East or West?
The closer Europe edges to unity the more it needs to define its global role, writes Anouar Abdel-Malek
What can Europe do to fend off the torrent of scorn coming its way from US policy-makers and media? Does it have a clear answer? Or will it keep repeating the same mantra of common destiny while the cross-Atlantic sparring continues?
A comical exchange took place at the UK House of Commons on 5 February during a debate on the intelligence Tony Blair relied on before waging war on Iraq. Insults were hurled from the spectators' section as Liberals and some Labourites challenged the prime minister. Suddenly, Michael Howard, the sarcastic Tory leader, got up and congratulated Blair for forming a committee of investigation into the matter just after President Bush did the same. What was his point exactly? Was he criticising Blair for acting belatedly, or for taking a cue from his US boss? In other words, can Britain, the US alter ego in Europe, differ from America, or should it toe the US line without thinking?
This is a recurring question in Europe, and not just in the UK. What are the boundaries of Europe's second-fiddle role in world politics? What are the prospects for Europe's relative -- let alone radical -- dissent with US dominance? This question keeps surfacing in every European state with any weight on the international arena, particularly the UK, France and Germany.
Other questions are also being asked. How does Europe see itself after the war in Iraq? And, with the turmoil in Afghanistan and Palestine in mind, how can Europe define its own role in a new century? Can a European identity be found? How does Europe see the future of NATO? And how does it feel about the cultures and countries of the East?
Europe runs from the Atlantic to the Oral Mountains on Russia's eastern borders. Up to 1991, Europe saw the Soviet Union as something alien; a homogeneous space separating the real -- i.e. West -- Europe from Asia. Then Huntington sprung up in 1993 with his theory about the "clash of civilisations". He made a distinction between Western and Central European nations, with their Catholic and Protestant creeds, and the other nations, particularly those with an Orthodox or Muslim background.
Huntington's ideas may have seemed initially bizarre, but they are not without precedence. True Europe, it is often suggested, is the area that Emperor Charlemagne wanted once to unify. The fault line between Latin Catholicism, on one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has coalesced into a political paradigm. These lines still inspire the form of European unity about to take place.
The unity of ethics that took shape during the Enlightenment is still the main inspiration for new Europe. Europe is most comfortable within the borders of the 17th century. Countries lying beyond the traditional fault lines of Orthodox Christianity and Islam (Russia and Turkey, for example) stand little chance of being integrated into a future Europe.
Europe has invaded the south and eastern Mediterranean, first under the banner of the Crusades, then in a campaign of colonialism. Europe of the Enlightenment was also Europe of Imperialism. In time, the latter gave way to US hegemony. Interestingly, Orthodox Europe is not known to have engaged in a war against the Islamic world. And Muslims have for long refrained from military expansion.
So, where did the vision of a unified Europe come from? The Roman Empire is the prototype of a unified Europe, from the spread of Christianity in Europe until the fall of Rome in the sixth century. Another prototype was that of Charlemagne. Crowned by the pope in Rome in AD 800, Charlemagne became emperor from the Danube to the Pyrenees -- from Hamburg to Sicily. Following his death, the empire disintegrated, remaining fragmented until the end of the Middle Ages. It was Pierre Dubois, consultant to the ruler of Bourgogne, who renewed the call for a European union in 1306. Immanuel Kant called for "lasting peace" in 1795. Following the French Revolution, Napoleon tried to bring 20 European nations together under his rule. Modern European politicians from Churchill to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepan praised his attempt.
Then Hitler rose to power in Germany, in 1932, forging alliances with Italian fascists and the Vichy government of occupied France. Speaking at the Bundestag in 1936, he said, "it does not make sense for a group of nations to have different legal systems for long in such a crowded home as Europe." Mussolini echoed the same sentiment in 1933. "Europe can hold the reins of world civilisation if it achieves a minimum of political unity," he said. Churchill, in a speech in Zurich in 1946, called for a "United States of Europe".
The recurrence of the vision of a united Europe overlapped with the attempt to achieve a measure of political unity aimed at perpetuating Europe's central status in world civilisation. The vision bred results after WWII thanks to the efforts of Jean Monnet, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Jacques Delors.
A few months ago, former French President Giscard d'Estaing presented the first draft of a constitution for a unified Europe, calling on the Europeans to imagine a continent living in peace, free from barriers and borders, where divergent histories are finally reconciled. European nations seemed ready to heed this call of political reason as 15 countries of Central and East Europe prepare to join the EU in May. The international climate was suitable for such a move, with similar efforts well underway in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Suddenly, differences began to surface.
Will the EU turn in 2004 into a continent extending from the Atlantic to Russia; an entity of 450 million people, as President of the European Commission Romano Prodi announced in a meeting with President Bush a few months ago? The picture no longer looks bright. At the recent EU conference in December 2003, the draft for the European constitution failed to gain approval, and most experts now agree that the entire EU project is on hold, at least for the moment.
The delicate matter of leadership is behind the setback. Will leadership be collective, with each nation having the same say regardless of size, population and economic and military power? Can Cyprus and Malta, for example, have the same say as Germany and France in matters concerning the new world order, geopolitical strategy and the world economy? It stands to reason that the share each nation has of decision-making should be proportionate to their size and potential. France, Germany and the UK, who want a greater share of representation in Europe's governing bodies than other medium-sized and small nations, share this view. At the recent conference, Poland and Spain rejected this approach, triggering a crisis that stopped the constitution in its tracks. There is something puzzling here. It may make sense for major states, such as Italy and Spain, to challenge the authority of the UK, Germany and France. But why Poland? The answer may have to do with the fact that Poland, a state whose borders underwent continual encroachment by its neighbours over the years, is still wary of leaving its fate in the hands of powerful partners.
Many countries in Central and East Europe, particularly those that lived under Soviet hegemony for decades, may share Polish hesitancy. These countries are now apprehensive of the resurgent nationalism in Russia and seek, therefore, reassurance from the US of their independence.
This is why such countries are reluctant to go under a European leadership seeking independence from US influence. Their sentiments gained much publicity when US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of an "old Europe" versus a "new" one. Whereas "old Europe" favours maximum independence from US leadership, "new Europe" wants to become part of a stronger NATO.
With the situation unresolved, several questions remain unanswered: (a) what form of leadership will Europe have? (b) What links will a unified Europe have with the Russia? (c) How will a unified Europe fit within the US-led NATO setting? And (d) how will Europe interact with other attempts at unity -- in Asia, Africa and Latin America?
The campaign on Iraq has brought into focus the rivalry between a Europe grappling with unity and a bullish US savouring its global leverage. The two rivals are now contemplating their positions in a new world, one that is likely to be multi-polar. As this is taking place, the East, too, is pondering its options.