Hopes for a Europe united by democracy from west to east are fading. They are being erased by the ongoing, if not expanding, Balkan war, unusually high sustained unemployment, and a loss of faith. Five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, European nations are united only by their identity crises: they share narcissism, self-doubt, and a weariness with democracy. In former Warsaw Pact countries, with the notable exception of the Czech Republic, ex-communists have regained power, although they are more "ex" than communist. In western Europe, with the notable exception of Germany, scandals have tarnished the public's belief in democratic principles.

Since the Pyrrhic victory of the Maastricht referendum in France in 1992 (an acrimonious campaign that left the country nearly deadlocked, 51 percent for the treaty, 49 percent against, and aroused skepticism among prospective member nations), Europeans seem more afraid of what they may lose to the European Union (EU) in terms of sovereignty and identity than comforted by their prospects for more opportunities and influence in the world. West European governments seem mired in technocratic, soulless discussions of ways to build on the three pillars of the EU -- institutional reform, economic and monetary union, and common foreign and security policies. Fixated on how to "do" Europe, they have lost sight of the moral values and fundamental cultural and political objectives that constitute the "why" of it.

Europeans are painfully aware that their priorities are increasingly divergent. Around France, countries to the south are looking across the Mediterranean to the Maghreb with a growing sense of vulnerability and fear. Countries to the north, around Germany, are giving priority to the enlargement of the EU in east-central Europe. On Bosnia, Europeans have exposed their divisions (rather than sending them), their lack of political will, and their failure to perceive the moral and symbolic cost of over-cautiousness in the face of suffering of other Europeans. They have not been able to count on America to stop the fighting. Worse, the protracted war has strained and divided the Atlantic alliance. Europeans are ultimately the only ones responsible for other Europeans. The cost of nonintervention and indifference is proving higher than that of political and military interference.

A fin-de-siècle mood had set in even before 1989, but the collapse of communism added a dramatic disorientation to the uncertainty and trouble in major West European countries. Communism's funeral brought only a brief respite from the shared sense of loss over the lack of common goals, dreams of new frontiers, and unifying visions. This mood has been renewed by depressing experiences, of which Sarajevo and Bihać are only the saddest.

West Europeans once took for granted that their economic growth would continue indefinitely. That is why they did not notice the gradual deterioration of their competitiveness and economic performance vis-à-vis ascendant non-European economies. Amid recession and mass unemployment, the fledgling post-communist democracies were suddenly perceived as tough low-wage competitors in agriculture and steel production, fields traditionally dominated by West European countries.

In 1989 East Europeans celebrated their "return to Europe" and got a warm welcome from their western brothers and sisters. Today we are again confronting the old question of who belongs in the European family. For a moment, it seemed, West Europeans realized that they had finally received the epochal project they needed: the heroic task of reunifying Europe. Alas, the details turned out to be troublesome. Since the years of wonders, 1989_91, Europe has shown that it still deserves the label "Old Continent."

Yet this somber and increasingly popular description corresponds to only part of the reality. Contrary to what some Asians proclaim, Europe is not about to succumb to a suicidal combination of trade protectionism and warfare at its periphery. A shift toward optimism and self-confidence is perceptible. The economic recovery of the United States is slowly affecting Europe. New countries are joining the EU with neither enthusiasm nor alternatives, but a club gaining new members cannot be all that bad. Appraising the performance of the EU on trade and security issues, European elites can come to only one conclusion: when the EU speaks with one voice, as during the negotiations for the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on tariffs and Trade, it ceases to be just a market and becomes an actor with worldwide influence. When, as in the Balkans, there are 12 foreign ministries and no foreign minister, the EU's impotence resounds. The lessons of the war in the former Yugoslavia are clear and painful.


Defining where Europe begins and ends is essential to building the EU and an Atlantic partnership for the post-Cold War world. The new era in Europe was heralded by a breathtaking proliferation of institutions. New institutions evolved, such as the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Baltic Cooperation Council, and the Black Sea Council. Existing institutions expanded, most notably the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), with its indiscriminate and immediate acceptance of the Transcaucasian and Central Asian successor republics of the former Soviet Union and the post-Yugoslavia states, and the long-standing Council of Europe, renewed by its admission of central, eastern, and southern European democracies.

The proliferation and expansion of these interwoven institutions, the jumble of agreements, organizations, and committees (criticized by some as an alphabet soup whose lack of mission creates "a mishmash of universalist slogans" instead of working proposals) have made an even worse mess. What counts is not the number of networks, but how closely they are knit and whether they cover, in geographic and practical terms, the crucial political and economic issues. Without such cohesion, there is a danger that each state will pick and choose the institutions or forums that it believes will best serve its purposes. This could reinforce the "renationalization" of foreign policies in Europe, encouraging unilateralism disguised as multilateralism.

Defining where Europe proper begins should not be too difficult. We know what institutions have survived the end of the East-West antagonism uninjured and should be protected and developed despite the present strains: the European Union plus the Western European Union (WEU), a Sleeping Beauty security association that has been kissed awake by the Maastricht agreements; NATO, the clearest possible manifestation of the indissoluble security partnership between the democracies of Europe and North America; and the Council of Europe, representing the continent's cultural unity via its common human and civil rights standards.

The real question is where Europe ends -- or, more precisely, how far European integration can stretch. It is obvious that the EU can no longer arrogate the unqualified title "Europe," which seemed justified by the post-Yalta dichotomy. The collapse of the Soviet empire has left a security vacuum between Germany and Russia, the area where European wars have historically started. So far, the EU and NATO have responded cautiously to that challenge. But whereas NATO's Partnership for Peace refrains from drawing a line, the EU has given hints of its preferences by singling out the four Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia), Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and the three Baltic States as partners for association agreements -- some planned and some already concluded -- which open the door to their eventual EU membership.

Taking into account that, of the 12 EU members, 11 belong to the Atlantic alliance (in an EU of 15, the ratio will be 11:4), these enlargement plans will directly affect the alliance. The accession of Finland will make Russia a next-door neighbor of the European Community for the first time, with a common border several hundred miles long. This border may be lengthened by the accession of Poland, Latvia, and Estonia. EU membership for Baltic republics, belonging to Russia's western "near abroad," would transform these countries' tensions with Russia over their considerable ethnic Russian minorities into an EU issue.

Membership for Hungary and the southeast European candidates, Romania and Bulgaria, would make Serbia, whose future policies lie in the dark, another neighbor of the EU and confront it with a host of minority problems, including those of the ethnic Hungarians in Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. Furthermore, the EU's enlargement plans would shift the vacuum between Germany and Russia eastward to Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova, that is, Russia's western "near abroad" minus the Baltic republics. In a nutshell, enlarging the EU with east-central, east, and southeast European countries dictates an enormous Common Foreign and Security Policy agenda and close coordination of policies between the EU and the United States within the NATO framework.

The first steps have already been taken. The EU has intensified the political dialogue with several accession candidates and offered them an "associate partnership" status in the WEU. The question remains whether more can be done. Fortunately, a threat to the security of the accession candidates is still a hypothetical case. But we may have only a temporary window of opportunity. The EU should therefore anticipate full political membership for these countries -- at least the east-central European ones -- and long-term economic aid and transition arrangements. The European Community took similar steps for Greece, Spain, Portugal, and the former East Germany after they became free democracies. Why not do it again by substantially upgrading the association agreements?

To be manageable, the transition to membership in the EU must proceed in stages. Including the EU's economically and structurally more advanced eastern neighbors around the year 2000 does not mean the long-term exclusion of other post-communist countries, discrimination against them, or discouragement of their efforts to achieve political and economic stability. Would it not encourage these countries to see what other fledgling democracies have achieved?


West Europeans' lack of courage, particularly in defining NATO's future, seems to be the main obstacle to solving the foreign, security, and defense problems of enlargement. Another is their notorious reluctance to open their markets to the products of low-wage competitors. The EU's plans for trans-European networks in the transportation, energy, and telecommunications sectors are more than symbolic. But trans-European free trade is more important, especially in terms of fairness: The EU has profited more from post-Cold War trade than the post-communist countries have. The latter's low labor costs should not be seen as unfair competitive advantages, but should be welcomed as forces driving economic growth and trade.

West European protectionism sets up a vicious circle: no accession to the EU without economic recovery, no lasting economic recovery without better access to the EU. Thus a first-order task for West European political leaders is to convince their constituents that the short-term disadvantages (alleged or real) from eastern competition will be outweighed by medium- and long-term benefits. This may seem politically very difficult, given that two or three governments of EU nations per year are being lame-ducked by national election campaigns.

Western Europe benefits from new markets emerging to its east. More important, though, is the healthy pressure to tackle overdue reform of its economies, where structural dislocation has weakened West European competitiveness in recent decades. The exceedingly high non-wage costs of labor in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark are just one example. By accepting the challenge from new competitors in the east -- by not shutting itself off -- Western Europe will also improve its position vis-à-vis the fast-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific area.

To enlarge to the north and the east does not require neglecting the south. The European Council in June 1994 decided to include Cyprus and Malta in its enlargement plans, thus making countries such as Israel and Egypt future neighbors of the EU. For a Europe that feels threatened by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maghreb and the Middle East or excluded from the Middle East peace process by U.S. diplomacy, developing an association with countries on the other side of the Mediterranean complements a strategy of post -- Cold War enlargement. The EU can do much more in this regard. New treaties to further economic links must be signed with Israel and Arab countries, now engaged in a courageous process of reconciliation. These countries would understand that maintaining links with the EU entails respecting international norms of conduct and promoting regional peace. The EU must also be concerned with the Algerian quagmire, for it is more than a French postcolonial backyard; it could confront the EU with destabilization, violence, and attacks on human rights.

A third obstacle to the EU's eastward enlargement is the loss of cohesion and efficiency that will accompany its growth to 20 or 25 member states. A solution must be found during the EU's 1996 Intergovernmental Review Conference. Every major enlargement carries a risk of dilution and institutional paralysis. Transition agreements will lead to a tangle of complex structures. The more economic and security interests there are to be reconciled, the less the member states will agree.

Competition for financial resources and political influence is bound to increase. The controversial system of allocation of subsidies under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy will probably have to be redesigned. Net beneficiaries of the EU budget -- especially some Mediterranean member states -- will object to the unavoidable reallocation of regional funds, which could even transform some of those countries into net payers. Current net payers will object to contributing much more, especially because strict budget discipline at the national level is a sine qua non for membership in the planned Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

The decisive issue is whether the EU will be able to develop a new consensus on the direction and speed of deepening integration, thus preparing the road to a successful widening by inclusion of new members. The Maastricht debate showed the division between advocates of a supranational and an intergovernmental approach -- in other words, between those who are prepared to transfer considerably more national sovereignty to Brussels and those who are not. A compromise -- a resort to opting-out and opting-in clauses -- made the two philosophies pragmatically compatible. Reconciling the two views has been postponed to the 1996 Intergovernmental Review Conference; whether the answer will be easier to find in an EU of 15 members than in an EU of 12 is doubtful.

Safeguarding and improving the EU institutions' efficiency will necessitate a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting and new veto rules with regard to qualified majority voting. This presupposes readiness on all sides to give up more bits of national sovereignty. Should the 1996 conference fail to meet the deepening requirements of an eastward widening, the advocates of a supranational approach would certainly find further enlargement unacceptable.


Such an outcome could prove fatal, not least from the German point of view. It is vital to Germany to border stable democracies in all directions, and postwar history has shown that European integration is an efficient stabilizer, politically and economically. United Germany sees its future as inextricably bound up with that of adjacent nations, of which it has more than any other country in Europe. The overwhelming majority of its political elite agree that German-Polish relations must never again be subordinated to German-Russian relations. Germany's endorsement of the eastward enlargement of NATO indicates that its politicians have dropped the bad habit, adopted in Cold War Ostpolitik times, of worrying how hawks in Moscow will react.

It is vital to Germany to be part of an ever-closer union. As a prospective member of the emu (in 1997 or, more likely, in 1999), it will have to ensure that monetary integration, including a single European currency, is supported by closer political integration among emu participants. History shows that a monetary union without a strong political backbone is doomed.

More important, the "German question" has not been fully answered by the reunification of 1990. Fitting this colossus into the European environment remains a problem. The emu is not only an economic project, but also a means to overcome what some perceive as the monetary hegemony of the German Bundesbank. European integration and Atlantic ties have become central elements of Germany's raison d'état and the cosmopolitan mindset of its postwar generation; they have also been a means to build international confidence and get foreign support for restoring national unity. United Germany needs its neighbors' and partners' confidence to prevent them from envisaging coalitions to balance and contain its demographic, economic, and political overweight. Its fear of coalitions is not paranoia as long as European leaders still believe in nineteenth-century-style balance-of-power politics.

Some Europeans, especially in Britain, argue that the only remaining major issue for the EU is its eastward enlargement and that a closer union would only help Germany achieve the European hegemony for which it reached in two world wars. Most French political observers, however, believe that widening the EU without deepening it would weaken France's position and strengthen Germany's. The more member states the EU has, the smaller each share of the power pie becomes. But in terms of influence, Germany -- surrounded by countries that regard Bonn (or Berlin) as the center of gravity -- would probably be the only major beneficiary. Yet Germany's political class is prepared to give up some of the sovereignty it has acquired through unification, believing almost unanimously that it is the only way to escape the foreign policy traps of the past. Such an opportunity should be seized by Germany's European partners while it is available.


For more than 40 years, the special relationship between France and Germany has been the vital ingredient in Europe's spectacular reconciliation after World War II and its increasing unification. There are growing strains, however, in the relationship. In the past, it was held together by a common threat, the Soviet empire. Nevertheless, it had a delicate equilibrium: France's international clout as an independent nuclear power and permanent member of the U.N. Security Council made it the dominant political and strategic member of the pair. France could therefore accept the German economy's superior dynamism. As long as the East-West antagonism maintained the division of Germany, the French bomb could balance the German mark. Of course, one should not idealize the past. Even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, France had suspicions about Germany's motives, and Germany was often disappointed by France's inability to transcend Germany's aggressive past.

This fragile balance of imbalances has shifted. Germany is united and aware of its new centrality in Europe. It has stopped behaving as an economic giant and a political dwarf, though it has not yet fully overcome its tendency to believe that good intentions matter more than good deeds. It is slowly learning to take the political initiative. A more secure Germany is now facing a France that is less secure in its identity and European orientation. It is less that French elites distrust Germany than that they are insecure about their ability to balance Germany within Europe. Since German reunification, France can only dwell on its demographic inferiority. France's destabilizing political debates on the eve of presidential elections exacerbate its insecurity over its international standing and the rationality of its European choice.

For France, backing the EU was a way to gain power and influence. France, by itself, could not maintain its policy of grandeur. It could only do so through Europe. Today many within France's political and economic elite wonder openly whether they have been mistakenly working to further German interests. They see Germany's support for accession of east and central European nations to the EU as proof of Germany's efforts to enlarge its sphere of influence, if not control, in Europe. A recent working paper published by the German Christian Democrats' parliamentary group that contained a reference to federalism -- to which France could never accede -- is described by some elements of the French nationalist right as an attempt to create an alibi for German moves toward nationalism and unilateralism. When the socialist former defense minister, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, denounces Jacques Delors, a potential candidate to succeed François Mitterrand, as the "candidate of the German CDU," it reminds France of the worst years of its political history.

Yet despite such suspicions, manifest at the time of Germany's reunification, the majority of the French is convinced that there are no alternatives to the Franco-German special relationship and its role as the "hard core" of the European Union. This policy recognizes the necessity and inevitability of enlargement. But it also notes the risks of the dilution of Europe and the danger of slowing down the European network, which would result in the less dynamic members imposing their rhythm on the more dynamic ones. Of course, the French do not wish to be left alone in the hard-core group with the Germans. But alternatives do not abound.

Britain, as a midsize nuclear power with a tradition of military intervention, may be the natural strategic ally of France. But this may be difficult to translate into concrete measures, even if a rapprochement is perceptible between the two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who fought next to each other in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia. Britain may slowly realize that its special relationship with the United States is over and that its initial ambition of becoming an Athens to the new Rome -- an enlightened and cultured mentor for a callow king -- has not brought the expected benefits. The United States is banking on an EU strategy of both widening and deepening, as advocated by Germany and France. Britain's only alternative today is to pursue further integration into the EU, not merely as a participant in a free trade area, but as a key political force in this supranational political project. The European dilemma today is that one cannot deepen the EU with Britain, but one cannot without it either.

Italy's precarious political situation and economy does not allow it to be either an early full-fledged partner in the planned emu or a strategic partner for France. The neofascists in the current coalition government in Rome may be less worrisome than their future diplomacy. Irredentists would like to reclaim Istria from Slovenia, and their statements have caused concern. Those tendencies, which are not confined to Italy, underscore the idea that the importance of boundaries should be reduced, not emphasized, in the new Europe.

Spain, another potential partner for France, is also preoccupied with domestic problems. Other EU countries are too small to be influential. They could be so only through the leadership of an exceptional personality, and such a person is nowhere present.


If no basic consensus on deeper integration can be reached during the 1996 Intergovernmental Review Conference, the only option may be the "variable geometry" enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht. For example, not all EU members would join in the Economic and Monetary Union. Not all would participate in defense integration under the WEU. Some states, such as Turkey, would join the WEU as fully participating associate members without belonging to the EU. Some EU members, such as France and Germany, would be found in all circles and build a de facto nucleus, or "hard core," whereas others would not, whether by choice or because they do not meet certain requirements. That nucleus could stabilize the EU in the transition period, while a variable geometry could easily lead to a Europe à la carte -- an EU more like a supermarket of options than a standard package.

The EU will certainly continue to attract new members. The Swedish referendum in favor of the EU was a happy surprise for those Europeans who favor more integration -- and they are still in the majority. During the Cold War, one feared the Finlandization of Western Europe. Today we can look forward to a "Scandinavization" of the EU, which will add new spice to Europe's politics, societies, and cultures.

The Europeans do not have to look for fascinating goals; they are at hand. But they need to recognize that the fate of their continent depends on whether their old continent is rejuvenated or founders in passivity, pessimism, and old rivalries, whether it learns the lessons of the twentieth century in its last decade or repeats past errors. European integration plus transatlantic partnership was the key to success in Western Europe during the postwar era, and it should be so in the post -- Cold War future.

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  • Dominique Moïsi is Deputy Director of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales and Editor in Chief of its Journal Politique Étrangere. Michael Mertes is Director of the Policy Analysis and Speechwriting Unit, Federal Chancellery, Bonn, and is writing here in a personal capacity.
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