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Can’t We Get Along?

Our fine recent ambassador to the European Union explains why a prosperous E.U. is good for America.

By 10.7.05

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The Next Superpower?
The Rise of Europe and Its Challenge to the United States

by Rockwell A. Schnabel, with Francis X. Rocca
(Rowman & Littlefield, 199 pages, $22.95)

IS THE EUROPEAN UNION A FRENCH-LED, socialist conspiracy to undermine U.S. power, as some of the more strident American commentators have suggested? Many have gone so far as to say that the United States would be best off pursuing a strategy of "divide and conquer," making common cause with newly liberated, former Communist East European countries to stymie the likes of "old Europe," in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's famous characterization. At about the same time Rumsfeld made the remark, the neoconservative writer Robert Kagan offered a scholarly study of the sometimes difficult history of the U.S.-Europe relationship, arguing that, "on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus."

For more than half a century, however, the relationship between America and its European allies has been indispensable in guaranteeing both regional and global stability. In The Next Superpower? The Rise of Europe and Its Challenge to the United States, the European-born former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Rockwell Schnabel and the Rome-based American journalist Francis X. Rocca (with whom I worked at TAS in the late 1990s) identify the dangers and opportunities arising from the EU's growing power. In this thoroughly researched yet eminently readable effort, Schnabel and Rocca argue that America and Europe remain essential partners in disseminating democracy, free markets, and respect for human rights around the world. They emphasize that the historic alliance, despite its ups and downs, remains critical to global security and prosperity.

It is true that the Europe of today, integrated voluntarily by democratically elected governments, has an innate aversion to the militarism that united the continent over 1,800 years ago under the Roman Empire -- and shattered it under the 20th century's influence of virulent nationalism. But while America and Europe may often be divided on the methods, they are united on the goals -- the diffusion of democratic ideals around the world and the resulting peace and prosperity -- that George W. Bush has made a hallmark of his presidency. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the European Community (as the organization was known at that time) helped guide the former right-wing dictatorships of Greece, Portugal, and Spain in their transition to democracy by setting terms for their admission -- just as the EU is doing for Turkey and formerly Communist Eastern European countries today.

Schnabel and Rocca argue that, despite recent difficulties over adoption of a constitution and the ongoing controversy over the admission of Turkey, it is too late to undo the EU. Moreover, they contend, it is not in America's interest to stem the tide of integration even were it possible to do so. Beyond the common democratic values that unite us, a single, free European market is of tremendous economic benefit on both sides of the Atlantic. A half-century long process of integration has made the EU an economic superpower. It has the second largest economy in the world -- a GDP of $11.65 trillion in 2004, compared with $11.75 trillion for the United States -- and the largest single market -- 458 million consumers -- in the world.

The authors do acknowledge, however, that the EU seeks to impose its regulatory regime on the rest of the world, potentially stifling the freedom American business has come to expect and developing countries like China and India will need to reach modern levels of prosperity. Dirigisme, as Schnabel and Rocca point out, is a relatively new term for a long French tradition of central planning and state intervention often seen as the competing school of thought to free-market capitalism on the Continent. The authors note that, significantly, the principal architects of European integration have been French technocrats committed to this style of governance.

Indeed, EU economic interventionism has gone to both comic and tragic extremes. On the one hand, its agricultural subsidies (which are twice as large as those on this side of the Atlantic) and subsequent dumping of farm products on developing countries has on many occasions undermined the EU's otherwise generous aid to such nations. The relief agency Oxfam, for example, said last April that the EU's sugar policy had cost Mozambique more than one-third of what that struggling African country has received in EU development aid.

On the comic side, Schnabel and Rocca detail one of the EU's many infamous product standards: a seven-page European Commission document regulating banana quality. It stipulates that the fruit must be at least 14 centimeters in length "along the convex face, from the blossom end to the point where the peduncle joins the crown," and at least 27 millimeters thick "between the lateral faces and the middle, [measured] perpendicularly to the longitudinal axis."

FRUIT HUMOR ASIDE, the EU has made much headway in spreading its regulations and standards -- and ultimately its tastes -- around the world. Through soft power, as scholars of international politics refer to nonmilitary influence, the EU has managed to extend the reach of its political culture -- just at a time when U.S. public diplomacy has been floundering. As Schnabel and Rocca note, its formidable culture, generosity toward the developing world, and appealing way of life are some of Europe's greatest assets in winning hearts and minds beyond its borders.

At the same time, the European Union must grow more productive to compensate for looming demographic difficulties (the projected EU fertility rate for 2005 was 1.48 children per woman, well below replacement) as well as Western Europe's addiction to social spending. One of the strongest pressures to spark such productivity by adopting a more free market orientation in the EU comes from new Central and Eastern European member states. As former Estonian President Mart Laar said in 2003, "In the new member states, even the most left-wing governments are significantly more free-market oriented than the most right-wing governments among the current members."

But even with America's clear affinity with the free market values of the former Eastern Bloc, the authors argue, the U.S. is unlikely to pursue a policy of "divide and conquer" against an economically robust EU that is beginning to take on more and more responsibility for its own defense. As the Bush administration makes overtures aimed at repairing the transatlantic relationship, Schnabel and Rocca argue quite convincingly that America still has more in common with the Old World than many of us think. As President Bush said in Brussels earlier this year, "America supports a strong Europe, because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom and peace in the world."

America's goal, according to the former ambassador and much of the current U.S. foreign policy leadership, should be to help manage the emergence of the EU as a global power in a way that it remains committed to the Atlantic alliance and gradually more comfortable with robust free market principles. With the dramatic transformation of China and India into potential superpowers in their own right, as well as the ongoing threat to the entire world of Islamist radicalism, the Atlantic alliance is likely to remain an indispensable relationship for some time to come.

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