Give Europe more weight in the world. The three reasons for Europe

By Javier Solana

The case for choosing Europe is as strong as ever. And yet, amongst some Europeans, self-doubt and hesitation has crept in. The fevered referendum debates in France and the Netherlands bear this out. But there is a wider sense of drift. When I travel around Europe, I am struck that the very idea of Europe is being contested. This is curious, for when I travel around the world, I see the exact opposite. Europe is universally admired and most people want Europe as a partner.

The precise reasons for this disenchantment are hard to pin down. It rests in part on an amorphous sense of insecurity. Ours is a confusing world, which demands a lot from citizens and leaders. It is understandable that some prefer simpler schemes of national action or ideological purity.

Understandable, but self-defeating.
Others object to the trade-offs that are inevitable in building a Union for a large and diverse continent. The fault-lines and coalitions are familiar: large vs. small; old vs. new; liberal vs. social market, net-payers vs. net-receivers. In the EU we have to reconcile these differences on a daily basis - and we do. But like all compromises, they risk disappointing some - and they do.

From time to time, we have to re-make the case for Europe and its role in the world. It is easy to lose a sense of purpose and perspective amid an endless stream of European directives and summits.

At the risk of simplifying things, let me stress that the case for Europe rests essentially on three arguments. First, to exorcise the demons of our past. Second, to extend the zone of peace and prosperity across our continent. And third to deal with a borderless and chaotic world.

To start, why did we embark on this project? Europe experienced the horrors of the 20th century to a degree unmatched anywhere else: invasion, occupation, civil war and the descent into barbarism.

It was no surprise that after 1945 an exhausted continent was ready to try a radical new idea: building a zone of peace through institutional integration and the voluntary pooling of sovereignty.

What was a surprise, even to the founding fathers, was how successful this project turned out to be. The watchwords of this European journey have been simple: deepening, widening and reform. Each element depended on the other for success - and still does today. From coal and steel, via atomic energy to the single market, Schengen and the euro. From six, to nine, to twelve, fifteen, and twenty-five today. From Paris in 1951, via Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice to the Constitution signed, once again, in Rome in 2004. We have come a long way and achieved a great deal. It is worth saying so, especially in this period of misgiving.

Foreign and security policy was not part of the original package. Quite the contrary. The European Community had adopted a posture of self-denial in matters of security and diplomacy. It was only at Maastricht that we first tried to construct a sea-worthy foreign policy. But when Maastricht entered into force, Yugoslavia had already fallen apart. A divided and hesitant Europe was unable to stop the bloodshed. The wars in ex-Yugoslavia scarred a generation of Europeans, myself included. They represented a frightening return of the demons. They taught us that diplomacy not backed by credible threats was no match for determined ultra-nationalists. And when we finally took action, together with the US - in Bosnia and later in Kosovo – Europe's weakness in military capabilities
stood out. 

But the key strength of the European Union is that after every setback, we re-group and emerge stronger. So our Balkans misadventures also led to the creation, in Amsterdam, of the post of High Representative for the CFSP. Bosnia and Kosovo gave a decisive impulse to the ESDP. And in a way, Iraq led to the European Security Strategy.

We should remain vigilant. But in Europe at least, the demons are gone for good. In 50 years, we have moved from the vagaries of the balance of power, ad-hoc alliances and imperial designs to a new regional order based on peace, integration, democracy and the rule of law. This is quite an accomplishment.

The second rationale for the European project is to spread this zone of peace, democracy and prosperity to all corners of our continent. The new member-states understand just how difficult the transition is which all post-communist societies have to make. Ralf Dahrendorf has described it as travelling through a 'valley of tears'. But surely it helped to pass this 'valley of tears', knowing that there was a clear destination at the other end. The strong incentives and resources of the EU made it
easier to mobilise support for the necessary reforms. This was the underlying bargain of EU enlargement. Despite the doomsayers, enlargement happened on time, without favours or special pleading. This was a great way to re-unite our continent.

Best of all, enlargement is not over. Europe as a transformative power has further to go. Romania and Bulgaria have just signed their accession treaties. If the appropriate conditions are met, Turkey  and Croatia will start their negotiations later this year. And our long-term vision is eventual  accession by all Balkan states to the European Union. 

Moreover, Europe's power of attraction remains strong further afield. Think of Georgia in 2003. Think also of Ukraine in 2004 where the EU played a major role in ensuring a peaceful and democratic outcome to the political crisis. This was EU foreign policy at its best: robust in its support for European values; staunch in its defence of the democratic aspirations of Ukraine; open and frank in our dialogue with Russia, and pragmatic in the co-operation between capitals and Brussels.

Moldova has also chosen the path of closer links with the EU. And who knows what is still to come, for instance in Belarus next year? When I met with Belarus opposition groups last month, I detected a strong desire for European values and democracy.

The third reason for wanting Europe is to become a global power. Gaza, Darfur, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Myanmar: each requires a different response. But being a bystander, accepting the status quo, that is not the European way. This is a troubled world. Europe has to be engaged. First, there is really no such thing as doing nothing. If you do nothing, people often believe that is our deliberate policy. The genocide in Rwanda happened in part because the perpetrators thought we, the international community, would do nothing. Second, it would be unreasonable to leave the US as the sole global actor - or to create that impression in Washington. America needs help and support just as much as a responsible Europe deserves respect and influence. And third, in our globalised world, things that happen in far away places, such as Afghanistan, can and do affect our security in unexpected ways. Distance and borders offer no protection.

If the complexity of this world is one reason for an ambitious EU foreign policy, then size is another. For what is each of us, acting alone, capable of achieving? Divisions among Europeans all too often translate into strategic irrelevance. We can already see the contours of an emerging international order where new powers such as China, India and others will play leading roles.

Unless we Europeans club together, future historians may conclude that, at the beginning of the 21st
century, Europe's moment came and went.

It is encouraging that despite the unease in some quarters about the broader European project, there is widespread support for a stronger European role in the world. The verdict from the opinion polls is clear. If that is the agreed objective, we should support for the Constitution. Why? Because what Maastricht did for the euro, the Constitution could do for Europe's role in the world.

Firstly, the Constitution offers a massive improvement in our ability to tackle old and new security threats. Think of the solidarity clause which will cover both terrorist and natural or man-made disasters. Then add enhanced cooperation on civil protection and structured co-operation on defence. Both promise a more capable Europe, addressing today's and tomorrow's problems.

Secondly, in terms of effectiveness, the Constitution inaugurates a new way of preparing and taking decisions. Perhaps the biggest innovation is the proposed EU Foreign Minister which will combine, in one person, the ability to mobilise all the different components of EU external relations. To ensure more consistency, the EU Foreign Minister will also represent the Union abroad. Our partners will thus have one interlocutor – something which is long overdue.

Finally, the Constitution foresees the creation of an EU External Action Service. Europe will thus have a single team working under one roof and answerable to one person responsible for the full range of EU external relations.

It is the cumulative total that matters. If you add up the EU Foreign Minister, the External ActionService, the solidarity clause and structured co-operation, you will see a real difference to Europe's international impact. This is what European citizens demand. And this is what non-Europeans, including Americans, insist upon.

Neither Europe nor the world can afford the self-inflicted wound of a rejection of the Constitution. Failure to ratify would not just put a break on future progress in EU foreign policy. It could even endanger the massive progress we have already made in recent years.

Schopenhauer once said that all truths pass through three stages. First, they are ridiculed. Second, they are violently opposed. Third, they are accepted as self-evident. The idea that Europe could develop a credible foreign policy is now stuck between the second and third phase. It is up to us to make it a reality.