Divided on foreign and defence policy, the EU seems to be slipping backwards. It must learn to speak in one voice, or others will shape the new world orderby Charles Grant / July 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
In the multipolar world that is emerging, which powers will matter? The US and China, certainly. India, perhaps. Japan, Brazil and South Africa? Not yet. And what about the EU? Ten or even five years ago, the EU was a power on the rise. It was integrating economically, launching its own currency, expanding geographically and passing new treaties that would create stronger institutions. But now, although the EU is respected for its prosperity and political stability, it no longer looks like a power in the making. If anything it is slipping backwards.
On many of the world’s big security problems, the EU is close to irrelevant. Talk to Russian, Chinese or Indian policy-makers about the EU, and they are often withering. They view it as a trade bloc that had pretensions to power but has failed to realise them because it is divided and badly organised. Barack Obama began his presidency with great hopes of the EU but is learning fast about the limitations of its foreign and defence policy: few of its governments will send soldiers to the dangerous parts of Afghanistan, and some senior figures in Washington now worry about the EU’s ability to ensure stability in the Balkans or its eastern neighbourhood.
But does the EU’s unimpressive performance on hard security matter? Should not the 27 governments just focus on deepening the single market, while they pursue their own national foreign policies and count on Nato to keep the peace? The EU does need to improve its act because the world is changing in ways that may not suit it. It is not clear whether the new multipolar world will be multilateral—with everyone accepting international rules and institutions—or an arena in which the strong pursue their objectives through the assertion of military and economic might. The EU is instinctively multilateral, but the other big actors—the US, Russia, China, India and so on—can be unilateral or multilateral, depending on their perception of their interests. So the EU must try to persuade these powers that they can best achieve their national objectives through multilateral institutions. A weak EU will make that task harder.