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Things I Changed My Mind About This Year

Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009

To take a page out of the playbook of Sam Roggeveen and the smart bunch at the Interpreter, this year I've changed my mind about Europe. Not that I've gone from optimism to pessimism, or vice versa. I've long been a Europhile, primarily because of the very real foundation of peaceful semi-post-sovereignty that the EU incarnates.

But also driving my affection for the EU was the idea of what it might become. And that's what I've changed my mind about. I no longer believe that the EU will become something other than what it is: a collection of states with disparate interests, working at times together and at times at cross purposes.

There will be modifications and improvements, and the modus operandi under Lisbon will certainly create opportunities for increasing the policy areas that fall under the post-sovereign rubric -- in particular, due to the opt-in/opt-out clauses that permit more room for minority initiatives. There will also be increases in joint defense capacity, even if it remains distinctly different in character from the U.S. conception of "defense," with a greater emphasis on political-military multilateral crisis intervention.

But even if there will likely still be surprises in practice, I no longer expect the EU in its final incarnation to differ that dramatically in essence from what we see now.

On a related note, many of the things I got wrong this year also had to do with Europe. I thought the financial crisis would create far greater strain on the cohesion of the union, to the point of perhaps splitting it into its more natural Western and Eastern blocs. Not only did that not happen, the crisis actually revealed a "turn to the union" instinct that reinforced the EU's legitimacy (even if the union's response to those who turned to it left a good deal to be desired).

I also didn't think the European NATO allies would answer President BarackObama's calls for troop increases in Afghanistan. They did, even if theincreases were small, were extracted rather than offered, and came in drips and drabs that largelyundermined Europe's ability to weigh in more coherently on thestrategic debate over the Afghanistan war.

And with regard to EU-U.S. relations more broadly, I thought that despite the predictable divergences between Europe and the Obama administration (see above), the policy shifts of the latter -- especially on multilateralism and climate change -- would usher in a period of closer EU-U.S. cooperation that would enhance the union's role in the global arena. Instead, the Obama administration's diplomatic maneuvers on both scores have given primacy to the emerging powers, at the expense of an increasingly marginalized Europe.

So Europe, still whole and still free, but perhaps less triumphant. And if that's all, it's still a lot.