The case against "Europe" is not the same as a case against Europe. Quite the contrary. "Europe" is a project, a concept, a cause: the final goal that the European Community (EC) has been moving toward ever since its hesitant beginnings in the 1950s. It involves the creation of a united European state with its own constitution, government, parliament, currency, foreign policy, and army. Some of the machinery for this is already in place, and enough of the blueprints are in circulation for there to be little doubt about the overall design. Those who are in favor of Europe -- that is, those who favor increasing the freedom and prosperity of all who live on the European continent -- should view the creation of this hugely artificial political entity with a mixture of alarm and dismay.

The synthetic project of "Europe" has almost completely taken over the natural meaning of the word. In most European countries today, people talk simply about being "pro-Europe" or "anti-Europe"; anyone who questions more political integration can be dismissed as motivated by mere xenophobic hostility toward the rest of the continent. Other elements of the "European" political language reinforce this attitude. During the 1991-93 debate over the Maastricht treaty, for example, there was an almost hypnotic emphasis on clichés about transport. We were warned that we must not miss the boat or the bus, that we would be left standing on the platform when the European train went out, or that insufficient enthusiasm would cause us to suffer a bumpy ride in the rear wagon. All these images assumed a fixed itinerary and a preordained destination. Either you were for that destination, or you were against "Europe." The possibility that people might argue in favor of rival positive goals for Europe was thus eliminated from the consciousness of European politicians.

The concept of "Europe" is accompanied, in other words, by a doctrine of historical inevitability. This can take several different forms: a utopian belief in inevitable progress, a quasi-Marxist faith in the iron laws of history (again involving the withering away of the nation-state), or a kind of cartographic mysticism that intuits that certain large areas on the map are crying out to emerge as single geopolitical units. These beliefs have received some hard knocks from twentieth-century history. Inevitability is, indeed, a word most often heard on the lips of those who have to turn the world upside down to achieve the changes they desire.


The origins of the "European" political project can be traced back to a number of politicians, writers, and visionaries of the interwar period: people such as the half-Austrian, half-Japanese theorist Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, former Italian Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza, and Jean Monnet, a French brandy salesman turned international bureaucrat. When their idea of a rationalized and unified Europe was first floated in the 1920s and 1930s, it sounded quite similar in spirit to the contemporaneous campaign to make Esperanto the world language. Who, at that stage, could confidently have declared that one of these schemes had the force of historical inevitability behind it and the other did not? Both had theoretical benefits to offer, although they were almost certainly outweighed by the practical difficulties of attaining them. It is not hard, surely, to imagine an alternative history of Europe after World War II in which the EC never came into existence and in which, therefore, the project of a united Europe would occupy a footnote almost as tiny as that devoted to the work of the International Esperanto League. Things seem inevitable only because people made them happen.

The impetus behind the "European" idea came from a handful of politicians in France and Germany who decided that a supranational enterprise might solve the problem of Franco-German rivalry, which they saw as the root cause of three great European wars since 1870. For this purpose alone, an arrangement involving just those two countries might have sufficed. But other factors coincidentally were at work, in particular the Cold War, which made the strengthening of Western Europe as a political bloc desirable, and the barely concealed resentment of French President Charles de Gaulle toward "les Anglo-Saxons," which made him look more favorably on the EC as an Anglo-Saxon-free area that could be politically dominated by France.

Even with these large-scale factors at work, however, it is doubtful whether the "European" project would have got off the ground without the ingenuity of a few individuals, notably Monnet and former French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. The method they invented was what political theorists now call "functionalism." By meshing together the economies of participating countries bit by bit, they believed a point would eventually be reached where political unification would seem a natural expression of the way in which those countries were already interacting. As Schuman put it in 1950, "Europe will not be built all at once, or as a single whole: it will be built by concrete achievements which first create de facto solidarity."

And so the method has proceeded, from coal and steel (European Coal and Steel Community Treaty), through agriculture and commerce (Treaty of Rome), environmental regulation and research and development (Single European Act), to transport policy, training, immigration policy, and a whole battery of measures designed to bring about full economic and monetary union (the Maastricht treaty). Step by step with these developments has been the march toward political unification, with the growth of a European Court, the development of the European Parliament from a talking-shop of national appointees into a directly elected assembly with real legislative powers, the extension of majority voting at the Council of Ministers, and even the announcement, in the Maastricht treaty, of something called European citizenship, the rights and duties of which have yet to be defined. Almost every one of these political changes was justified at the time on practical grounds: just a slight adjustment to make things easier, or more effective, or to reflect new realities. The economic changes and the transfers of new areas of competence to EC institutions are likewise usually presented as mere practical adjustments. At the same time, many continental European politicians (such as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterrand) talk openly of the ultimate grand political goal: the creation of a federal European state.

There is a strange disjunction between these two types of "European" discourse, the practical and the ideal. But this is just a sign of functionalism successfully at work. The argument for "Europe" switches to and fro, from claims about practical benefits to expressions of political idealism and back again. If one disagrees with advocates of "Europe" about the practical advantages, they say, "Well, you may be right about this or that disadvantage, but surely it's a price worth paying for such a wonderful political ideal." And if one casts doubt on the political desirability of the ideal, they reply, "Never mind about that, just think of the economic advantages." The truth is that both arguments for "Europe" are fundamentally flawed.


The economic project embodied in the European Economic Community (EEC) was a true reflection of its origins in a piece of Franco-German bargaining. German industry was given the opportunity to flood other member states with its exports, thanks to a set of rules designed to eliminate artificial barriers to competition and trade within the "common market." France, on the other hand, was given an elaborate system of protection for its agriculture, the so-called Common Agricultural Policy.

The general aims of the cap, as set out in Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome, included stable markets and "a fair standard of living for the agricultural community." On that slender basis, France established one of the most complex and expensive systems of agricultural protectionism in human history. It is based on high external tariffs, high export subsidies, and internal price support by means of intervention buying (the most costly system of price support yet invented, since it involves collecting and storing tens of millions of tons of excess produce). By the time this system was fully established in 1967, EEC farm prices had been driven up to 175 percent of world prices for beef, 185 percent for wheat, 400 percent for butter, and 440 percent for sugar. The annual cost of the cap is now $45 billion and rising; more than ten percent of this is believed to be paid to a myriad of scams. Thanks to this policy, a European family of four now pays more than $1,600 a year in additional food costs -- a hidden tax greater than the poll tax that brought rioters out onto the streets of London.

Even the most hardened advocates of "Europe" are always a little embarrassed by the cap. The massive corruption that flows from it -- phantom exports picking up export subsidies, smuggled imports relabeled as EC products, nonexistent Italian olive groves receiving huge subsidies, and so on -- is embarrassing enough, but it is the system itself that requires defense. Ten or twenty years ago, one used to hear its proponents arguing that at least there would be stocks of food available if Western Europe came under siege. That argument seemed thin then and sounds positively fatuous today. If pressed, they will insist that the cap is gradually being reformed, pointing out that the beef mountains and wine lakes are getting smaller. These reforms, however, are achieved only by spending more money in such schemes as the infamous set-aside payments given to farmers as a reward for not growing anything. More commonly, though, the defenders of "Europe" will say that the cap is just an unfortunate detail, that they are aware of its problems, and that one really should not use it to blacken "Europe's" name.

But the cap is not just a detail. It is, by a huge margin, the largest single item of EC spending, taking up roughly 60 percent of the budget every year. It dominates the EC's external trade policy, distorting the world market and seriously undermining the ability of poorer countries elsewhere to export their own agricultural produce. It almost broke the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on tariffs and Trade (GATT), thanks to the French government's irrational obsession with agricultural protectionism -- irrational, that is, because agriculture accounts for only four percent of French GDP, and much of the other 96 percent would have benefited from lower world tariffs.

No account of the economic functioning of "Europe" can fail to begin with the cap, and no study that examines it can fail to conclude that it is a colossal waste of money. Even the European Commission, which administers the scheme, has admitted that "farmers do not seem to have benefited from the increasing support which they have received." Enthusiasts for "Europe" often wax lyrical about European achievements such as the German highway system or the French railways -- things that were built by national governments. Almost the only major achievement of the EC -- the only thing it has constructed and operated itself -- is the cap. It is not an encouraging precedent.


The cap sets the tone for other areas of the EC's trading policy. Although it would be unfair to describe the EC as behaving like a "Fortress Europe" (so far), it is nevertheless true that "Europe" has evolved an elaborate system of tariffs and discriminatory trading agreements to protect its sensitive industries. Agriculture has the highest tariffs; ranging below it are such products as steel, textiles, clothing, and footwear (as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have discovered to their dismay -- food, steel, textiles, clothing, and footwear being their own most important products). The EC has been at the forefront in developing so-called voluntary export restraints with countries such as Japan. In addition, "Europe" has shown extraordinary ingenuity in adapting the GATT's "antidumping" measures to block the flow of innumerable imports: electronic typewriters, hydraulic excavators, dot-matrix printers, audiocassettes, and halogen lights from Japan; compact disc players from Japan and Korea; small-screen color televisions from Korea, China, and Hong Kong, and so on.

A recent study of EC trade policy by L. A. Winters uses the phrase "managed liberalization" to describe the EC's foot-dragging progress toward freer trade. "Managed liberalization," notes Winters, "is a substitute for genuine liberalization, but a poor one, because it typically attenuates competition in precisely those sectors which are most in need of improved efficiency." Nor is this surprising, since the trade policy emerges from a system of political bargaining in which the governments of EC member states compete to protect their favorite industries. Massive state subsidies to flagship enterprises (French car manufacturers, Spanish steel mills, Belgian and Greek national airlines) are common practice. In addition, the officials at the European Commission in Brussels are strongly influenced by the French dirigiste tradition, which sees it as the role of the state to select and nurture special "champion" industries. This was the driving force behind the new powers granted to the EC in 1986 to "strengthen the scientific and technological basis of European industry." In practice, this means spending millions of taxpayers' dollars developing French microchips that will never compete with East Asian ones on the open market.

Inside the tariff wall, a kind of free trade area has indeed been created. Many obstacles to trade have been removed (though important barriers remain in the realm of services, as British insurance firms are still discovering when they try to break into the German market), and industry as a whole has benefited from this process of internal liberalization. However, the long-term effects may be more harmful than beneficial. In their attempt to create a level playing field for competition on equal terms within the EC, the administrators of "Europe" have leveled up, not down. They have tried to raise both the standards and the costs of industry throughout the community to the high levels practiced in Europe's foremost industrial country, Germany. When this process is complete, industrialists inside the EC may indeed sell goods to one another on equal terms, but their goods will all be uncompetitive on the world market.

This leveling up occurs in two areas. The first is the harmonization of standards. Brussels has issued a mass of regulations laying down the most minute specifications for industrial products and processes; the dominant influence on these has been the German Institute for Norms, which has the strictest standards in Europe. Harmonization is meant to simplify matters for producers, who now have only one standard within the EC instead of various national ones. But in many cases, as the task of matching product to standard becomes relatively simpler, it is also made absolutely more expensive. In addition, the EC has powers relating to environmental protection and health and safety at work, which are increasingly used to impose German-style costs on industries and services. The costs fall especially heavily on small enterprises, which have to pay disproportionately for monitoring equipment, inspection, and certification. This distorts the market in favor of large corporations, penalizing the small enterprises that are the seed corn of any growing economy.

The second way in which the playing field is leveled up to German standards is in the social costs of labor. German employers pay heavily for the privilege of giving people jobs: there are generous pension schemes to pay for health insurance, long holidays, maternity and paternity leave, and other forms of social insurance. As a consequence, labor costs are $25 per hour in the former West Germany (the highest in the world), as opposed to $17 in Japan, $16 in the United States, and $12 in the United Kingdom. German work practices mean that a machine in a German factory operates an average of only 53 hours a week, as opposed to 69 hours in France and 76 in Britain. And the average worker in Germany spends only 1,506 hours each year actually at work, as opposed to 1,635 hours in Britain, 1,847 in the United States, and 2,165 in Japan.

Over the last five years, the European Commission has proposed a whole range of measures to increase the rights of workers and limit their working hours. When measures in this so-called social action program could not gain the required unanimous support from member states (notably Britain), they were dressed up as health and safety matters, for which only a majority vote is required. Further costs on employers were imposed by a "social protocol" added to the Maastricht treaty. Although Britain was able to gain a special exemption from this agreement, it is likely that many of the new measures adopted under the protocol eventually will filter back to Britain through other parts of the "European" administrative machine.

Some of these measures are inspired, no doubt, by concern for the plight of the poorest workers in the community's southern member states. But the general aim of the policy is clearly to protect the high-labor-cost economies (above all, Germany) from competitors employing cheaper labor. In the short or medium term, this policy will damage the economies of the poorer countries, which will have artificially high labor costs imposed on them. In the long term, it will harm Germany, too, by reducing its incentive to adapt to worldwide competition. "Europe," whose share of world trade and relative rate of economic growth are already in decline, will enter the next century stumbling under the weight of its own costs like a woolly mammoth sinking into a melting tundra.

The final expression of this leveling-up syndrome is the plan for monetary union. As outlined in the Maastricht treaty, the idea is to create a Euro-deutsche mark, operated by a body closely modeled on the Bundesbank and situated in Frankfurt. Earlier moves in this direction were not encouraging: the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, which linked the currencies of member states to the deutsche mark, fell apart spectacularly in October 1992. In the process, the British government spent nearly $6 billion in a doomed attempt to prop up the pound, and Germany is thought to have spent roughly $14 billion in an equally futile effort to support the Italian lira. The artificially high interest rates that countries such as Britain had imposed to maintain their currency's parity with the deutsche mark severely intensified the 1989-93 recession; the human costs of the unnecessary indebtedness, bankruptcies, and unemployment cannot be calculated.

The Exchange Rate Mechanism was, as Professor Sir Alan Walters, an adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, famously put it, "half-baked." Currencies were neither fully fixed nor freely floating but pegged to so-called fixed rates that could be changed. This provided the world markets, at times of pressure on any particular currency, with an irresistible one-way bet. That problem, of course, will not arise once the currencies of "Europe" are merged into a single Euro-mark -- though the activities of the world currency markets in the days just before the conversion terms are announced will be a wonder to behold.

Once the Euro-mark is in place, a different set of problems will arise. Whatever the "economic convergence programs" dutifully embarked on by the governments of member states, this single currency will be covering a number of national economies with widely varying characteristics. Hitherto, changes in the values of their national currencies have been one of the essential ways in which the relative strengths and weaknesses of those countries were both expressed and adjusted. With that mechanism gone, other forms of expression will operate, such as the collapse of industries or the mass migration of labor.

The European Commission understands this problem and has a ready solution: massive transfers of money to the weaker economies of "Europe." The machinery to administer this huge program of subsidies is already in place, in the form of regional funds, "structural" funds, and "cohesion payments." All that is lacking so far is the actual money, for which purpose the outgoing president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, recently proposed increasing the European budget by more than $150 billion over the next five years.

A model for the future of an economically unified Europe can be found in modern Italy, which united the prosperous, advanced provinces of the north with the Third World poverty of the south. After more than a century of political and economic union, huge disparities still remain between the two halves of Italy -- despite (or indeed partly because of) all the subsidies that are poured into the south via institutions such as the Cassa del Mezzogiorno, the independent society established by the Italian government to help develop the south. As southern Italians have had the opportunity to discover, an economy based on subsidies unites the inefficiencies of state planning with almost limitless opportunities for graft and corruption. It is a sad irony that today, just as the leaders of "Europe" are preparing for unification, the politicians of Italy are seriously considering dismantling their country into two or three separate states.


So much for the economic benefits of European unity. At this point the advocates of "Europe" usually shift to their other line of defense. This is not just a money-grubbing enterprise, they say, to be totted up in terms of profit and loss: "Europe" is a political ideal, a spiritual adventure, a new experiment in brotherhood and cooperation. Has it not made war in Europe unthinkable? Is it not the natural next step for mankind, at a time when the old idea of national sovereignty is evidently obsolete? Does it not show the way to the abolition of old-fashioned national feeling, with all its hostilities, prejudices, and resentments?

The answer to all these questions, unfortunately, is no. The argument that the EC is responsible for the lack of war in post-1945 Europe is hard to substantiate. A far more obvious reason is the Cold War, which obliged Western Europe to adopt a common defensive posture and a system of deterrence so effective that war between Western and Eastern Europe never happened. The fact that a group of West European countries were able to cooperate in the EC was more a symptom of the lack of belligerent tensions in postwar Western Europe than a cause. Liberal democracies had been established in most West European countries after 1945; even if the EEC had not existed, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Germany would have wanted to invade France, or France drop nuclear bombs on Germany. Even if one concedes for the sake of argument that the EEC did ensure peace for the last generation or two, this cannot be used as a reason for closer integration, since the EEC had this supposed effect at a time when it was not a unified supranational entity but a group of cooperating nation-states.

The idea of "Europe" is founded, however, on the belief that the nation-state is obsolete. This is an article of faith against which rational arguments cannot prevail. It is no use pointing out that the most successful countries in the modern world -- Japan, the United States, and indeed Germany itself -- are nation-states. It matters little if one says that some of the most dynamic economies today belong to small states -- South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore -- that feel no need to submerge themselves in large multinational entities. And it is regarded as bad taste to point out that the multinational federations most recently in the news were the U.S.S.R. and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. They are merely the latest in a long list of multinational states that have collapsed in modern times, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the various postcolonial federations set up by the British in central Africa, east Africa, and the West Indies. Nigeria, for example, kept Biafra only by warfare and starvation; India needs armed force to retain Nagaland and Kashmir. "But Europe will not be like that," say the federalists. "We have traditions of mutual tolerance and civilized behavior." Yes, we have some such traditions; they are the traditions that have evolved within fairly stable nation-states. Whether they last indefinitely under the new conditions of multinational politics remains to be seen.

What will political life be like in the sort of European federation currently proposed in Brussels and Bonn? Some of the powers of national governments will be transferred upward to the European level, while others will move down to a "Europe of the regions" (Catalonia, Bavaria, Wales, etc.). The official vision of political life at the uppermost level is essentially that of Jean Monnet, the original inventor of the community: a technocrat's ideal, a world in which large-scale solutions are devised to large-scale problems by far-sighted expert administrators. (The most common argument for abolishing nation-states is that problems nowadays are just too big for individual states to handle. In fact, there have always been issues that cross international borders, from postal services to drug enforcement to global trade. It cannot be the size of the problem that dictates that it must be dealt with by supranational authority rather than international cooperation, but some other reason that the advocates of European federation have yet to explain.)

This technocratic vision is of a decaffeinated political world, from which real politics has been carefully extracted. Things will surely turn out differently. Real politics will still operate at the European level. The one form it will not take, however, is that of federation-wide democratic politics. For that, we would need "Europe"-wide parties, operating across the whole federation in the way that the Republican and Democratic parties operate across the United States.

There are already some ghostly transnational groupings in the European Parliament: the Socialist Group, the European People's Party (the Christian Democrats), and so on. But these are just alliances formed at Strasbourg by members of the European Parliament elected on the tickets of their own national parties. No one can really envisage ordinary voters in, say, Denmark being inspired by the leader of their preferred Euro-party, who might make his or her speeches in Portuguese. The basic facts of linguistic, cultural, and geographic difference make it impossible to imagine federation-wide mass politics ever becoming the dominant form of political life in Europe. Instead, the pursuit of national interests by national politicians will continue at the highest "European" levels. Yet it will do so in a way subtly different from the way in which local representatives within a national political system press for the interests of their localities. Although a member of parliament for Yorkshire may push hard on Yorkshire's behalf, on all major issues the member votes according to what he or she thinks is in Britain's interest; the MP belongs to a national party that addresses those issues with national policies.

The art of "European" politics, on the other hand, will be to do nothing more than dress up national interests as if they were Europe-wide ones. With any particular nation paying only a small proportion of the European budget, each set of national politicians will seek to maximize those European spending projects that benefit their own country. The modus operandi of European politics, therefore (already visible in the Council of Ministers today), will be logrolling and back-scratching: you support my pet proposal, even though you think it is a bad one, and in return I shall back yours. This is a recipe not only for nonstop increases in spending, but also for radical incoherence in policymaking. And with politics at the highest level operating as a scramble for funds, it is hard to see how politicians at the lower level of Europe's "regions" can fail to replicate it: they will have fewer real governmental powers but more populist opportunities to woo their voters with spending.

This type of political life is accompanied by two grave dangers. In any system where democratic accountability is attenuated and the powers of politicians to make deals behind closed doors is strengthened, the likely consequence is a growth in political corruption. Corrupt practices are already common in the political life of several European countries: their exposure has led recently to the prosecution, flight into exile, or suicide of former prime ministers in Italy, Greece, and France. A federal Europe, far from correcting these vices, will offer them a wider field of action.

A more serious danger, however, lies in store for the political life of a federal "Europe": the revival of the politics of nationalist hostility and resentment. Aggressive nationalism is typically a syndrome of the dispossessed, of those who feel power has been taken from them. Foreigners are often the most convenient focus of such resentment, whatever the true causes of the powerlessness may be. But in a system where power really has been taken from national governments and transferred to European bodies in which, by definition, the majority vote will always lie in the hands of foreigners, such nationalist thinking will acquire an undeniable logic. Of course, if "Europe" moves ever onward and upward in an unprecedented increase in prosperity for all its citizens, the grounds for resentment may be slight; that is not, however, a scenario that anyone can take for granted.

In this respect, the whole "European" project furnishes a classic example of the fallacious belief that the way to remove hostility between groups, peoples, or states is to build new structures over their heads. Too often that method yields exactly the opposite result. The most commonly repeated version of this argument is that Germany needs to be "tied in" or "tied down" by a structure of European integration to prevent it from wandering off dangerously into the empty spaces of Mitteleuropa. If Germany really has different interests from the rest of "Europe," the way to deal with it, surely, is not to force it into an institutional straitjacket (which can only build up German resentment in the long run), but to devise ways of pursuing those interests that are compatible with the interests of its allies and partners. So far, Germany's involvement in "Europe" looks rather like the action of a jovial uncle at a children's party who, to show goodwill, allows his hands to be tied behind his back. It is not a posture that he will want to stay in for long, and his mood may change when he becomes aware of innumerable little fingers rifling through his pockets.


The final question is whether "Europe" has a valuable role to play on the world stage. The "Europe" we have at present is a product of the Cold War era. Now that the whole situation in Eastern Europe has changed, one might expect the engineers of the EC to go back to the geopolitical drawing board. Instead, they are pressing ahead with the same old set of plans at a faster pace. Some enthusiasts for "Europe," such as former EC Commissioner Ralf Dahrendorf or British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, have even claimed that the internal development of the EC in the 1980s played a decisive part in bringing about the fall of communism in the east. One rather doubts many East European dissidents ever said: "Have you heard about the new Brussels Directive on Permitted Levels of Lawnmower Noise? This means we really must bring down the communist regime!" The Hurd/Dahrendorf thesis bears a curious resemblance to the recent Michael Jackson music video entitled "Redeeming Eastern Europe," in which the pop star defeats the Red Army singlehandedly while adoring children chant messages of goodwill in (coincidentally) Esperanto.

Since the removal of the Iron Curtain, the new democracies of Eastern Europe have found their ostensible savior strangely reluctant to help it in the one way that matters -- namely, by buying their goods. They all want to join "Europe," of course, for two simple reasons: because it is a rich man's club in which fellow members possess huge funds for investment, and because they want to be part of some kind of security grouping. The first requirement could be met by any economic club of nations, of the sort that the EC was for its first couple of decades; it does not call for European political integration. Indeed, any such development would be a strange reward for those East European countries that have only just freed themselves from the embrace of another multinational empire.

The question of European security raises a similar point. The long-term effect of the end of the Cold War will be a gradual reduction in the American defense commitment to Europe. This prospect even causes some pleasure in those parts of Europe -- above all, France and Germany -- where anti-Americanism has long flourished. Clearly, the Europeans will have to take more care of their own defense. But the question is whether this requires political integration, a Euro-army, a Euro-foreign policy, and a Euro-government. For more than 50 years, NATO has managed to defend Western Europe without any such political integration, and NATO is clearly the most successful international organization in modern history.

"Of course," comes the reply, "NATO was able to function as a loose intergovernmental body because its members were facing a clear common threat. The threats and challenges will be more various now, so intergovernmental agreement will be harder to obtain." But that is precisely why such matters should not be funneled into a "European" government operating by majority vote. "Europe" is indeed a collection of countries with different national interests and foreign commitments. On each separate security issue, individual states may have concerns of their own that are not shared by their fellow members (Britain over the Falklands, France over North Africa, Germany and Italy over Yugoslavia, and so on). To try to form a single "European" policy on such issues, whether by unanimity, consensus, or majority voting, is to guarantee at best ineffective compromise and at worst total self-paralysis.

This simple truth has been demonstrated twice in the last four years -- the first time as farce, the second as tragedy. The farce was "Europe's" reaction to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, when Germany agonized over sending a few trainer jets to Turkey, France sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf bearing helicopters instead of planes, and Belgium refused to sell ammunition to the British army. The tragedy is Yugoslavia. "This is the hour of Europe!" cried the egregious Jacques Poos, foreign minister of Luxembourg, when Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević's army first opened fire in Slovenia and Croatia in the summer of 1991. "We do not interfere in American affairs; we trust that America will not interfere in European affairs," said Jacques Delors, voicing the only consistent and distinctive theme of "European" foreign policy: graceless anti-Americanism. The desire to produce a foreign policy by consensus was just strong enough to ensure that those countries who did understand what was happening in Yugoslavia (above all, Germany) were kept in check by those who did not (above all, Britain). As a result, the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia was delayed by six months, and when it finally came it did so unaccompanied by any measures to protect Milošević's other prospective victims from attack.

The mentality behind the drive for a "European" foreign policy displays a childlike logic. "Think how strong and effective our foreign policies will be if we add them all together!" it says. Similarly, one might say: think what a beautiful color we can make if we mix all the colors of the paint box! The result, inevitably, is a muddy shade of brown.

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  • Noel Malcolm is a political columnist for London's The Daily Telegraph. His latest book is Bosnia: A Short History, published by New York University Press.
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