Select Committee on European Union Thirtieth Report

CHAPTER 3: problems and attitudes

13.  The EU's role in representing the interests of its Member States in international fora is increasing. There is no question about its legitimacy. Moreover, it is to be expected that the EU and US will sometimes see international questions in a different light. EU interests are just as likely as those in the trade field to point occasionally in a direction different from expressed US preferences. This may be due to differences in approaches and methods rather than of ultimate goals. The US Administration's use of selective multilateralism and some Member States' preferences for a "multipolar" world, for instance, tend to widen divergences. Nevertheless, the differences in policy ought not to result in recriminations or insults.

The EU's Place in US Foreign Policy

14.  We were warned by Mr Quentin Peel[21] before our visit to Washington in February 2003 that the US "do want support from the Union but they do not want competition and criticism".[22] This proved a sound prediction: we left the US capital with the impression that the US attitude to the EU was "if you agree with us, fine—if you don't then get out of our way".[23] We heard "neo-conservative" voices in Washington happy to say that whenever it became clear that the Union as a whole would not back US action, as in Iraq, they would want the US actively to pursue a policy of dividing Europe either along the line of the English Channel or by exploiting a supposed dichotomy between "old" and "new" EU Member States. This is a marked change from the traditional US preference from that for a united (but preferably also compliant) EU.[24]

15.  Nothing as stark as this was said to us from within the Administration, but we detected some traces of that attitude. It is driven in some degree by the suspicion that certain EU Member States are minded to oppose what the US is doing in order deliberately to create a "counterweight" (a term apparently established in Washington discourse as implying opposition for its own sake) rather than because of reluctant, if unavoidable, differences of policy. This suspicion may well be overblown, but it is evidently felt in some quarters of the Administration although strongly repudiated in others.

16.  The current US Administration also appears frustrated with the EU's inability to pull its weight militarily. They see the EU as lacking the military power as well as the cohesion to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, with many Member States failing to meet goals agreed in NATO to improve the capability of their armed forces. Such perceptions have been reinforced by the recent infelicitous proposal by Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg to set up a new EU military planning headquarters. This appears to be a duplication of current assets rather than an increase in practical capability. The Policy Director at the Ministry of Defence noted that "the US have been strong supporters of Europe improving its capabilities and of buying the necessary equipment…they want to see Europe doing more".[25] But some in the United States believe that even if European capabilities were improved the EU would mostly be unwilling to use them in "hard" military situations.[26]

17.  This is combined with a widespread view in the US that the Union is preoccupied with its own internal development and is more concerned with process than with practical results. It has been noted that in the spring of 2003 the European Convention was hard at work on the wording of foreign policy articles for the new EU constitution at the same time as the biggest substantive crisis ever in EU foreign policy was taking place.[27] Mr Klaus Becher from the International Institute for Strategic Studies agreed; "I think European governments cannot simply be in the institution-building mode. They also have to deliver."[28]

18.  There is a very low level of US understanding, even in Washington, about what the European Union is and does.[29] Many Europeans are frustrated at US ignorance, and sometimes the deliberately dismissive attitude, about the nature of the Union, its remarkable advances, and its achievements over the past several decades.[30] We suspect, for example, that few in the US are aware that the EU and its Member States give much more in development aid (whether measured by governmental inputs or by the aggregate of these and private giving) than does the United States, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of national wealth.[31] Mr Quentin Peel noted "the degree of ignorance there is [in Washington] about what Europe as a whole and European countries do on the aid front".[32]

The US's Place in EU Foreign Policy

19.  As yet EU Member States rarely deal with the US through the Union on foreign policy issues. Member States have, moreover, different visions of how the EU should work with the US: Mr Charles Grant[33] noted that "the British philosophy is if we get our act together as Europeans and become more effective…then we can help our partners across the Atlantic…and then they will respect us…because we are useful. …The French philosophy is that Europe needs to get its act together so that it can stand up when necessary and indeed challenge the US."[34] This divergence reinforces the general preference of many Member States for conducting foreign policy relations through long-established bilateral links. At the same time, they see no contradiction in wanting the US to deal with the Union when there is a common EU mind. As CFSP matures this ought increasingly to be the case, though NATO should remain the main focus for EU/US dialogue on security and defence issues.

20.  It is widely believed in Europe that US scorn for the EU's activity in foreign and security policy reflects both a lack of awareness of the extent to which common EU positions have been developed (for example over the Israeli/Arab problem) and unreasonable expectations of the pace and breadth of progress in an enterprise challenging the methods and outlooks of long-established sovereign states.[35] US ignorance may in some measure reflect shortcomings in the presentation and co-ordination of EU foreign policy in Washington. Our visit there left us uneasy about this.

21.  There is an impression within the EU that the US, especially under the current Administration, is much less interested than it used to be in listening to and taking account of the views of others. Furthermore, it is perceived as being less sympathetic to the concepts and structures of international order, particularly where rules and procedures are in place which might constrain US freedom to use its power to act at will. Europeans, by contrast, remain united in their attachment to such concepts and structures.[36]

Public Opinion

22.  Generalised anti-Americanism in Europe and matching anti-Europeanism in the United States, while still minority sentiments, are at disturbingly high levels, with offensive caricatures readily traded.[37] If this is allowed to fester, the damage to the EU/US relationship, already severe, will get worse, to the serious disadvantage of both sides.[38]
Box 4

The EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy

How can EU members have a Common Foreign and Security Policy and yet disagree fundamentally over issues like the Iraq crisis?

The Common Foreign and Security Policy is intergovernmental. In other words, Member States retain control over the agenda and the Union has a common policy only in so far as the Member States agree on one. The Treaty of the European Union stipulates that Member States shall support the Union's foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity; and shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations. Member States are thus bound to ensure that national policies conform with positions agreed at EU level.

In practice, if an issue proves particularly divisive, as the crisis in Iraq was, the common position is likely to have little substance, leaving Member States free to pursue their national interest. An effective EU common foreign and security policy exists only in areas where Member States see a clear advantage in reaching agreement.

21   Foreign Editor, Financial Times. Back

22   Q64. Back

23   Q94. Back

24   QQ58, 60, 97, 181-182, 264. Back

25   Mr Simon Webb, Q171. Back

26   Q24-Q25 Q103-Q111. Back

27   QQ14, 19, 29. Back

28   Q19. Back

29   QQ60-63, 221. Back

30   QQ60-63. Back

31   QQ44, 50, 124. Back

32   Q78. Back

33   Director, Centre for European Reform. Back

34   Q56. Back

35   QQ267-268. Back

36   QQ14, 95. Back

37   Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project. "Views of a Changing World" 2003. Back

38   Q60. Back

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