Saturday, March 24, 2007

For a Europe Remade, a Celebration in Uncertainty

International Herald Tribune

It is not easy to think of Spain as Poland. Stroll around this southern city at dusk, beneath the palms, beside the handsome bridges on the Guadalquivir River, past the chic boutiques and the Häagen-Dazs outlet, the Gothic cathedral and the Moorish palace, and it is scarcely Warsaw that comes to mind.

But, insisted Adam Michnik, the Polish writer, "Poland is the new Spain, absolutely." He continued: "Spain was a poor country when it joined the European Union 21 years ago. It no longer is. We will see the same results in Poland."

If history is prologue, Michnik is likely to be right. The EU, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding treaty this weekend, is more often associated with Brussels bureaucrats setting the maximum curvature of cucumbers than with transformational power. But step by step, stipulation by stipulation, Europe has been remade.

What began in limited fashion in 1957 as a drive to remove tariff barriers and to free commercial exchange has ended by banishing war from Europe, enriching it beyond measure, and producing what Michnik called "the first revolution that has been absolutely positive."

Asia, still beset by nationalisms and open World War II wounds, can only envy the EU's conjuring away of agonizing history, a process that involved a voluntary dilution of national sovereignty unthinkable in the United States.

This achievement will be symbolized when leaders from the 27 EU member states gather this weekend in Berlin - the city that stood at the crux of violent 20th-century European division. They will sign a "Berlin Declaration" celebrating the peace, freedom, wealth and democracy that the Treaty of Rome has now helped spread among almost half a billion Europeans.

But it is a celebration in uncertainty. A bigger EU, expanded to include the ex-Communist states of Central Europe, has proved largely ungovernable. A constitution designed to streamline its governance was rejected in 2005. Which bits of it, if any, can be revived remains murky.

Integration has been a European triumph. But it has often failed with large-scale Muslim immigration, creating complex security issues that the Union is struggling to address.

"The EU is on autopilot, in stalemate, in deep crisis," said Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, who seven years ago called for a European federation run by a true European government. "There is a lack of political will to create the efficient institutions enlargement demanded. You can't double the size of a company without changing the way it works."

The founding treaty, signed by the six founding members on March 25, 1957, rested on creative ambiguity. It called for an "ever closer union among the European peoples"; behind it lay dreams of a United States of Europe. The bold politics nestled inside basic economics - making a common market - and was thus rendered unthreatening. A common currency, the euro, emerged in 2002.

Still, the ambiguity persisted; it has proved divisive. Economic power has been built more effectively than political or strategic unity. Military power and integration have lagged. Europeans tend to do peacekeeping these days rather than wars.

Recent disputes - from Iraq to current American plans to install missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic - have shown how hard it is for the EU to speak with one voice or, as Fischer put it, "define what strategic interests it has in common." Nonetheless, "autopilot" in the EU still amounts to a lot.

It will ensure, for example, that over $100 billion is sent to Poland between now and 2013 to upgrade the country's infrastructure and agriculture, a sum that dwarfs American aid. Similarly, more than $190 billion has been devoted to Spain since it joined the EU in 1986, 11 years after the end of Franco's dictatorship.

The result has been Spain's extraordinary transition from a country whose per-capita output stood at 71 percent of the European average in 1985, to 90 percent in 2004, and now stands at 100.7 percent of the median of the 27 members.

In the space of a generation, Spain has moved into the club of the well off. Last year it created 40 percent of the new jobs among countries using the euro. Its EU-stimulated confidence is palpable.

Growth is a terrific trauma dampener. Dictatorship in Spain, 21 years after EU membership, seems utterly remote. Poland under the Kaczynski brothers is far from overcoming the painful legacy of communist tyranny, but by 2025 - its 21-year membership anniversary - it seems safe to say that healing will be advanced. The potential fallout of divisive rule is curtailed by EU membership.

"The EU slashes political risk," said Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat member of the British Parliament. "It also exercises a soft power on its periphery that has far more transformational impact than the American neocon agenda in the Middle East. Countries in the Balkans wanting to come into the European democratic family have to adapt."

That adaptation is economic as well as political. The creation of something approximating an American single market has been a powerful force in ending cartels and monopolies, introducing competition, pushing privatizations and generally promoting the market over heavily managed capitalism.

Open skies for freer airline competition, and the slashed fares that go with it, are just one visible expression of this process. "Europe would be immensely less competitive and less prosperous without the single market framework," Huhne said.

Which is not to say, of course, that European capitalism is U.S. capitalism. It is less fluid; it creates fewer jobs. It is also less harsh.

Indeed, defense of what is called the European social model - one of universal health care and extensive unemployment benefits - has become a tenet of European identity in contrast to an America where 45 million citizens (about the population of Spain) lack health insurance.

How far that identity, as opposed to national identities, exists 50 years after the Treaty of Rome is a matter of dispute. Only 2 percent of EU inhabitants of working age live in member states other than their own.

But a survey in the French daily Le Figaro showed that 71 percent of French people now feel some pride in a European identity. The Erasmus program, established by the former EU Commission president, Jacques Delors, has helped about 1.5 million young Europeans spend a year studying in European universities outside their own countries.

The hit movie "L'Auberge Espagnole," or "The Spanish Inn," captured the Erasmus experience: jumbled cultures, linguistic and amorous discovery, and the births of new identities from this mingling. Countless Eurocouples have not been the least of the EU's achievements.

How this generation will deal with the EU's central conundrum - what is often called the issue of its "finality" or end point - remains an open question. It is open geographically: The Union could end at the Iranian and Iraqi borders if Turkey joins. It is also open politically: How much of a federation, with its own executive and legislature, its own president and foreign minister, should Europe be?

The EU has been upended by communism's unexpected demise. The European Economic Community, as established in 1957, did not try to liberate the Continent; it tried to ensure that half of it cohered in freedom.

"Europe was initially built on accepting with more or less equanimity to forget about half of it, including historic centers of European civilization like Prague or Budapest," said Jonathan Eyal, a British strategic analyst. "And the irony is that it is precisely the return of these centers that has thrown the EU into existential crisis today."

That crisis is partly procedural. It is not clear how you get things done in a Europe of 27. It is partly of identity. The rapidly cohering Europe with a Franco- German core is gone, and nobody quite knows what to put in its place. And it is partly political. The conception of Europe in post-Communist countries is simply different.

These differences, which lurked behind the rejection of the EU constitution, have been most apparent of late in the flaring tensions between Germany and Poland, two countries whose reconciliation has been one of the EU's conspicuous miracles.

Germany has been utterly remade by an integrating Europe to the point that more people worry today about German pacifism than expansionism. But Poland is just entering that transformational process; under Lech Kaczynski's conservative presidency its wariness of the pooling of sovereignty inherent in the EU has been clear.

"Poland under Kaczynski is anti-federalist, quite nationalistic, and very conservative," said Karl Kaiser, a German political analyst. "It looks out and tends to see the old Germany and the old expansionist Russia. It has not taken part mentally in the long process of integration."

So Warsaw sees Moscow-Berlin plots of sinister memory when Russia and Germany agree to build a gas pipeline directly between each other, under the Baltic Sea rather than over Poland.

It pushes hard, but unsuccessfully, for references to Europe's Christian roots in the Berlin declaration. It contemplates, as does the Czech Republic, installing part of a new U.S. missile defense system against Iran, and does so despite German unease, Russian fury and the absence of any EU or NATO consensus.

Of course, what Poles and Czechs see beyond Germany or Russia is the America that defeated the Soviet Union and freed them: Poles, as Michnik noted, "tend to be more pro-American than Americans."

Whatever tempering of this sentiment Iraq has brought, Poland and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe remain more pro-American than the Europe of the Treaty of Rome and the Union's first decades. With Britain they now form a club within the club that sees Europe more as market than political force, more as loose alignment than strategic union.

"For Britain, Europe is a convenience rather than a concept," said Karsten Voigt, a German Foreign Ministry official.

This is an intractable division. It seems likely to affect Europe's search for strategic cohesion for many years. The Bush administration has accentuated the split with its ad hoc, treat- NATO-as-a-tool-box approach to its European alliances. That stance was evident at the time of the Iraq invasion and is evident again today over the missile defense system. Coalitions of the willing tend to make the unwilling bristle.

At a deeper level, Homo europeus, formed over 50 years, now lies at some distance from Homo americanus. Because it is process that has delivered answers to long unanswerable European problems like the German question, post-heroic Europeans tend to favor procedure, talk, international institutions and incremental measures to resolve issues where heroic Americans tend to favor resolve backed by force.

Peace is much more of an absolute value today in Europe than in the United States. Opposition to the death penalty and commitment to reversing global warming are also near universal values, where they remain contentious in America. So what? The ties that bind the Atlantic family remain strong.

But, unglued by the Cold War's end, they are not as strong as they were. As Kaiser noted, "the European Union would not exist without American support." It was American forces, not European, that stared down the Soviet Union and delivered the Europe whole and free being celebrated in Berlin.

Yet the celebration is European rather than Euro-American. The EU sees the United States today more through the prism of Baghdad than Berlin. Generations pass; memories fade; perceptions change. That is inevitable. The great achievement of the EU has been to absorb those changes and zigzags within the broader push for unity.

That push, that journey, is incomplete. But Europeans have learned, as Eyal said, that "traveling can be just as good as arriving." Perpetual difficulty has been the EU's perpetual stimulus. A United States of Europe remains a distant, probably unreachable dream. At the same time, continent-wide war has become an unthinkable nightmare.

"The EU is an unfinished project, but so what?" said Voigt. "Why be nervous? We have time."

Time enough even, the 50-year history of the EU suggests, for Turkey to become the new Poland.

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