The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, February 18, 2005

Hey, Partner

I was reading an editorial by Quentin Peel in the Financial Times [17 Feb 2005] to the effect that both the U.S. and Europe should be nicer to each other. Chancellor Schroeder's speech was read by his defense minister, Peter Struck, so it seems a trustworthy indication of German sentiment:
[The current US-EU relationship] does justice neither to the Union's growing importance, nor to the new demands on transatlantic co-operation.
At first, I found only humor in the claim of "growing importance". Every country in western Europe is shrinking in population and in relative share of the world economy -- and by some bizarre double negative this is translated to growth.

Of course, what Mr. Schroeder meant is that the EU itself, rather than its members, is growing in importance. Washington continues to expect to negotiate with each country separately (to divide and conquer, from the EU point of view), while Schroeder means for the EU to take a unified position (possibly after internal debate).

Let us examine some recent diplomatic events. In dealing with Iran, it appears that the UK, France and Germany have presented a united front -- this front is for all practical purposes the EU position. Earlier, in the debate over the invasion of Iraq, the often-heard conventional wisdom was that "Europe" opposed it -- yet more than half of the EU countries joined. There is every reason to believe that Germany, and often France, would find itself in a minority within the EU on controversial issues, so their national influence need not be increased at all.

It certainly appears that France and Germany expect to wield disproportionate influence inside the EU. This seems odd if you think of the EU as a democracy of consenting nations -- as if Virginia and Pennsylvania were to insist on an outsized say in American policy. But this is a misleading way to think of Europe.

A better model for understanding the EU is a law firm. France and Germany are the founding partners. No matter how hard other partners work, their status can never be quite equal. But is this simply a Franco-German ideal, or an enforceable reality?

It can be argued that, since the real executive power lies not in the European Parliament but in the (unelected) European Commission, that influence with the Commission is the hard currency of Europe. It is more than likely that the "founding partners" are relatively overrepresented in the (undismissable) middle echelons of the Commission bureaucracy; it is quite possible, though not certain, that this imbalance could persist for a generation or more. The junior partners, for the most part poorer countries, would still be willing to accept this imbalance in return for a share of their neighbors' wealth (either in direct subsidies like those that have enriched Ireland, or simply through access to their markets).

[Steven DenBeste has written a harsh critique of the European project, now being updated daily at the EU Referendum Blog.]