Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Europe carried an article by Jonathan Fenby, erstwhile editor of the South China Morning News and expert on China, present director of early-warning.com and expert on western Europe. Apparently, anyway.
Entitled Europe’s Leadership Problem, the article starts with a racy summary of all the problems European political leaders have. Those in office are weak and have recently suffered electoral and political reverses; those in opposition are divided and unable to offer alternative policies (or even policies of any kind). Terrible!
To make matters worse, this is happening
“… at a time when Europe is meant to be making its next big move forward with a new constitution, and a bid to raise its global profile and impact”.
Quite. What is it Mr Fenby wants to see, strong national leaders or an inexorable march into European integration (a word he carefully avoids, somehow postulating that the European project, constitution and all, miraculously can exist while there are strong national leaders around)?
One can see why he is a little confused. Seemingly,
“[t]he periods of greatest progress for the European project have come when domestic leaders, particularly in France and German, were secure at home.” And being secure, they could, like de Gaulle, occasionally call a halt to the whole process. However, by now the process or project has acquired a momentum of its own and that undermines national politics and makes it impossible for strong leaders to emerge. What would those strong leaders do? Politics has become a matter of corporate planning or horsetrading in Brussels.
As for Europe’s much needed place in the world, Mr Fenby, like so many advocates of that mysterious development prefers to think that the structures matter more than the content. He bemoans the fact that the new members have not taken the place of the old Franco-German axis and produce their own definition of common policy. Apparently, it does not matter what the definition is, as long as there is one.
“A continuation of the status quo will not make a fruitful definition of the trans-Atlantic relationship any easier, regardless of whether George W. Bush or John Kerry is sitting in the Oval Office in January. Nor will it facilitate a common relationship with China as shown by the current debate pitting Paris and Berlin against half-a-dozen other member states over resuming arms sales to Beijing.”
What is it Mr Fenby would like to see? A resumption of those arms sales or not? Or does it not matter as long there is an agreement one way or another. You cannot build a foreign policy on that basis. There has to be content as well as structure. And content can exist only if there is a meaningful definition of interests. That, pace Mr Fenby, who does not like “local” politics (that’s national to you and me) and would like to see “Europe” fulfil its true role in the world, is why this is all an impossibility. But the pursuit of that impossibility has drained national politics of its life blood.