David Frum February 28th, 2005 at 12:00 am
“Does America really want a strong Europe?” In the week leading up to President Bush’s European tour, this question was asked again and again by the continent’s journalists and diplomats–and Americans answered: “Yes, yes, of course we do.”
But one of the important lessons of the trans-Atlantic traumas since 9/11 is that while Europeans and Americans can easily agree that “Europe” should be “strong,” they do not so easily agree on what they mean by “Europe” or by “strength.”
To Europeans, “strengthening Europe” tends to mean vesting more powers in the central European Union (EU) bureaucracy in Brussels. To Americans, “strengthening Europe” tends to mean increasing the wealth and security of the countries that make up the European continent. Euro-enthusiasts may believe these two definitions can co-exist. But the evidence is accumulating that they cannot–that as the EU gets stronger, European nations fall further behind.
- Between 1970 and 1990, European labor productivity grew faster than did American productivity. By the early 1990s, the average Western European produced very nearly as much wealth per hour as did the average American.
In 1992, European governments signed the Maastricht Treaty, which created a single European market and changed the name of the old European Community to the new “European Union.” At the same time, the Europeans committed themselves to a new single continental currency, the Euro, and to the free movement of labor from one European country to another.
Theoretically, European productivity growth should have accelerated after 1992. Instead, it slowed–and at the same moment that U.S. productivity growth sped up.
Why? The answer remains controversial–but it certainly does seem as if the advantages of the single market were more than cancelled by the burden of heavier EU regulation.
- Since 1992, European governments have been trying to organize a common defense and foreign policy–one that downgrades the bilateral relationships between the United States and individual European countries. The Treaty of Nice, signed in 2001, ordered member states to subordinate their foreign policies to that of the EU; the European Constitution signed in 2004 attempts to shift control of foreign policy entirely away from member nations to the EU center.
But the attempt to run European foreign policy from Brussels has succeeded only in creating one furious internecine European quarrel after another.
In the Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990s, France backed Serbia while Germany favored Croatia.
In Iraq, France, Germany, Belgium, and the EU bureaucracy have all ferociously opposed the United States, while most other EU member states have backed America.
And now, France and Germany are fomenting a conflict over China. In time, it could prove even more divisive than the squabble over Iraq.
After the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, the United States and the countries of Europe imposed sanctions on China. Most of those sanctions have long since been lifted, but one remains: a ban on the sale of lethal arms.
This ban continues because China remains an aggressive and potentially dangerous regime. Beijing has subsidized and supported North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons. It has repeatedly threatened to use force against Taiwan. In 1996, China actually fired missiles across Taiwanese shipping routes.
China is an emerging power, and we all hope it develops in a democratic and co-operative direction. But we don’t know that it will, and while the jury is still out, it seems only prudent to refrain from selling Beijing advanced weapons with which it can threaten democratic neighbors.
That, unfortunately, is precisely what the governments of France and Germany now wish to do. The arms industries of both nations have been ailing, France’s especially. In the 1990s, France sold an average of five billion euros worth of weapons annually. In 2002, that sales figure slipped to 4.4 billion, and in 2003 to 4.3 billion.
France has been losing market share in the rich democracies to advanced U.S. and British weapons systems, and to cheap Russian weapons in the Third World. French politicians see China as their weapon industry’s salvation.
But if the United States maintains its sanctions on China–and it will–European countries that sell arms to China risk being locked out of the huge U.S. market. The United States spends twice as much on military procurement as all the countries of the European Union combined.
For that reason, the single biggest European defense contractor, BAE (the former British Aerospace), has already signaled its intent to honor U.S. sanctions, regardless of what the EU does.
Since 1999, the Pentagon has treated BAE as if it were an indigenous U.S. corporation. BAE now sells more to the U.S. Department of Defense than it does to the British Ministry of Defense. It is not going to walk away from this in order to pick up a slice of whatever it is the Chinese have to offer.
The Italian company Finmeccanica, which just effectively won the contract to build the next generation of U.S. presidential helicopters, may well feel the same way, as may many defense contractors elsewhere in the continent.
The French- and German-led drive to impose their commercial policies on all of Europe will thus only divide and embitter Europe.
- Turkey has applied for membership in the European Union. This Muslim-majority nation is a NATO ally with a long-standing pro-Western orientation. Yet many Europeans flinch at the thought of admitting Turkey to the EU. If Turkey were to join, the Muslim share of the total EU population would shoot up from less than 5% to almost 20%. These new Turkish citizens of Europe would gain the right to move anywhere within the EU–a prospect that frightens many in the older member states.
The more tightly Europe integrates, the more frightened its member states become of new entrants perceived as different, whether they be Muslim Turkey today or poor Ukraine tomorrow.
- Europe politics has become vulnerable in recent years to the appeal of far-right parties. In France, the National Front finished second in the 2002 presidential race (although with less than 20% of the vote in both the first and second rounds of balloting).
Why do neo-fascist parties fare so well? They succeed (to the extent they do succeed) because the existing EU parties are inhibited by the traditionally staid rules of European politics from addressing voter concerns on hot-button issues such as immigration and crime.
And how have EU governments responded to the rise of these neo-fascist parties? Very largely by making their politics even more unresponsive and even less democratic.
In 2000, for example, Denmark staged a referendum, Europe’s first, on the adoption of the euro. Danish voters rejected the new currency. This was not at all a right-of-centre victory. On the contrary, the “no” camp cast the euro as a threat to Danish social services. Euro elites interpreted the vote as a warning that their currency project was unpopular–and carefully ensured that no other major European country was allowed a vote on the euro at all.
Yet it is precisely this sense that important decisions are made by invisible, unaccountable elites that feeds voter disdain for ordinary politics–and creates opportunities for neo-fascists to exploit.
- European fertility rates have fallen far below replacement levels. In Spain and Italy, the fertility rate is only about half the level necessary to keep the population stable.
Demographers do not agree on the reasons for the decline. Cultural factors such as the collapse of religious faith bear much of the responsibility, as is the weakening of marriage bonds across Europe. But surely, much of the blame must go to the high taxes necessary to sustain European welfare states. Many families simply cannot afford to have more children.
Yet the high-tax countries of the European Union, like Germany, are constantly pressing for the EU to force low-tax countries, such as Britain, to “harmonize” their tax rates with the others. Harmonization would insulate German industry from competition in the short run. But in the long run, it threatens to condemn the whole continent to demographic disaster.
The United States and Europe, and for that matter Canada, Australia and New Zealand, share a common civilization–and share as well a long list of dangerous common enemies. The growing separation between the United States and Europe is a civilization disaster, and the attempt to build Europe into a single state is the disaster’s single most important cause. Those European politicians who seek to create a new European identity to replace old national loyalties can succeed only by creating a new transatlantic “other”–a new American rival and antagonist–to lend emotion to their otherwise pallid bureaucratic project.
Those politicians have been hard at work for two decades, and they have achieved some dreadful and costly successes. Americans at last are waking up to the threat. Will Europeans? And before it is too late?
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.