G8, G5, G20, G2, G3 and now the G14 (the G8 plus the G5 plus Egypt): never have the “mathematics” of world order seemed more complex and confusing.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UN in 2005, attempted to adjust the multilateral institutions of our world to fit its new realities. It was a brave effort that came too soon. The Northern industrial world was not yet ready to recognize the new weight of the emerging powers and the need to strike a new balance between North and South, East and West.
Has the current financial and economic crisis, given its traumatic depth and the obvious responsibility of the US as its source, created the necessary conditions and a more favorable climate for a major re-foundation of the multilateral institutions? It is too early to be confident that true change will come. What is certain is that a rebalancing between North and South must start with an honest and hard-headed look at Europe’s current status in our multilateral system.
Nowadays, there is both too much and too little Europe, or, to put it differently, too many European countries are represented in the world’s premier forums, with too many voices.
But, in terms of weight and influence, there is not enough united Europe.
In the early 1980s, a former French foreign minister, Jean Francois-Poncet suggested that France and the UK give up their seats on the UN Security Council in favor of a single EU seat. Germany would no longer seek a seat, Italy would not feel left out, and Europe’s international identity would be strengthened in a spectacular way.
Of course, this was not to be. France and the UK were not willing to give up the symbol of their nuclear and international status. They are probably are even less willing to do so today in the name of a Union that is less popular than ever, at least in the British Isles.
But let’s be reasonable: the absurdity of Italy’s presence in the G8, together with the lack of official membership for countries such as China, India, and Brazil, is no longer acceptable or tenable. Yet, because of that anomaly, Europe suffers from a grave deficit of legitimacy and presence internationally.
Of course, the US cannot be compared with a Union that is nowhere near becoming a US of Europe. But if the contrast between the two sides of the Atlantic, between the continent of “Yes, we can” and the continent of “Yes, we should,” is so immense, it is for reasons that Europeans are refusing to face or even to discuss.
The first one is the EU’s lack of anything that incarnates it. It would be absurd to set US President Barack Obama and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso against each other as equals.
Whereas Obama owes his election in large part to his charisma, Barroso is likely to succeed himself precisely because of his lack of charisma, because he says very little in so many languages. But, for national leaders in the EU whose last ambition is to have to deal with a new Jacques Delors — that is, a man with ideas of his own, a cipher like Barroso is just the man for the job.
On the other hand, the EU is paying a steep price for the bureaucratic anonymity of its leaders. A process of escalating alienation and indifference between the Union and its citizens is at work, illustrated by low turnout in the last European Parliament elections.
As a result, there is less Union in Europe and less Europe in the world.
A strong European voice, such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s during the French presidency of the EU, may make a difference, but only for six months, and at the cost of reinforcing other European countries’ nationalist feelings in reaction to the expression of “Gallic pride.”
If Europeans want to regain self-confidence, pride and, collective hope, they must seize the opportunity that the necessary and inevitable adjustment of the multilateral system represents for them. They should make of necessity an opportunity. Of course, a single European voice in the major multilateral institutions appears more unrealistic than ever: who wants it, except maybe the EU’s smaller members?
But Europe’s last chance to be a credible actor in a multi-polar world rests precisely on its ability to present a single, united, responsible voice. Europe currently exists as an economic actor, not as an international political actor. If Europeans were to set for themselves the goal of speaking with one voice, of having one representative in the spectrum of multilateral institutions — starting with the UN Security Council — they would be taken more seriously. In this case, one can really say that “less is more.”
Such a move would be deemed premature by numerous critics. Twenty years ago, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, one could say “I want Europe so much that I am willing to accept one Germany” — a revolutionary move if one had in mind the French writer Francois Mauriac’s famous joke: “I like Germany so much, I want two of them.”
In today’s global age, with the rise of emerging powers and the relative decline of the West, the only Europe that will be taken seriously is a Europe that can speak and be seen as one.
Dominique Moisi is a visiting professor of government at Harvard University.
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