It is not enough for critics of the United States to say that it is an imperfect world leader. They must also suggest how the world might be better led. Another briefing examines the United Nations as an alternative to US leadership. There is a hope in the European Union that the EU could solve problems in a better, more constructive and less militaristic way than the USA. This briefing examines the EU and some of its protagonists’ desire for it to be ‘the alternative superpower’. The guiding text for this ambition is Mark Leonard’s ‘Why Europe will run the Twenty First Century’. Where the US projects its force through military hard power, the argument goes, the EU uses trade accords and international law, gradually drawing other nations into a peaceful nexus of collaboration – so called “soft power”.
The EU has had a positive impact in its near abroad
Before examining the EU’s weaknesses it would be wrong to suggest that it hasn’t had many positive impacts. The prospect of joining the EU and its economic community has encouraged many central and eastern European nations – as it once encouraged Spain, Portugal and Greece – to make substantial democratic progress and legal reforms that have enhanced the dignity of tens of millions of people. The same basic requirements of EU membership have encouraged similar advances in human rights within Turkey although France and other existing states are now threatening to veto this largely Muslim state’s accession.
The EU is not united on foreign policy and lacks the institutional structures to quickly produce decisive agreement
Although there have been numerous attempts by EU enthusiasts to develop a single foreign policy and the mechanisms for achieving such a policy, these attempts have been frustrated by more independent-minded member states, notably the United Kingdom. Underlying the structural weakness of the EU there is no recent history of EU governments agreeing clear responses to the most difficult foreign policy challenges.
At the time of the Iraq war, for example, there were huge disagreements within the European Union. France and Germany were strongly opposed to the actions led by Britain and America. Spain, Italy and Poland were supportive. During the Russia-Georgia crisis most nations, led by France, took Georgia’s side but Italy preferred sympathy for Russia. It is far from clear that in the face of an extreme challenge to international security that the EU would be able to agree on a coordinated response. Like the UN it can only act as quickly as ‘the slowest truck in the convoy’.
The EU is often an undemocratic body and does not share the USA’s pro-democracy agenda
Individually, the 27 member states are committed to representative democracy; collectively, they are not. People talk of the EU’s “democratic deficit” as if it were an accidental side-effect. In fact, the founding fathers believed that democracy had led to fascism and war and designed a system in which supreme power was wielded by Commissioners who did not need to directly worry about public opinion. Where the US often offers logistical backing to pro-democracy activists around the world – from Cuba to Belarus – the EU refuses to do so. For the same reason, the EU tends to favour the concentration of power in supra-national institutions: the Kyoto apparatus, the UN, the International Criminal Court and so on. Once again, the power of elected representatives is thereby displaced by a global corpus of human rights lawyers and bureaucrats who are often consciously advancing an agenda which would likely be rejected at the ballot box of individual democracies.
The EU seeks to replicate itself on other continents, energetically promoting schemes for regional integration elsewhere. ASEAN, the Andean Community, the African Union: all are under constant pressure to evolve supra-national commissions and parliaments. (The campaign for a directly elected parliament for Mercosur, for example, is 100% funded by the EU and its client organisations, such as the Konrad Adenauer Institute.) Brussels can use sticks as well as carrots. When Costa Rica declined to participate in the Central American Parliament, which it saw as an expensive way to bestow immunity on dictators and criminals, it was told that the EU would sign trade and aid deals only with the Central American bloc, not with individual states. Once again, power is thereby centralised, and lifted out of the hands of representatives who are immediately answerable to their communities.
The EU doesn’t spend enough on defence to be a serious rival to US military leadership
The Spanish PM, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has said that the EU should aim to be “the most important world power in 10 years”. But there is no sign of EU willingness to spend the money required to play the leading role the US is doing.
Both individually and collectively, EU nations are reluctant to spend money on defence. NATO figures show that the US spent 4% of its GDP on defence in 2007, compared to an EU average of 1.6%. The US spent $545 bn in 2007 while the UK spent $63bn, France $60bn and Germany $41bn.
Having made major cuts after the Cold War, EU members continued to cut spending during the late 1990s and this decade. Defence spending fell by €5.4bn or 4.6% between 2002 and 2006 in the nine NATO-eurozone countries. Even in the UK, which is one of the most willing to spend, defence spending is at its lowest as a share of GDP since the 1930s.
If anything these figures underestimate the capability gap. Much of the EU’s military spending is absorbed by large, often poorly trained conscript forces which cannot be deployed outside their own country. The EU does not have the capacity to sustain a major out-of-area military operation without American logistical support. It lacks air- and sea-lift, advanced communications systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and modern military computers. While the US spends 32% of its military budget on salaries, 57% of the EU members’ spending is consumed by wages.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that pan-European procurement schemes lead to economies of scale. On the contrary, every study has concluded that the need to involve the various national bureaucracies, and to share out contracts among the member states, makes weapons systems more expensive than they would have been if produced within single EU states, let alone in the US. The Eurofighter is perhaps the outstanding example.
As you would expect, there are some people in the US who no longer want to pay for this. As the isolationist US politician Pat Buchanan argues:
“Why do we tax ourselves to defend rich nations who refuse to defend themselves? In the early years of World Wars I and II, Europeans implored us to come save them from the Germans. We did…. Now, with the threat gone, the gratitude is gone. Now, with their welfare states eating up their wealth, their peoples aging, their cities filling up with militant migrants, they want America to continue defending them, as they sit in moral judgment on how we go about it…. If they won't defend themselves, let them, as weaker nations have done to stronger states down through the ages, pay tribute. Sixty years after World War II, 15 years after the Cold War, Europe's defense should become Europe's responsibility.”
EU trade and agricultural policies also undermine claims to moral leadership
Without pretending that the level of subsidy of agriculture by the United States is desirable it is difficult to find anything better from the EU. The EU’s farm subsidy programme is actually the largest in the world, subsidising European farmers to the tune of over 100 billion euros a year. Excess production is then dumped onto poorer countries using export subsidies, making it impossible for farmers in developing countries to compete. The EU made the the least generous offer of any of the main participants in the Doha Development Round of trade talks. According to a study by Oxford Economics, trade liberalisation has the potential to increase African GDP by 6%. But the EU is the main obstacle to a deal.
While the US has offered to abolish all market distorting agricultural subsidies, a spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandselson told the Guardian: “Nothing as part of the EU's offer in world trade talks will reduce overall levels of EU farm spending by one cent.” And he is one of the more liberal voices. Nicolas Sarkozy, who has a record of protectionism, has said simply that he will never “sacrifice French agriculture on the altar of liberalisation”.
The EU’s overall tariff rate is 2.4% compared to a still disappointing 1.8% in the USA. This EU average hides much higher averages for developing countries, because their (mainly agricultural) exports face the highest barriers, while there are no tariffs on products like computers.
At the moment rich countries, with a GDP per capita of over £15,000 a year, face an applied EU tariff of just 1.6%. Countries with income per capita of between £5,000 and £15,000 a year face an average tariff of 2.9%. But countries with a GDP per capita of under £5,000 a year face an EU tariff of 5% on average. And that’s an average: individual poor countries often face far higher tariffs. Malawi faces a tax equivalent to 12% of all its exports to the EU. Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland face a tariff of over 20%. This is unfair.
Closer to home, the EU has been buying up fishing rights off Africa to replace the European waters it has degraded through its own fishing policy (which even the Fisheries Commissioner has said is “immoral”). People who depend on the fish for their livelihoods are then ruined, as industrial-sized EU trawlers come and scoop up their fish. The EU has even bought up the fishing grounds off Western Sahara, in violation of a UN resolution, and in spite of protests from Finland and Sweden.
The EU is forcing rapid liberalisation on African nations; liberalisation it won’t embrace for itself
The EU is currently negotiating controversial “Economic Partnership Agreements” - which will require African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to get rid of 80% of their tariffs against the EU over the course of the next ten years.
It may be a good idea for poor countries to steadily open up their markets. But the track record of outside organisations imposing this kind of shock therapy on poor countries is mixed at best, and it is curious for the EU to be keen on rapid opening for other countries but not itself.
As a House of Lords report noted, the ACP countries’ “fear is that the EU will twist their arm to accept with the EPAs things that they would never have to accept on a more level playing field.” Peter Mandelson has stated bluntly: "If all of Africa has rejected EPAs, why are we getting people signing? It's because in some cases they feel reluctantly that they don't have any alternative and don't want their trade disrupted”.
The EU required US intervention in Yugoslavia and Kosovo
When Yugoslavia began to collapse in 1991, the EU believed that it could stop the fighting on its own. Speaking for the EU Presidency, Luxembourg's foreign minister Jacques Poos, declared "This is the hour of Europe, not the hour of the Americans." Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission said: “We do not interfere in American affairs. We hope that they will have enough respect not to interfere in ours.” In the event, the EU presided over the worst massacres in Europe since 1945. The EU was badly split over all the main issues, with France initially opposing NATO involvement. After massacres in the so-called “safe havens”, US and NATO intervention was necessary to finally stop the bloodbath.
Again during the Kosovo crisis, it was the US, through NATO, which was able to stop the ethnic cleansing. The EU released numerous communiqués condemning what was happening but of all the NATO aerial missions flown over Kosovo, just 2% were made by European pilots.
Then there is the EU’s record on China, Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan and Rwanda
China: Where the US guarantees Taiwan, the EU has declared its intention to lift the arms embargo on China, and is collaborating with Beijing on a satellite system called Galileo, designed explicitly to challenge what Jacques Chirac called the “technological imperialism” of America’s GPS.
Iran: EU members have been involved in dialogue with Iran over its nuclear weapons programme. However, the negotiations have been restricted to France Germany and the UK, partly because the EU finds it difficult to deal with such sensitive issues without leaking. When acting as EU President in 2006 Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja noted that the EU suffered from “the wrong kind of transparency”. He said: "For a long time it has been known that, within an hour after being distributed to the member states, all EU documents concerning the Middle East have already reached Tel Aviv, and probably Washington and Moscow." Despite its aim to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons without military action, the EU has not even been able to agree sanctions, and many member states continue to provide Iran with export guarantees worth billions of euros.
Russia: The EU is notionally attempting to form a common energy policy with respect to Russia. Russia. However, individual member states have rushed to conclude bilateral deals with the Kremlin. Germany agreed to the construction of a pipeline which bypasses Poland (Nord Stream). Hungary and Bulgaria have undermined the EU’s Nabbucco pipeline by signing up to Russia’s South Stream pipeline, and Austria sold half of its Baumgarten gas hub. Several member states have done other sweetheart deals with Russia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy famously appeared to have had a good time at a press conference after a lengthy dinner with Putin.
Uzbekistan: In 2005 the US pulled out of Uzbekistan and dismantled its airbase there after Washington condemned Uzbek troops for firing on peaceful protesters in the town of Andijan. Up to 500 people were killed in the massacre, and those who have called for it to be investigated have themselves been imprisoned or harassed. Despite this, the EU was quick to step into the gap. A leaked EU memo showed how, in order to gain influence in central Asia the EU was happy to butter up the regime, despite a warning from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that "The worsening human rights situation in Uzbekistan is also directly linked to the EU's soft-pedalling."
Rwanda: The Rwandan Government argues that that France provided diplomatic cover, military training and arms to the Hutu extremists who carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The French have labelled the allegations as “unacceptable”. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, Rosemary Museminali, despaired at the lack of recognition at European level of France’s involvement, and said "With Africa, European leaders are willing to talk about Darfur and Zimbabwe, but not, it seems, about Rwanda.“ A leader in the Financial Times argued that: “Many leading political figures in France have been outspoken in criticising Turkey for its failure to examine whether the massacre of Armenians during the collapse of the Ottoman empire amounted to genocide. They cite this as a reason Turkey does not belong in the European Union. They need to be honest about their own behaviour in Rwanda.”
Why Europe Will Run The Twenty First Century, Mark Leonard
The Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea, John Laughland
The Great Deception: A Secret History of the European Union, Christopher Booker and Richard North
This Blessed Plot, Hugo Young