Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 9 News List

US meets its old problems in new Europe

Will the post-expansion EU and its new members define themselves by their opposition to Washington's hegemony?

By Joseph Nye

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's petulant remark of last year about "old and new Europe" was right for the wrong reasons.

He meant it to refer to Europe's divisions, but in May, 10 additional states joined the EU. The expanded Europe truly forms a new Europe. Should the US be nervous?

Fifty-four years after the announcement of the Schuman Plan that began to knit together the economies of France and Germany, the EU now has 25 members and a population larger than that of the US.

Eight of the new members are former Communist countries that were locked behind the Iron Curtain for nearly half a century. Their attraction to the EU is a sign of the appeal -- the "soft power" -- of the idea of European unification.

Of course, this new Europe faces many problems. The per capita income of the new countries is less than half of the figure in the 15 members they are joining. Concerns have been raised about the influx of cheap labor. But average GDP growth rates in the new members are twice as high as in the original members, and this can provide a welcome stimulus to stagnant labor markets and sluggish economies.

Political arrangements are somewhat more problematic. Negotiations are under way to revise a draft EU constitution. Some Europeans worry that the constitution will enable courts to carry the integration process further and faster than public opinion in member states will tolerate. Lack of grassroots support might lead to rejection of the constitution in countries like the UK, where referenda have been promised before the new arrangements come into force.

Across the Atlantic, most Americans (to the extent they pay attention) regard these changes with general approval. But some express concern that the new Europe will be defined in opposition to the US. Not only do the remarks of French leaders about recreating a multi-polar world arouse alarm, but recent public opinion polls show a decline in the popularity of the US among Europeans and a desire for more independent policies.

The Iraq War proved costly to US soft power, with the US losing about 30 percentage points of attractiveness on average in Europe, including in countries like the UK, Spain and Italy, whose governments supported the war.

The recent photographs of detainees being abused and sexually degraded in Bagh-dad's Abu Ghraib prison added fuel to the fire. Now some US neo-conservatives argue that the US should drop its longstanding support for European integration.

Such a policy change would be a serious mistake. Not only would it add to anti-American attitudes and fail to accomplish its objectives, but it over-estimates the extent to which the new Europe is being formed in opposition to the US. Whatever the rhetoric in France, for example, the policies and attitudes in countries such as the UK or Poland demonstrate that good trans-Atlantic relations can be maintained. If anything, the risks of a US-Europe split will be reduced rather than increased by the EU's recent enlargement.

Moreover, there are several objective reasons why the current friction between Europe and the US is unlikely to lead to divorce.

For one thing, the divisive war in Iraq may turn out to be the last act of the 20th century rather than a harbinger of the 21st. US unilateralism is much less in evidence in the world's other hot spots, such as North Korea and Iran, both because of the costs of the war in Iraq and the realities of the situation in those other regions.

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