Reading the Guardian today you may be forgiven for thinking we are all suffering from a massive dose of gloom at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week. To say nothing could be further from the truth would be an exaggeration; it’s more like business as usual with a bit extra doom thrown in for good measure.
Things are quite obviously not going to well on the big issues. The economy across Europe is in the doldrums with the current crisis in Greece making everyone very jittery.
To add insult to injury, the much vaunted Copenhagen summit on climate change held in December was little short of a farce. Badly organised and lacking any sort of focus, it failed to produce any binding agreement. Since the environment in general and climate issues in particular do not respect national borders and therefore require international action, this whole policy area is almost universally seen as Europe’s strongest card. To come so unstuck at Copenhagen was therefore extremely bad news.
What is more, Europe’s internal, what EU jargon call “inter-institutional”, organisation is in a state of flux following the Lisbon Treaty. There are now no less than four presidents: Jose-Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, current holder of the six month rotating presidency.
You may recall that one of my reasons for supporting Tony Blair for as President of the European Council was to have one strong leader who would be above all the inter-institutional rivalry and cut down on the chaos. Alas this wasn’t to be, to Europe’s immediate and, I believe, long term detriment.
President Obama recently cancelled his attendance at an EU summit due to be held in Madrid in May, allegedly because he doesn’t know who is in charge in the EU. It looks suspiciously as if Obama is following in the apocryphal footsteps of Henry Kissinger who apparently felt the same way. Since this snub follows hard on the heels of the United States President’s failure to take much account of the EU at Copenhagen, Europe has much to think about.
The underlying and very real danger is that the world revolves once again around two super powers – this time the Unites States and China. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall we may be back to the same old alignment, capitalist and communist, west and east with the same potential for an aggressive arms build up.
The EU was perhaps never going to be strong enough to be the force countering these two massive countries with their huge landmass, natural resources and, perhaps more important, their overwhelming sense of national identity. Yet we in Europe are in real danger of missing out on any meaningful influence. While the EU remains riven with internal jealousies, unable to move forward, the chance of acting as a player on the world stage and being the counterweight to the USA and China lessens by the day. Strength lies in unity not fragmentation.