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Foreign Policy Politics

Europe’s Impotence

Timothy Garton Ash writes in the Guardian with frustration at Europe’s seeming impotence, so much at odds with it’s theoretical power:

At a moment when the United States is suspended between an outgoing president who won’t do anything to stop the slaughter and an incoming president who feels he can’t yet, Europe has a chance to show what it can do. So here it is: weak, divided, and still as infuriatingly pompous and vacuously self-aggrandising as it was in the early 1990s, when the foreign minister of Luxembourg descended on disintegrating Yugoslavia and cried “the hour of Europe has come”. Like the Bourbons, the EU seems to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing…

Why can’t we Europeans get our act together when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world? On our own continent we have done great things: we have almost completed the most ambitious enlargement in the history of the union; we have just marked the 10th anniversary of the euro. In external policy we are little further on than we were a decade ago. And time is not on our side. As powers such as China and India rise, the relative power of Europe inevitably decreases – so pooling our resources is to some extent simply running to keep up. Global warming and nuclear proliferation will not wait on our endless internal debates.

Given the power of so many European countries in the recent past – and today – it is astounding that collectively they seem to have less diplomatic and political pull than they do individually. Sarkozy demonstrated to some degree how the EU presidency could be used more strongly, but with only six months in office, he was not able to make a significant difference. Couple this with the demographic crisis in Europe – as it’s population ages and perhaps decreases – and with the rapid growth of China, India, and Brazil – and as Ash points out, with America at a low ebb in our power – it’s hard to see a better time for Europe to have taken the lead in world affairs than in the past two years.

Yet they didn’t – or couldn’t.

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