Posts Tagged ‘EU’

"Russian President Vladimir Putin (back) addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow" (Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

“Russian President Vladimir Putin (back) addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow”
(Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext,” declared John Kerry on March 2 as Russia began its conquest of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Though he didn’t intend it, the U.S. Secretary of State was summing up the difference between the current leaders of the West who inhabit a fantasy world of international rules and the hard men of the Kremlin who understand the language of power. The 19th-century men are winning.

In a forceful challenge to the liberal internationalist strategic vision, the Wall Street Journal editorial board claims indeed the strongmen are winning. Welcome to the 19th Century presents a challenge to liberal internationalism that must occur to anyone following recent events in Crimea. In the face of a state wielding power at the end of a gun, what shield is international law or international institutions like the OSCE and UN? What good is the liberal internationalist vision of US foreign policy if it can’t get Russia out of Crimea posthaste?

In the past weeks, the diplomatic watchword on the US and EU’s part has been de-escalation. Convene the parties to the Budapest Memorandum, form a Ukraine-Russia and others contact group, dispatch OSCE or UN envoys to Crimea, have the Secretary-General of the UN use his good offices – the diplomatic routes out of this course towards conflict abounded. Should we blame liberal internationalism for Russia’s failure to take one of these face-saving offramps to further conflict?

No. It is true that Russia has chosen to create difficult to dislodge facts on the ground in Crimea, and done so in place of offers of mediation and diplomacy. But the structures of the international system have helped to clarify the decision Russia has made; the fact that the stated Russian objectives, protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine, could have been addressed using legitimate routes is clear to international system participants. This point is most evident in Russia’s demonstrated isolation on the United Nations Security Council; Russia alone voted against the March 15 UN Security Council draft resolution.

And further, the liberal internationalist institutions have put into sharp relief the conflict between Russia’s recent actions and Russia’s prior commitments. The liberal international order has demonstrated its utility in sharply highlighting how Russia has strayed from the legitimate pathways in pursuing its stated objectives, the well-being of the Russian-speaking population in Crimea. Thus far, no one else has bought the case Russia has been peddling of resurgent, threatening Ukrainian neo-Nazis, Russian-speaker refugee flows out of Ukraine, and the imminent danger to Russian-speakers remaining in Ukraine.

What would winning would look like for Russia? One of Russia’s long-term aims is a successful Eurasian Union with Russia as the central node. A force multiplying international institution serving to give Russia even greater heft on the world stage – paralleling the way that Germany, France, and the UK derive benefit from the European Union. After this intervention in Crimea, what are the prospects for a successful Eurasian Union, for broad, deep, cooperative, integration of prospective members akin to that of the European Union? Post-Crimea, what are the prospects of states clamoring to get into the Russian-led Eurasian Union the way that some states have ardently desired (sometimes for decades) to enter the European Union? I’d say slim and dim.

Current possession of Crimea is a tactical victory for the moment, Black Sea Fleet secure, warm water port access guaranteed, definite benefits to Russia. But notably, these are assets Russia possessed before the intervention. And in terms of strategic victory, securing the Eurasian Union’s future? These military maneuvers have eroded its prospects as an actor on the world stage. What good is a union of states that have been bullied into joining? No more long-term good than the USSR, I’d argue. And supposing one day Russia hoped to have the Baltic states, or Poland tempted away from Western Europe and towards its orbit. What prospect for wielding soft power having exercised hard power in this manner?

The fact that the wheels of liberal internationalism sometimes turn slowly indicates only that diplomacy is hard. Foreign policy coordination, by consensus, among the 28 European Union members is fraught with difficulty in a way that foreign policy coordination in the US never is. There are countries geographically nearer to or further away from Russia; there are countries with deeper economic relationships with Russia and countries fairly independent from Russia as an energy supplier. But given the challenges the European Union has faced over time, the institution will at least muddle through, towards sanctioning Russia for recent behavior.

We already have evidence of the EU’s reaching towards a viable consensus. On March 10 in his oral report to the House of Commons on the European heads of government meeting over Crimea, David Cameron outlined a three phase approach to Russia (Hansard),

first, some immediate steps to respond to what Russia has done; secondly, urgent work on a set of measures that will follow if Russia refuses to enter dialogue with the Ukrainian Government; and thirdly, a set of further, far-reaching consequences should Russia take further steps to destabilise the situation in Ukraine.

Various initial phase punishments are already underway. The prospect of the G-8 turning into the G-7, freezing prospective Russian membership in the OECD, and also stopping negotiations on freeing trade and reducing visa restrictions.

And what of Russia’s ambitions to become less economically dependent on extractive industries? The Russian Silicon Valley, the Russian innovation society, the Russian 21st century enterprise zones? At a White House press briefing Jay Carney posed a version of this question worth considering, what multi-national corporation CEO can look to Russia as a site for investment? These types of decisions are not made with the fanfare of speeches in the Kremlin’s Saint George Hall, or the frisson of flag waving in Red Square. Quietly, deliberately, and with little attention, much like some diplomatic avenues, Russia will be ruled out.

These legitimacy and economic angles underinform from the WSJ editorial’s analysis of liberal internationalism in the face of Russia’s behavior towards Crimea. They are certainly missing from the WSJ’s stark claim “what defines international order is the cold logic of political will and military power”.

Lastly, US liberal internationalists must look beyond the crises of the present day. It is important to remember international law scholar Louis Henkin’s observation, “Almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all the time”. Now those “almost” qualifiers are a very big deal; some of the most horrifying behavior by states (e.g. North Korea) and intractable conflicts in the international system lay within those almosts. Moreover, for Russia, for Ukraine, for the near-term prospects for security in Europe those almosts seem insurmountable obstacles to a stable international system. But for the long-term prospects of peace and the US place in the world, a rule-governed international order remain essential.


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Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?

Hacker: That’s all ancient history, surely?

Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it’s just like old times.

Hacker: But surely we’re all committed to the European ideal?

Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.

Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?

Sir Humphrey: Well, for the same reason. It’s just like the United Nations, in fact; the more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes.

Hacker: What appalling cynicism.

Sir Humphrey: Yes… We call it diplomacy, Minister.


An exchange from the outstanding British political comedy series Yes, Minister, underscoring the strategic failure of British Prime Minister David Cameron this week. Britain should aim for either a disunited Europe, as cynically expressed by Sir Humphrey, or a united Europe with Britain at the core along with France and Germany. A Europe with Britain at the periphery is simply bad foreign policy.

Two lines of spin were being reported today. One line was that Cameron’s position in the Brussels summit was the inevitable culmination of a position that has been constant for at least three premierships and two changes of party. The argument goes that from the days of John Major keeping the UK out of the euro to the Blair administration’s continuation of that policy, Britain has stood apart from some key elements of European integration. That is true as far as that line of argument goes. Yes in fact Britain, along with nine other EU members, is not in the eurozone. But the spectacular failure of Cameron was that none of these nine potential partners joined his position forcing a solely eurozone deal. The European Council outcome was not 10 to 17, with Britain comfortably aligned with other non-eurozone countries. The outcome was 1 to 26, with Britain standing alone. After five hundred years a united Europe, and Britain on the outside looking in (BBC).

Deftly, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel had laid contingency plans for an outcome of the eurozone against non-eurozone EU states, warning that the eurozone could go ahead with a solely intra-eurozone treaty if non-eurozone states wouldn’t agree – warning Cameron against pressing too hard in negotiations lest the 17 eurozone states proceed without him and other non-eurozone colleagues altogether. But the French and Germans didn’t even have to settle for this to this fallback position. With a 1 to 26 outcome it was Cameron as the odd man out.

The other line of spin was that the Brussels outcome was some sort of victory. Having not received assurances of opt-outs, particularly concerning safeguarding London as a global financial center, Cameron blocked an EU-level treaty change. Claiming the summit outcome as a win for Cameron, well there’s some chuztpah at work here. As Alex Massie points out, if this is a win then what would defeat have looked like? More power for the European core, more power for Germany, more power for France, a Europe that will ultimately resemble more closely the German and French visions, and less influence for Britain. Once again, if this is victory, what exactly constitutes defeat?

Despite this fiscal compact, the euro-uncertainty may go on. There are parliamentary assents to be gained in several EU members and the possibility of referendums. Crises throw up the unexpected and this European compromise could yet be derailed. But examining the four corners of this European Council, Britain has not done well. This European Council outcome demonstrates Sir Humphrey’s cynical definition of diplomacy, Britain as a disuniting force in Europe, is no longer tenable. Given the fact that Paris and Berlin will not be divided, the wisest long term strategy for Britain is inside Europe.

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None of you actually have any democratic legitimacy for the roles that you currently hold within this crises.

Direct election by the populace is not the only legitimate means of coming to office. The presidents of the European Council and European Commission are not in office by divine right. Herman van Rompuy was elected by the heads of government. Being given responsibility by those who were elected is a common feature in representative governance around the world and wholly in keeping with the EU’s hybrid intergovernmental-supranational character. The President of the European Commission must be approved by the European Parliament, again a fairly run of the mill system for coming to office in parliamentary democracies, just one step removed from direct election by the people. Nigel Farage’s claim is akin to saying all Congressional action is insufficiently democratic, the people having not directly voted in plebiscites for the laws. As when operating under a constitution, the delegation of responsibilities and mechanism for officeholder selection have been agreed by treaty (most recently Lisbon). The underpinning treaties have been approved by successive national governments. Europe has received decades worth of approval by many parties, many heads of government, and many parliamentarians. This can hardly be termed the assassination of nation-state democracy. (Also, given the breadth and depth of the acquis communautaire no state can quietly join the EU.)

Farage’s selective account of recent European history is utterly misleading. Take Silvio Berlusconi’s exit, Farage says, “And not satisfied with that you decided that Berlusconi had to go. So he was removed and replaced with Mr. Monti.” Berlusconi had been embroiled in scandals for months, the allegations of directly intervening to get an underage prostitute released is just one example (Guardian). In recent months Berlusconi had survived confidence votes with a slim margin and was finally demonstrated to have less than the required support to continue as head of government. Berlusconi lost office at the direction of the Italian parliament, not the leading figures in the EU.

We are now living in a German dominated Europe.

From here Farage goes on to an elision of monstrous proportions. Paying “a heavy price in blood” to stop Nazi Germany in the past is quite distinct from the (allegedly) Federal Republic of Germany dominated Europe of today. The distinctions between the two are so obvious I won’t linger on the point. Germany has both the largest population and economy of the EU. And yet Germany has agreed to pool sovereignty with neighbors who have long been vocal participants on the international scene like France and the United Kingdom. What’s more, Germany agrees to be the largest net contributor to the EU budget. If the EU represents German domination, then it is a very strange form of domination. Why for instance agree to qualified majority voting in any circumstances instead of preserving the national veto in all circumstances? The fact of qualified majority voting is that any single nation can be outvoted in certain predefined circumstances.

No pushover

A final point on the supposed German domination of Europe, the Franco-German engine at the heart of driving the European project forward includes France. No French president has been a slouch when it comes to Europe. Europe is always a key part of French foreign policy, a defining feature of France’s place in the world. The United Kingdom has been a more reluctant partner in the European project. The UK were not engaged in the European project from the outset but once in Europe the UK has been an assertive member.

Farage has made spectacularly unconstructive contributions to parliamentary debates in the past (Youtube), given this misleading speech one can only imagine he plans to continue in that vein.

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US President Obama and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera
La Moneda Palace, Santiago, Chile on March 21 (UPI/Jonathan G. Mancilla)

During a press conference with President Obama last week, Chilean President Piñera made an observation about regional integration in the Americas that stood out to me.

No doubt that insofar as integration of the Americas, we are lagging behind. And the best way to illustrate this is to compare what has happened in America with what happened in Europe.

Last century, the Europeans had two world wars with a toll of more than 70 million casualties. But at some point, they had the wisdom, the courage to abandon the rationale of Line Maginot, or Siegfried Line and to embrace Maastricht Treaty. With the leadership and the vision of such renowned statesmen like Adenauer and De Gasperi, Housman, Truman — they began to build what today we know of as European Union.

And in America, we are much behind that. In America, 20 years ago, President Bush, father, raised the idea of a free trade area from Alaska to “Fire Land” (Tierra del Fuego) generating a lot of enthusiasm in the region, but it never came true, never materialized.

And so the time is right now because Latin America has been for too long the continent of hope or of the future, but a continent cannot be a promise forever. And so we are of age now and we need to fulfill our mission. Therefore the main task of Latin America is to recover the lost time and tap all of its potential….

While I disfavor framing the discussion as different regions of the world racing against one another, Piñera’s larger point is spot on. The Organization of American States (OAS) is an underdeveloped international organization. It took politicians with vision to steer Europe towards regional integration, the OAS requires similarly committed national leaders to direct the organization toward a stature on the world stage like that of the EU.

Past colonialism and an imperious US stance towards the Americas creates a legacy that makes growing an intergovernmental-supranational hybrid like the EU more difficult in the Americas. Reading the charter of the OAS, the repeated reaffirmations of sovereignty and weak (relative to the European Commission) bureaucratic institutions means the OAS was not in the EU’s league from the outset. In terms of fostering regional integration, the OAS sits firmly in the intergovernmental camp. Also, the OAS has not met the same success as the EU due to the absence of a committed Franco-German engine equivalent; the EU benefits from successive generations of French and German leaders working in partnership to drive the organization forward. In the Americas, that engine would necessarily include the United States and a partner, perhaps Brazil.

Engine required

The US has been complacent, satisfied with bilateral arrangements like trade agreements between the US and Chile or the US and Peru, with US-Panama and US-Colombia trade agreements proposed. The North American Free Trade Agreement is neither as broad nor as deep as South America’s Mercosur, let alone the EU. Trade agreements (reviving the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas if possible), routinized ministerial cooperation, and privileged migration status should all be top tier goals for the Americas and US policy for the hemisphere.

The OAS is worthy of increased US commitment. Broader US interests would be advanced by strengthening the operations of our regional international organization. Major European countries get two bites at the apple in global affairs given they bring influence to bear both through the traditional national means and through the EU. The US is missing a trick by allowing the OAS to remain underdeveloped. Even if the US position in the world this moment does not absolutely require a full service OAS akin to the EU, an increasingly multipolar world means the US should exhaust all avenues for exercising influence. (Meaning the US should also join the Commonwealth of Nations.)

On occasion, Obama did mention the OAS in his speeches during his tour through Latin America this month. In his keynote speech in Chile, Obama put forward the laudable goal of 100,000 more US students studying in the Americas and 100,000 more students from the Americas studying in the US. Obama also highlighted cooperation on counter-narcotics and energy policy. The global war on drugs policy aside, setting forward reasonable, incremental goals for US policy. But Obama should set his sights far higher. Overall, the Obama administration has not yet shown the commitment to institution building in the Americas on the scale or scope required, as Piñera put it, to tap the region’s unrealized potential.

, as Piñera put it, tap the region’s unrealized potential.

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With Czech ratification of the Lisbon Treaty the European Union has ended a nearly decade long journey of negotiations, ratifications, referenda, and more negotiations, ratifications and referenda. Intense politicking has taken place across 27 EU members to get to this point (BBC).

Now the hard work begins.

The logic of the EU is simple. This set of nations has much to gain from pooling sovereignty. Separately, various European nations are middling or minor powers; together Europe is a superpower (at least economically on par with the United States). Additionally, binding European nations together tightly promotes peace and prevents future cataclysmic conflagrations (WWI, WWII). European officials promoting Lisbon repeatedly invoke Europe on a world stage, if Europe does not come together Beijing and Washington will run the world. An additional benefit, which I don’t think other international organizations have leveraged, the EU allows European nations an extra opportunity to influence global affairs. In addition to serving as an anteroom for forming European consensus in other forums (e.g. the World Bank), the EU is itself recognized as an actor, the EU is a member of the G20.

For me, this argument in favor the EU is compelling. The argument for the EU is especially compelling to many European political elites. But the pesky public keeps getting in the way of grand designs. No less than three no votes in the path to Lisbon (France, Holland, and Ireland) even though Lisbon falls far short of the federalists’ grandest design for a United States of Europe. Instead, Lisbon aims for the less lofty goal of making a 27-member EU function more coherently. Streamline here, eliminate duplication there, and remove some national vetoes. Euro-enthusiasts, like me, were onboard from the start. What to do about that pesky public though? That is, short of following Bertolt Brecht’s wry suggestion, “dissolve the people and elect another.”

I say “pesky public” to tweak the euro-enthusiasts. Treating the public like unwelcome guests at the state formation party is unsustainable. Europe does not belong to the eurocrats, it belongs to the 400 million European citizens. Surefire, quick-fix methods for conjuring a European polity being in short supply, I can only offer the following two suggestions.

First, don’t be afraid of the heavy hitters, big beasts, the best and the brightest, or goats (governments of all the talents). A mélange of American and British ways of saying, big important people should take big important posts. Not an endorsement of Tony Blair to be president of the European Council, but he definitely has world standing in his favor. A euroskeptic MEP remarked that everyone’s third choice usually gets these jobs, resulting in low profile, non-entities in major posts. I would suggest this is not the way forward. With a presidency whose term is two and a half years (renewable once, five years max), the EU has the opportunity to make its case to the European public. “Credit claiming” is the fairly dry term political scientists ascribe to the practice of crowing about accomplishments. Someone in Europe needs to say proudly, “I did that!” Otherwise national politicians take all the credit for the good things Europe does, while pinning all the painful or difficult decisions on the EU (conveniently omitting their own responsibility in creating European laws). This imbalance of credit claiming means the EU’s image gets affixed to a hodgepodge of unpopular policies – with a number of untruths about European directives floating about as well. Euromyths like the ban on crooked bananas, the renaming of a snack food Bombay Mix (Mumbai Mix), the renaming of sausages (emulsified high-fat offal tube), or the renaming of yoghurt (mild, alternate-culture, heat-treated fermented milk) (BBC).

Second, pursue multilingualism. Mother tongue plus two additional languages (M+2) is the official policy of the EU (EurActiv). Those countries with the most monolingual citizens need to work to catch up to the multilingual nations. Language education from an early age could make a difference. In September Charlemagne’s Notebook commented,

But what jumps out at me is the grim statistic about language learning in Britain. One column reports on upper secondary students in EU countries who do not study foreign languages at all. This line in the table shows a line of tiny numbers: lots of zeroes, a couple of low percentages (eg, 3.9% of Spanish teenagers learn no foreign languages at school, a blip for Ireland (18.8% without language lessons) and then comes Britain, where more than half of all schoolchildren in upper secondary education (51.4%) learn no foreign languages at all. This is, of course, the result of a deliberate government policy. In 2003, foreign languages became voluntary for pupils in England and Wales over 14. And there you have the results. Europe is becoming bilingual, except for Britons, who are becoming monolingual.

Yes, Europe is incredibly rich to have so many languages so close together. But it means educators have to redouble efforts to create a European citizenry that can communicate with each other. Europeans need to have the realistic prospect of moving elsewhere to work or study. A more multilingual Europe opens those possibilities up beyond Erasmus students (formally European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students).

Altogether, the pro-EU elites scorn the masses at their peril. Short term victories could be endangered by backlash and retrenchment. One can only call for do-overs of referenda so many times. The trick of turning the EU Constitution into the Lisbon Treaty also seems like a stunt that can only be pulled the once. Far better to engage the public with an eye toward creating a durable European polity.

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