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May 30, 2005

The telephone is ringing...
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My ten cents on Suzanne's post-referendum questions:

Will this amplify pro-US voices?  No.  It will distract pro-and anti- US voices alike by refocusing everyone internally, on questions like how do you salvage the chunks of the constitution that concern the EU's fundamental operating mechanisms.  So the problem will be getting anyone to answer, pro- or anti-, when we call.   

Then, too, this will weaken the governing parties in France and (after Wednesday, in all probability) the Netherlands.  The Dutch government has been quite pro-US, and it's not likely that a Socialist-led French government would be less inclined to play games at US expense than Chirac.  So that is not a plus for us.

Moreover, parties scrambling for position in those countries, plus the elections coming this fall in Germany, will provide endless temptation to play on popular hostility to the US.  So as long as the US is perceived as the source or cause for much of the existential globalization angst that I mentioned in my last post, this does nothing good for pro-US voices.

Are we better off with a single number to call?  Suzanne, you may have your own views about this from your time at the UN.  But my experience working with the EU at the OSCE, and then on the Balkans, is that the US loses more than we gain when the EU is disunited and thrashing -- because the thrashing itself gets in the way of getting anything done.  The ideal situation for us is one where we can work individual states early and influence the decision the EU makes -- and then have all the EU members committed to something that is either favorable to the US or at least less harmful.  Of course, that assumes a lot of forethought and coordination on our part.

It's also worth remembering that EU unity constrains negative urges as well as positive ones; as long as Europeans themselves want the ever-closer union, I believe the US should be quietly supportive.  Where the US should never let itself get (and Condoleezza Rice's Constitution endorsement last week came close) is seeming to endorse Euro-elites' ambitions when the citizenry is not ready to follow -- there's very little in that for us.

I also think that the "non" and "nee" votes matter less for Europe's foreign policy than one might at first think.  Opposition to the establishment of a permanent EU foreign minister and a desire to be more or less oppositional to the US were not high among the reasons for voting no.  Those developments toward integration are likely to continue apace -- and, as everyone who's had to deal with them knows, the reality is something less than an impregnable wall of foreign policy unity.

Which brings me to China.  This is a lose for China in one sense -- lifting the arms embargo is not going to be top of anyone's list for a while.  For sure China is exploiting confusion or inattention anywhere it can.  But on trade issues, and in terms of develoing relationships to counterbalance the US, China too needs someone to answer the phone. 

Where China is a clear winner is in the drift of European economies, and their difficulty in rebuilding competitiveness.  If these votes represent, as some have argued, continued angst and opposition to the economic changes necessary to compete, then that's a win for China.  But not because of the constitution or even the EU per se.



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