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November 27, 2009

A Europhile becomes disillusioned: Brendan Simms on why Mr Van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton are not up to meeting the threats facing the West

Posted by Brendan Simms

The West needs stronger leaders than Mr Van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton - or for that matter Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel - if it is to deal with the threats facing us all, argues Brendan Simms.

"And nobody is afraid of her; that is a great charm." Jane Austen, Emma, Chapter 10

"For Europe, this a moment of truth. Europe has to answer a decisive question. Do we want to lead…or will we leave the initiative to others and accept an outcome shaped by them? The alternatives are clear. A start choice has to be made. Either Europeans accept to face this challenge together- or else we slide towards irrelevance."
Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, September 2009

It has been tragically and rightly said of the Palestinians that they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Sadly, the same is true of "Europe". It failed to use the threat of Soviet aggression during the cold war to forge a closer and mighty union. With the collapse of the European Defence Community in 1954, wrecked by the French parliament, the processes of economic and security integration diverged fatally, leading to two separate organisations: the EEC and NATO. In the 1990s, Europe missed the chance to wage the struggle against ethnic cleansing in the Balkans as a War of European unification. More recently, Europeans have struggled to agree an effective response not only to Saddam Hussein but also to the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Now we have the appointment of Mr van Rompuy as president of the European Council, a new post created by the Lisbon Treaty. I have nothing against Mr van Rompuy, or Ms Ashton, but they are both obscure compromise candidates who lack authority on the world stage. The former US National Security advisor and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, surely had something else in mind when he famously asked which number he should ring for "Europe".

Choosing Mr Rompuy over the much-discussed and incomparably more dynamic Tony Blair, and Ms Ashton over Peter Mandelson, sends an unmistakable signal that it is business as usual at the European Union. For all his federalist enthusiasms Mr van Rompuy, in particular, is unlikely to push forward the vital military reforms needed to make Europe a factor to be reckoned with globally. As Belgian prime minister he cut the military budget to a record low: the Russians are hardly quaking in their boots.

Europe has made the choice which the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, demanded in September, and it has chosen irrelevance. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French President, beheld the results and bewailed the "limited ambition for Europe". It was a far cry from the heady days when he had launched the European constitutional convention and told the putative founding fathers that they would be immortalised by "statues of you on horseback in the village you all come from".

This is a very German outcome. The decisive voice in the appointment was that of the Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Her opposition to Mr Blair served to swing the French President, Mr Sarkozy, away from Tony Blair when his candidature was beginning to seem unstoppable. The appointment of Mr van Rompuy also epitomises a huge and underappreciated shift in German attitudes towards the European project and their conception of security. Since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949, Bonn and then Berlin had sought to embed German security in an irreversible process of European political integration on the one side, and the maintenance and later expansion of NATO on the other.

All that changed with the inclusion of Poland in both organisations. With a substantial buffer to the east, Germany reckons itself much less in need of the American security umbrella and the support of allies. In short, far from demanding a world role since the fall of the wall as many had feared - the Federal Republic has retreated into a geopolitical cocoon. She is so swaddled by friendly neighbours that future conflicts appear to be matters of choice, not desperate struggles for survival.

None of this would matter, if the Germans were right. In fact, the challenges facing them and the European Union more generally are more grave than ever before. To the east, Russian assertiveness is creating an arc of instability from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In Afghanistan, the "war on terror" is in deep trouble; Iran continues to press ahead with its nuclear programme. It is a commonplace that Chinese power is rising.

Within many areas of the Union itself, the threat of Islamist terrorism has escalated over the past decade. And - let us make no mistake about it - the new wind blowing from Washington is far colder than we realise. Mr Obama has little interest in us and one need only look at his abandonment of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic to see how quickly our security will be sacrificed if it suits their purposes. We are now increasingly on our own.

There is very little that can be done about this in the short term. The full significance of the global American retreat will need to sink in first. Then we will have to stand by to repel the resurgence of anti-western forces throughout the world. Nobody can know for certain when that challenge will come, and exactly how it will manifest itself. One thing, however, is clear. The longer the leadership of the free world remains in the hands of Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and - let us not us forget - Mr van Rompuy, the shorter we will have to wait.

Dr Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.


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Dr Simms,

Your "disillusioned Europhile" headline chimes with my feelings after their unforgivable failure to choose Tony Blair to represent EU leaders via the presidency.

In one fell swoop Europe has made a monumental, perhaps historical error.

I too am unimpressed with any of those mentioned at the end of your article. I am also uninspired with the upcoming generation in any of the British parties. So, no hope there then. I do not know enough about other EU countries' leaders to comment.

And meanwhile Tony Blair is wasting the best years of his life trying, with a limited job description, to help solve the all but insoluble in the Middle East.

I have no doubt he says he is content with this job, what else can he say? But even Israelis wanted him to take the EU presidency in order to strengthen the EU's arm in negotiating peace in the Middle East. I am sure Mr Obama wanted this too.

To my mind it is nothing less than criminal that he was not given the opportunity to help bring the EU out of the shadows and into an equal partnership, where it belongs, with such as China, the US and the Middle East.

I have little doubt many leaders in those countries and regions were quietly rooting for Blair and never imagined the EU could be dull enough to think otherwise.

For the last fortnight who has heard - and who, frankly cares - what the EU is up to?

It is now no more than an introverted talking shop, while the only one who knew how to make its voice heard on the international stage has to answer to little people in London who think he told a fib over Iraq!

For all that's politic, please someone find that Great Conspiratorial Group the anti-war anarchists and extreme left keep telling us had made it a shoo-in for Blair.

They must have been all at dinner when Rompuy was seen as the answer. If he was the answer, what was the question? A famous Belgian?

The Bilderbergers or A N Other much vaunted, seemingly non-existent masters of the world missed a trick.

Depressing.

Deeply depressing.

Posted by: BlairSupporter at November 28, 2009 02:40 AM
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Mr van Rompuy, or Ms Ashton, indeed lack what it takes to be the leaders! Ultimately it is all about politics..nothing else!!

Posted by: Monica at December 14, 2009 06:17 PM
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