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In this column, Emma Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister and former European Commissioner, argues that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the de facto representative of Europe in the world today, putting other European heads of states and institutions in the shade. Moreover, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries since 2008 have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, and the author fears that a definitive crisis of the European federalist project is on the horizon.
ROME, Feb 27 2015 (IPS) - When I am asked whether Europe is still a relevant “protagonist” in the modern world, I always answer that there is no doubt about it. For a long time now, the continent has been shaken by financial crises, internal security strategy crises – including wars – and instability within its borders, which definitely make it a protagonist in world affairs.
If the question asked were about what the leading role of the European Union actually is, it is enough to take a look at a few days’ entries in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s diary.
On Thursday Feb. 5 she was in Moscow with French President François Hollande for negotiations on the Ukraine crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the following day she met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for talks in Kiev. At the weekend she was back in Munich, where she argued publicly for resistance against increasing pressure from the United States to arm the Ukrainian forces.
On Monday Feb. 9 Merkel was in Washington, where she obtained – at least temporarily – U.S. President Barack Obama’s agreement to her stand against providing arms to Ukraine, in order to maintain a favourable climate for the negotiations that were about to be held in Minsk.
Next she went to Minsk to participate in three exhausting days of talks including a 17-hour debate with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, which led to a proposal of truce in Ukraine, presented on Thursday Feb. 12 to an informal meeting of E.U. heads of state in Brussels.
This brief overview, and the reports and images disseminated in the media, clearly show that Angela Merkel personifies the global role of Europe and puts other European heads of state and institutions in the shade.
Other protagonists on the international stage, like Obama and Putin, show a similar perception when they make important agreements with the German Chancellor.
In my federalist vision of Europe, it would be just perfect if Merkel were the president of the United States of Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
I do not want to dwell on the oversimplified dilemma that has been exercising think tanks for years: Are we moving towards a Europeanised Germany, or towards a Germanised Europe?
But I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower. This view is reinforced by the certainty that the proposal to reform the United Nations Security Council by granting Berlin a permanent seat is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
And if, at some date far in the future, such a reform of the Security Council is approved, the Council’s powers may by then have been reduced.
I believe this because in the last few months, while the events that are public knowledge were happening in Syria, in Iraq, with respect to the Islamic State, in Ukraine, in Sudan, Libya and Nigeria, the Security Council was conspicuous by its absence.
Furthermore, it is a disappointing surprise to witness the almost non-existent resilience of the institutions created by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, which reformed the European Union. At the time they were praised as a new departure in the framework of international law and as the consolidation of a united European foreign policy.
While we watched the serious conflict in Ukraine on our continent, many of us asked ourselves what the top E.U. authorities, who had been elected transnationally for the first time, were doing: E.U. President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.
What credibility can possibly remain for structures that are systematically side-lined when conflicts become red-hot?
The problem does not lie in the persons who perform these functions. Such an analysis would be too superficial.
It is rather a question of ascertaining whether European institutions are sufficiently robust to resist what many call a return to the Westphalian system, that is, to the treaties of 1648 that demarcated a new order in Europe founded on the nation-state as the basis of international relations.
Outside Europe, this tendency has been developing for some time. The role of global power is increasingly taken over by “mega states”: the United States, Russia, China, India, and soon to include Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.
The European Union has difficulty matching up to these as a valid counterpart.
I am afraid that this tendency may lead to the definitive crisis of the European federalist project. However, we federalists must resist the trend and reflect on the best way to face the situation.
Since 2008, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, with the exception of actions implemented by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank.
Consequently, Europe has abandoned the pursuit of a common foreign policy and has reverted to inter-governmental practices that prioritise national interests.
The dilemma is clear: either the European Union is a global power and is recognised as such, or Europe will be represented by others in crucial debates.
In this context, what is emerging is that Germany is increasingly taking on a new role.
This process began with the bizarre designation in 2006 of a group of countries to negotiate with Iran, known as 3+3, or more commonly, outside Europe, as 5+1: the five permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France) plus Germany.
Since then Berlin has taken on a leading role, not only in the European context but also in many international affairs, often on behalf of the European Union.
To sum up: the European Union works jointly to the extent that this is possible. After that there is a level at which decisions – and responsibilities – are taken by those with the power to do so. That is the scheme practised in today’s Europe. It is time for other Europeans to sit up and take notice. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)
Translated by Valerie Dee/ Edited by Phil Harris
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service
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