The Magazine

Another Hopeless EU Bureaucracy

Europe’s common foreign policy is dead on arrival.

Apr 18, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 30 • By JAMES KIRCHICK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The foreign policy disagreements among European countries stem from the grim particularities of the continent’s history as well as present-day national interests. In other words, they’re deeply rooted and are hardly diminishing. For obvious historical reasons, Germans are averse to the use of force to settle international disputes, and not just when it’s the United States taking up arms (the Iraq war was nowhere more unpopular in Europe than in Germany). According to Jeffrey Herf, a professor of German history at the University of Maryland, a new “mood” has emerged in German foreign policy circles seeking “the replacement of the primitive nationalisms of the past with multilateral principles of an integrated Europe,” which “assumes that webs of interdependence created by the global economy will make problems solvable through negotiations and dialogue.”

The existence of these formidable obstacles to forging a European consensus have not dissuaded Ashton from pressing forward with the dream of an integrated EU foreign policy. Last month at the Brussels Forum, an annual conference organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, I asked her if the dissension within the ranks over Libya threatened the prospects of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Befitting a woman whose job it is to express the “view” of a 27-member bloc that can barely agree upon tariffs, let alone a war policy, she offered little more than diplomatic mush. “I don’t think you should see [this disagreement] as a negative; I think you should see it as really a positive. That Europe debates, decides, and moves forward together, and that’s what it’s doing.”

At best, what this approach amounts to is a lowest common denominator foreign policy. As long as individual EU members can veto action, the body’s decisions will always be determined by its most hesitant members. In the case of Libya, the EU was left to coordinate the evacuation of its citizens from that country, and little more. Not for nothing did France’s Le Monde editorialize that the body’s reaction to the Libyan crisis “demonstrates the immaturity of European security and defense policy, the poverty of the political debate, and the inadequacy of personnel.” A European diplomat echoed that pessimism, telling the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur that “the Common Foreign and Security Policy died in Libya—we just have to pick a sand dune under which we can bury it.”

None of this is to say that the idea of European integration is a bad thing. At the very least, it has had a damper effect on the more malevolent aspects of European nationalism; the notion of Europeans once again taking up arms against each other is a thankfully unimaginable prospect. And the EU has had an undeniably positive effect in its eastern “neighborhood,” encouraging candidate countries to develop liberal economic reforms, tackle corruption, and work harder to incorporate ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. But the dream of subsuming the discordant national interests of 27 countries so that a coherent foreign policy can be erected in their place appears to have died in the bloody sands of North Africa.

James Kirchick is writer at large with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague and a contributing editor to the New Republic.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers