As an American-Swiss, I usually refrain from making comments about Europe, and certainly about the European Union. The great experiment begun after the Second World War has certainly created peace among the European nations, especially between France and Germany. Even a brief glance at the number of casualties in the two World Wars near Switzerland's border shows the horrific loss of lives. If the European Union has contributed to peace and stability on the Continent so much the better.
However, to talk of the European Union as a major actor on the world stage is very far from a reality. At the same time deep divisions within Europe were shown during the financial crisis, Europe was supposed to be moving forward with a common foreign and security policy. The selection of Lady Ashton to head foreign affairs activities, the beginning of the establishment of a common diplomatic corps were supposed to demonstrate how the customs union was developing into a political reality.
The current crisis in Libya has demonstrated the weakness of European unity. While France and England moved swiftly to push for a United Nations Security Council Resolution for intervention, Germany abstained along with Brazil, China, India and Russia. (It is very difficult to imagine a commonality between the 4 emerging powers and Germany. In addition, Germany's chances for a permanent seat on the Security Council were definitely not improved. Internal politics were primary for Germany, as they probably were for France and England as well.)
Where is a common European position? The President of the European Commission, José Barroso, correctly noted in Geneva last week that Europe is an evolving structure. But, even he had to admit that the lack of cooperation among the European powers in the Libyan crisis is worrying.
I am writing these thoughts from the old town of Dubrovnik in Croatia. It is here that the fighting began which cascaded into the terrible Balkan wars. There is now great hope in the region that membership in the European Union will bring stability and economic prosperity. There have been too many wars, too much bloodshed. Perhaps, just as with France and Germany, the European Union can serve as a "gentle pacifier".
But, my concern for the moment is with Europe as an external political actor. After all, it was the United States and NATO which finally intervened to stop the Balkan bloodshed. And people look to the United States to solve the conflict between Palestine and Israel. Where is Tony Blair? Where is Javier Solana? The United States is often criticized for its numerous interventions. I am certain that President Obama and his aides would like nothing better than to have a unified Europe as a partner throughout the world.
March 31, 2011