of the EU integration process is largely meaningful and strategic. Yet, the U.S. rejects Europe’s independent and strategic identity as something contrary to its interests. The common feature that the U.S., Russia and China share is their choice to engage the European nations on a bilateral basis instead of dealing with Europe as an independent international actor.
Thus, a conflicting picture emerges when the legitimacy of EU’s integration process contradicts its aspirations of becoming a credible international player. Yet, it has to be recognized that the other half of the glass is also full.
Professor Tarik OGUZLU
Antalya International University