22nd June 1997


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Europe: Union and division


By Mervyn De Silva

Media eports suggested that the Amsterdam meeting last week was an unqualified success for the 15-member organisation and a personal triumph for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Not at all. The most controversial issue, not surprisingly, was defence. Should the E.U. alter its character? Two of the major powers, Germany and France, see no harm in what is now rather modestly called “a defence arm”. But Britain would have none of it. Why should it? Britain’s security lies ultimately in the hands of its cousins across the Atlantic, the United States. And it is this fact which prompted its European allies to see Britain as “Mr. facing-both-ways” - cross channel, and transatlantic.

But these differences and accompanying tensions are not likely to alter what is plainly a post-Cold War grand design, and the only state that may have opposed this American plan no longer can summon the will and the material resources to do so. Russia can object, criticise and complain but no more. If the U.S. does accommodate Moscow, the concession would not be of any consequence. Washington’s strategists would be motivated, if at all, by their common concern to protect President Boris Yeltsin from an ultra-nationalist/communist backlash.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser summed it up in a commentary late last month:

“The Founding Act on Relations between NATO and Russia due to be signed in Paris has not precipipated a shift in Moscow, as some predicted it would, towards a communist-chauvinist political take-over. Nor has it re-ignited the Cold War. It involves two major compromises. First, and most important, Russia is reluctantly accepting that the enlargement of the Euro-Atlantic alliance is unavoidable and that a dominant U.S. political presence is an enduring reality. Secondly, the West is recognising that Russia, by virtue of its size, must be granted special status, but only in a geo-political setting that forecloses any residual Russian imperial ambitions.”

In short, Russia, may not be the Soviet Union, but unlike Great Britain, which also lost a vast “empire” (‘satellites’ in Cold War terminology) continues to command a menacing nuclear arsenal.

Recently, the United States announced that it would support the inclusion of only three such ‘satellites - Poland the largest, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Two other countries, Rumania and Slovenia, the White House spokesman, Mike McCurry told the media, would have to wait. They are, he said “on track.”

But the built-in problem of democratic decision-making remains. The smallest has the same voting power as a large, economically and militarily, strong state. This anomaly (if it is one) confers the same rights on Germany with an 80 million population and Luxembourg, a mere 400,000. Despite these residual problems, Elmer Brok, a German member of European Parliament and staunch supporter of Chancellor Kohl, took comfort from the British polls. The Labour government of Tony Blair is certainly less hostile to E.U. Minus the U.K., any European counil would have been fatally flawed. Under the prevailing rules only “security” and “foreign policy” would require unanimity. Other areas, such as justice and home affairs, would need only a majority.

As of now, ten Eastern European countries - all Warsaw Pact members and thus ‘satellites’ will be on a waiting list.

American Line

The issue is “Europe” and its future but the United States, as the undisputed leader of the western alliance, and today the sole superpower, calls the shots. In the coming weeks or months, the student of European affairs, and post-Cold War security issues, would have to keep an eye on at least Germany and France and the response of each to the critical issues involved in re-shaping Europe, after the Soviet implosion.

“A funny thing happened on the way to the millenia, the enshrinement of the marketplace,” wrote Kevin Phillips, publisher of the American Political Report. Major Western nations, at the end of the business cycle, started electing Socialists and Communists! He argues that the French polls and the Labour victory may announce “another big shift”, like the conservative, free market trend. The code name, of course, of that critical change was “Margaret” or “Thatcher.”

European security

Yes, socialism is dead; or in utter disgrace. The “market” is God. That still leaves old nationalist conflicts, suspicion, deep distrust and often border disputes over which a single nervous soldier on the border (not always clearly demarcated or formally accepted) could quite easily convert into “border clash” “an exchange of fire”... the beginning of a battle. Governments and statesmen, and finally the diplomats are soon involved as tensions mount. The new edifice of “European security can tumble down as easily as the Berlin Wall”.

The current American debate academic more than official or semi-official is more excited about the “ideological shift”. Europe has turned left, noted an American newspaper that is proud it borrowed its name from Wall Street.

Robert Samuelson noted that the Wall Street Journal alerted its readers, businessmen and bankers, that “Europe has turned Left”. Thirteen of fifteen states in the European Union have “leftist governments.” In France, the Socialists and Communists slaughtered the centre-right at the parliamentary polls. Labour clobbered the Conservatives for the first time since 1979.

But Samuelson warns the reader not to accept the obvious interpretation - that the voter wants radical change. The message is ‘do not distrub.’ Cuts in spending, especially social benefits, could be a prescription for political suicide.

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