Sharp EU Analysis

This post by James Lamond at Democracy Arsenal breaks the mold of EU criticism by foregoing the derision and simply . . . presenting a useful analysis of some of the obstacles the EU faces with regards to formulating a coherent and effective foreign policy. That said, I think Lamond — and EU critics in general — places a bit too much emphasis on the “speaking with two voices” and “divergent interests” problems, and fails to give the “ability to deliver” problem its due.

The fifty states, after all, have divergent interests, which explains the wide range of American opinion on free trade, global warming and even the war in Gaza. But foreign policy, for the most part, is still determined by the executive branch. Barring a major, humiliating reversal in Congress, the president can deliver what he promises to our interlocuters abroad, which enhances American influence.

Likewise, the reason that Nicolas Sarkozy, as the president of France, is able to wield more influence than the Czech — and current rotating EU — president is that, while France exercises far less influence than a united EU, it is able to deliver the not-insignificant influence it has, and to do so more effectively in direct transactions than if rerouted through the EU institutional apparatus. Also, unlike the U.S., not all of the EU member states’ foreign policy assets are pooled, so some of that influence might only be available if wielded by France.

I’d also add that another major source of leverage Europe wields, in addition to the potential membership that Lamond identifies, is commercial access to an integrated market. That’s why EU norms have become near-universal, which has been an enormous boon to workers and consumers around the globe, and something that magically disappears from EU-bashers’ (by which I don’t mean Lamond) consideration of influence, leverage and effectiveness.

Finally, I’m not sure the example Lamond cites of the EU’s effective response to the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute can be explained simply by converging interests. The Russian decision to shut off gas supplies posed a direct threat to Europe’s ability to defend both its citizens and itsindustry. In case it hasn’t made the top of the news in the States, it is a very, very cold winter in Europe. To give you an idea, it snowed all day long earlier this week here in Paris, and that doesn’t happen very often. Unlike a distant diplomatic or humanitarian crisis that demands the ability to project power and influence, the gas shut off in the midst of a bitter cold spell was essentially an attack on the homefront. There will be times when even convergent interests won’t suffice to allow the EU to project its influence, but in this case the EU demonstrated that it does have the ability to effectively defend itself.