The EU’s Continued Relevance

For a while, I’ve been meaning to write a post about issues on which I’ve either changed my mind or experienced an evolution in thinking. Unfortunately, overarching projects like that tend to become a bit daunting. But this Sydney Morning Herald op-ed by Sam Roggeveen at least gives me an excuse to mention one such area in particular: Europe. I used to strongly support a vision of a more integrated Europe, with foreign and defense policies capable of projecting force and influence at a level comparable to its economic and diplomatic weight.

My feeling is still that, given the many areas of overlap in both values and interests, such a scenario would be very much in America’s interests as the balance of global power shifts eastward. But I’ve come to accept that some of the faultlines, flaws and weaknesses in the European model are insurmountable, if for no other reason that, although European construction remains a priority for the political elites, popular support for it has lagged behind. What’s more, some of the historically determined aspects that limit the EU’s ability to develop into a global “power” — its antipathy to the use of military force, for instance — are the very things I find most hopeful and inspiring about it. But none of that necessarily means that the EU and Europe should be consigned to the dustbin of history just yet.

Roggeveen’s piece succinctly sums up where I currently stand on Europe, which is to say, decidedly less sanguine in terms of the feasability of a European “power” in the hard sense of that term, but nevertheless optimistic for the possibilities it presents in terms of novel ways to “project” its soft power. And I agree with Roggeveen that the EU’s ability to serve as a model of regional integration for other parts of the world is actually reinforced now that the dream of a “United States of Europe” has been definitively set aside. National leaders are far more likely to consider an arrangement whereby sovereignty is maintained while power is magnified than one in which a collection of nation-states enters one end of the process and a federal authority emerges on the other.

In other words, the fact that the process has a natural set of brakes makes it far more attractive as an option to consider. And as Roggeveen also mentions, the fact that it is, indeed, being presented in Asia as a model to follow is testament to the power of the EU’s example. That could potentially mean openings for EU-trained juridical experts as advisers, as well as a certain weight given to institutional “interoperability” based on the EU model — projectable soft power, in other words.

If it also leads to the spread of the EU’s rejection of war, all the better.