The Geopolitics of the European Union
Bilderberg Conference (Stresa, 3-6 July 2004)
On 1 May 2004 the European Union took in ten new member states, eight of
them Central-European. It was an event of geo-political importance. For the first
time in all its history almost all Europe was united in one area of peace, stability
and growing prosperity. No more will the “New World be called in to redress
the balance of the Old”, at the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
And there is more to come: Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Croatia and the other
successor states of Yugoslavia. Who lets in Turkey will have difficulty refusing
the Ukraine. Ministers who at home say “Never the Ukraine”, sing a different
tune when they visit Kiev.
So we are looking at a European Union that may well in fifteen or twenty years’
time consist of close to forty member states and exclude mainly Russia. The
European Union will export stability. It will of course also import some
instability but that is likely to be smothered in the interminable negotiations that
make up our work in Brussels.
In addition the EU is now setting afoot a programme of help for our “Near
Abroad”, to use a Russian term. It will concern the countries of North Africa and
the Near-East. It will consist of assistance predicated upon good governance and
the respect of human rights.
These actions, plans and programmes are, again, of geo-political importance.
The EU is a pole of unparalleled political, economic and cultural attraction for
the world around it. It will influence that world by example and by
But it will not be a “superstate” – in common political parlance – or, more
accurately, it will not become a federation after the German, Canadian or
American model. In a federal Europe France and the UK would occupy the same
position as Bavaria in Germany or Catalonia in Spain. That will not happen. The
conditions that obtained at the time of the American war of independence simply
are not present in Europe. And it is time this were admitted in public. Europe
could do with some plain speaking.
Economically, the European Union is a world power. It is now the largest
market in the world with 450 million consumers. True, together the ten acceding
countries amount economically to no more than the Dutch economy. But their
economic growth is about twice what it is in the Old Europe. Soon the magic of
compound growth will make itself felt.
Of course there are competitors. There always are. I well remember the “Japan-
debate” of the eighties. Japan was said to employ a “scorched-earth-strategy”.
Where their exports had been, directed with laser-like precision, nothing
European would grow again. This debate has died a quiet death. Now it is China
that makes people quiver. “Delocalisation” is now the buzz word.
Such fears are understandable in a time of low growth and high unemployment.
But to call for national champions, to preach economic intervention by the state,
to blame Central European countries for their low rates of taxation is not only
pointless: these proposals, if realized, would lessen competitiveness and thus
“Old Europe” is too much beset by corporatism, by encrusted economic habits,
by the inflexibility of its labour markets, by yesteryear’s outworn thinking –
much more now than “New Europe”. The eight new Central European member
states have been through fifteen years of continuous economic transformation.
They will be much more inclined to adapt to new realities than West-Europeans.
In the big trade-off between solidarity and motivation the new Europeans are
more likely to stress motivation than those in the West.
So by and large Europeans had better pull up their socks if they want to remain
an economic world power. This is important for most foreign relations of the EU
are economic in nature. There our aim is and must remain a rules-based-system.
Such a system, WTO and all, is of geo-political importance. And we must work
the system so as to increase free trade. The European Commission has proposed
abolishing all support for the export of agricultural commodities and that is an
excellent thing. It deserves emulation.
Economically, the European Union is a world power. Politically, it is not. That
is not only because a common foreign policy has so far eluded us, a consensus
among 15 or 25 member states – several with a neutralist or pacifist tradition –
being conspicuously difficult to achieve. It is also because our military strength
seems inadequate. But let us look more closely at threats and means.
It is now unlikely that a major power will use nuclear weapons against the
European Union. That is at the highest lever of the spectrum of violence. There
are also the British and French deterrents, which should be sufficient to ward off
any rogue state;
There is of course the possibility of a terrorist threat by nuclear means but that
would require a different response.
Lower down the scale of violence is a large scale conventional war. Massive
tank battles on the North-European plains are not likely to recur in the near to
middle-term future, if ever. The Red Army is now a basket case. Where else
might they occur? The major flash points are now in Asia. Any conflagration
there would not be life-threatening to the European Union..
What about the Middle East? The Iraqi army was no match for the American
one. I dare say it would not have been one for a European force, either, in
particular because of Europe’s clear superiority in the air. The EU-25
collectively spends €180 billion a year on defence. That makes the EU the
biggest military spender after the United States.
All in all it does not look likely that the Europeans would have to fight a major
conventional war, either singly or collectively. And if that unlikely event were to
occur, the Europeans would most probably fight alongside the Americans.
No, the challenges will be different. They will consist of nasty, messy,
dangerous, small scale outbursts of violence in failing states in Africa or the
Middle East. Here the European Union may have a comparative advantage
because of its tradition of imperial policing and its experience in the Congo,
Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and other places.
The capacities needed to do this dangerous and bloody work are different from
those necessary for a large-scale conventional war. Here the emphasis should be
on the single man and his weapon, highly trained, very mobile and with the
latest electronic gear.
Does this mean less expenditure? No, it does not. Money is needed to acquire
large range transport aircraft, precision guided munitions, unmanned
reconnaissance aircraft. In February 2004 the UK, France and Germany decided
to have nine battle groups, each of 1500 men, deployable within two weeks. By
2010 Germany is planning to have an intervention force of 35.000 men and a
“stabilisation force” for peace-keeping of 70.000 men. All these things will cost
lots of money.
The EU should not try to emulate the United States but rather to complement it –
in the area of what is called “low intensity warfare” but also by using “soft
power”, where again it has a comparative advantage.
Soft power is used to get others to do what you want without resorting to
violence. After World War II the US used soft power to draw others into a
system of alliances that has lasted for almost sixty years. More recently NGO’s
have forced through a treaty outlawing anti-personnel mines in spite of
opposition in the American Congress. Mr. Joseph Nye has written much about
this and on the whole I find him persuasive.
Unfortunately, because of its reckless policy in Iraq the United States has
become so unpopular that being pro-American is a kiss of death in domestic
politics. That is the reverse of soft power.
To sum up. The geo-politics of the European Union consist of the export of
stability: by its enlargement, its good-neighbourly policy towards the countries
that surround it, by its insistence upon a rules-based-system in international
economic relations and by its willingness to engage in peace-enforcing and
Frits Bolkestein, July 2004