That is not exactly true as there most definitely is such a geographical concept as Europe and even a cultural one, though there have been enormous problems in defining the latter ever since it emerged in the fifteenth century or so. The great historian of the Renaissance, Sir John Hale, has written about it at length in many of his works. What there is not is a political and social entity called “Europe”.
There are few things more irritating than blithe American assumptions about “Europe” and “Europeans”, all of which have been in evidence in connection with Obama’s Berlin speech, which seems to have been a little less than overwhelming according to what people who were there say.
Before I go on to the problem of Obama’s speech let me say that blogs and forums telling us that “Europeans” always do this or have always done that, are not encouraging anyone on this side of the Pond to believe that Americans who take the trouble to make a comment would also take the trouble to do some thinking. Some Europeans have in the past welcomed oppressive and even totalitarian political systems; others did not. Many Europeans have fought against both extremely nasty systems of the twentieth century at a time when Americans ignored the problem; they even fought when their British and American allies refused to give them the support they had expected. All that is history as are the Nuremberg Rallies. Of course, history must not be forgotten and must be studied and analyzed. But it is history.
Futhermore, all Europeans except those who are making their way through the transnational euro-organizations (at our expense, naturally), think of themselves as being part of specific nations (sometimes more than one). Let me repeat: politically speaking there is no Europe and there are no Europeans.
Apart from announcing that he was uniting all the people of the world by his speech Obama spoke of healing the trans-Atlantic rift and reuniting the West with no walls to divide them. On the basis of this, Britain’s Daily Telegraph, supposedly our leading righ-wing publication, which has found no space to report the Mark Steyn case and has appointed itself as the cheer-leader for Obama, announced that with a few words the latter had made himself into Ronald Reagan’s heir. That would be the Reagan Obama did not even mention. I do not recall President Reagan making waffly meaningless speeches about the people of the world uniting in some vague fashion in, say, Majorca or Dublin. He made a pithy comment to President Gorbachev in Berlin, which was then the frontline.
The point is that the trans-Atlantic rift is an invention of the media and of the liberal analysts in America. More European countries have supported America in the fight against terrorism and, even, in Iraq than opposed it. Senator Obama chose to make his speech in one of those who had opposed for various reasons of its own. He has been feted in the other country that opposed the war for reasons of its own, France, with President Sarkozy going far beyond Chancellor Merkel in his adoration of the presumed Democratic candidate. But then President Sarkozy is less popular in his country than Chancellor Merkel is in hers. He needs all the help he can get. Rather belatedly Obama came to Britain, America’s ally, where the Prime Minister has other worries though, according to the fawning news reports, Obama has “reassured Brown over his plummeting popularity”. Well, that’s all right then.
The question of why Obama made the speech that was supposed to be but was not an outline of his presumed foreign policy in Berlin remains. Germany is neither America’s closest ally nor the frontline in any battle the West that is, on the whole, as united as it was at various times in the Cold War, waging. If he was not going to produce fighting words in Baghdad, perhaps the Senator should have gone to one of the East European countries. They have supported America all along the line, incurring the wrath of President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder in the process and are now trying to fight off Russian bullying. They have had President Bush’s unwavering support but will they have the same from his successor? What does one possible successor think on the subject? In addition, the Poles could have shown him the Auschwitz memorial museum and he could have made another speech there. Or he could have gone to Ukraine and made his speech there, heartening the Ukrainians, who could have shown him a few places where Nazis and Communists murdered people by the tens of thousands. Georgia needs the sort of words that President Kennedy said to the Germans in 1961 now. But Germany?
I am told by one who was there in the crowd, which was very mixed from the point of view of nationality but tended to be rather young, that his calls for greater effort in the fight against terrorism were greeted coldly but there was rapturous applause when he spoke about Darfur, Zimbabwe, global warming and nuclear disarmament. That figures. The sort of people who go to these sorts of rock concerts – think Bono and U-2 – tend to like warm fuzzy causes that they can do nothing about.
German obsession with nuclear disarmament has meant a refusal even to consider nuclear power. Existing stations will be closed down and there will be no new ones. As a consequence, Germany is relying more and more on Russian oil and, especially, gas. If Senator Obama becomes President and if he recalls that Germany (or Europe as he seems to think) is now his closest ally he will find a rather sinister tertium quid in that relationship: Russia. We have already seen something of it during the last NATO Summit.
He will also find that different European countries have different interests and are likely to react differently to whatever an American President does. Incidentally, the same people who swoon over him now will oppose him as soon as he starts putting any policies in place which he will have to do.
Then there is another player in the field, one that neither Senator Obama nor his advisers seem to have heard of: the European Union, which is still in the process of turning itself into a state with a foreign policy, a legal personality (it’s there in the Lisbon Treaty) and a Foreign Minister, known as High Representative. Is that what Obama means when he speaks of Europe? Once again I have news for him. The idea that the European Union is going to be anything but a thorn in America’s side is moonshine.
However, it might be a good idea for the two presidential contenders to start paying attention to the European Union as a player on the scene and decide what they might do about it. The Lisbon Treaty a.k.a. the old rejected Constitution under a different title with a few unimportant matters missing, devotes many pages to Title V of the Treaty on European Union (part of the Consolidated Treaties), “General Provisions on the Union’s External Action and Specific Provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy”.
The idea of a common foreign and security policy that would overrule the foreign policies of member states has been there in the project of European unification from the very beginning. In fact, the European Defence Community was going to be the first of those communities but failed to pass through the French Assembly. Thus integration proceeded through the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Community and the big one, the European Economic Community. But the idea had only been shelved and was revived in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 (brought to us by our own Conservative Government). Since then the structures and institutions have been made stronger and more elaborate and the possibility of national veto removed from more areas. This is known as the Monnet method – create the structures and the content and policies will follow. To this day most politicians and commentators in Britain have failed to understand it.
The project of the common foreign policy will not be complete with the Lisbon Treaty. There will still be possibilities for member states to conduct some separate foreign policy. The biggest problem with the whole concept, however, is the reaction of the member states. Almost uniquely in foreign policy the structures matter almost as much as the content and there has been more opposition to the construction than in most fields. Furthermore, there is the problem that not having common interests, as has been made clear over and over again in such matters as the war in Iraq or relationship with Russia, it is very difficult to create a common foreign policy.
When asked to elaborate, the proponents come up with two points: one is the general one of “Europe must speak with one voice to make itself a stronger power”, without ever specifying what the single voice might say; the other comes from the more honest of the europhiliacs, who explain that Europe must have a common policy or a single voice in order to stand up to the United States. Beyond facilitating the creation of a unified European state, the only purpose of the common foreign policy is to oppose America. No amount of blather (sorry but it is the only way I can describe it) about closing doors, not building walls and America promising to behave better will change that. That, of course, is not what Europe or Europeans think. That is what the European Union wants.
President Bush seemed to understand it. He made polite noises to please his friend Prime Minister Blair and cheerfully went on negotiating with individual European states who were America’s allies. Will his successor understand the problem, particularly if that successor is one Barack Obama?
Then again, the Lisbon Treaty may well provide us with a solution to the Obama problem. As I understand it, the difficulty he and his supporters are facing is that they all think he should be President and, in fact, probably is President, without the cumbersome necessity of running in an election campaign and having to have people voting. Well, we in Europe or, rather, the European Union, know all about it. Our real government in Brussels is unelected by us and it can overrule those we elect.
Article 15 provides for a new position, that of the President of the European Council, the latter consisting of the heads of state or government of the member states, together with the President of the Commission and the High Representative (a.k.a. Foreign Minister). With some changes this is the European Council we have had for some time. The difference is that new President, who will be elected by the Council according to the convoluted and incomprehensible rules of qualified majority voting.
This person will not be the President of the EU as there is still the President of the Commission and much entertainment will be extracted from the two jousting for power and position. He will, most certainly, not be the President of Europe, let alone the World. But it is a presidency that will not be elected in any real sense of the word and a position that will probably have more trappings of power than power itself. I think this may be perfect for Senator Obama. On top of which there are no tiresome requirements of nationality at birth, so there will be no need to produce that elusive birth certificate. Perfect.
All those in favour say aye. All those against will not be allowed to vote. The ayes have it.