Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Building the Death Star of European Constitutonalism: Prodi and the French Prepare to Strike

In one of the great scenes of the old movie from the 1970s, Star Wars, the protagonists discover the great secret project of the small group of elites who have managed to capture the old interstellar Republic and convert it into an empire of sorts. This project involved the creation of an elaborate machine for the destruction of rebellious planets. The hope was to use the weapon, or the threat of its use, to broaden and deepen the imperial project of the new elite.

Recent reports out of the great halls of the European mandarinate suggest that, fresh from the slimmest of victories in Italy, the new Italian Prime Minister has begun to connive with the French elite for the resurrection of the EU´s attempt at a Death Star of sorts, its constitution (or rather its constitutional treaty) for Europe. The Italian Prime Minister, a long time supporter of greater, and more formal, European consolidation, has spoken of the need to resurrect the constitution project in conjunction with a necessary (if cautious) expansion to the East (the recent EU´s Ostpolitik) and, interestingly enough, an expansion to the Mediterranean basin (perhaps in hopes of restoring, after several millennia, the virtues of the Roman Mare Nostrum to Italy).

These three projects will no doubt serve as the main course of the upcoming meeting of the Member State heads next week. And rightly so. Though I suspect that the realities of the discussions will not find their way past the well-orchestrated media campaign that will seep out of the proceedings. I will suggest some reasons for importance here, but a fuller analysis will have to wait for the end of next week’s meetings.

EU Constitutionalism: events since 2001 have convinced the French elite that the only way to counter American presence in the world is to create a political organism of equal stature and (potentially) equal power. The French remain convinced that the construction of something that looks like a state is the solution. Otherwise, the EU will continue to remain at the mercy of American foreign policy, and increasingly, at the mercy of Chinese economic power. Looking out past the borders of the smart districts of Paris, the French, not unwisely, see a political field not unlike that which confronted post-war Europe in 1945: a relatively disunited and fractious Europe potentially at the mercy of its larger, and well consolidated rivals. In 1945, those rivals were the Soviet Union and the United States, each of which was ready to swallow up large chunks of Europe. Today the situation is more complicated but not dissimilar: the United States and China/Japan (rather than the Soviets) remain a constant--happy to swallow up (now through globalization rather than through more direct means of control) Europe, piece by piece--and the migratory threats from Africa, Asia and Latin America threaten the economic prosperity and perhaps even the stability of the Member States themselves. More importantly, the EU has been unable to effectively project power. The recent almost comical dialogue between Cuba and the EU over sanctions over Cuba’s gross human rights abuses (the supposed core of the value system that makes Europe unique and a beacon to the world) resulting in a suspension of sanctions, is an excellent case in point.

The problem, of course, is that the entity to be created has to look like a state, but for most purposes may not act like one. That difficulty produced a monster of a document filled with ambiguities and subterfuges. And the great irony, of course, was that it was the French electorate that sparked the popular rebellion against the mandarinate’s unification project. Those subterfuges, of course, are at the heart of the matter. The great difficulty (for the French) is in the creation of a document that somehow manages to produce French dominance under the guise of equal participation. Thus, the real trick will be to create a document for the amplification of French diplomatic ambitions with the consent of the majority of France’s European partners.

EU Ostpolitik: Expansion, while not yet a dirty word in Europe, has become a greater cause for concern. This is nothing new. Every great increase in size has brought labor and capital dislocation as the markets for economic production adjusted. Before the 21st century, a fairly generous program of subsidies would soften the dislocations. But those days are over. Subsidies are harder to come by; the "Europeans" being integrated in the EU are less "European" in the sense of a sharing of the cultural and social basics of Western Europe--the great foundation of the mores of the EU. Moreover new members increase the potential disruptions to labor markets potentially more severe, and are less stable politically than states in prior ways of admission to EU membership. Lastly, the cultural, religious and social issues associated with the next batch of candidates is enormous and will cause Europe to finally face the core issue of its identity and purpose. None of these will be easy.

Yet the EU mandarinate continues to skip its way to growth without much of a thought in the world. Part of it, of course, is the politics of gesture. The appearance of movement may well mask the reality of a firm determination never to come to agreement. Dialog, after all, is the specialité de la maison europeéan. But, combined with the recent renewal of EU constitutionalism, these integration issues will have to be faced. The combination is an explosive one. Expansion requires a readjustment of the delicate political balances that constitue the institutions of the EU. As the last rounds of expansion negotiations made clear, new sattes want an effective place at the table and older Memnber States do not want to have their on influence within the EU diluted. More importantly, older Member States may not want to sacrifice the goodies thay have enjoyed--perhaps acquired in return for membership or to keep them quiet--to finance the modernization of new entrants.

EU Regionalism: And the answer to growth may well lie in the development of the EU’s association policies for the nations on its Southern borders on the other side of the Mediterranean. Specifically, the EU’s development of associational status, something like an integrated trade union with limitations may well solve some of the EU’s more socio-political growth difficulties. The EU, at least since Maastricht, has naturalized a system of uneven participation. Not all Member States have the same obligations, or the same benefits. This has actually worked reasonably well. It requires only a slight extension of this pattern to envision a system of "full" membership, "partial" membership, and "associational" status (by whatever name might be palatable to the parties for internal and external consumption). This approach might complicate EU constitutionalism. But the benefits might be worth the complexity. The Turkish problem might be solved; a means of integrated North Africa into an economic but not social system might be achieved, and Europe can continue on its greatest project--the creation of a European demos from out of the core states of that continent.

The real issue will be the reaction of the recipients of this largesse. Turkey would tend to view any action like this as an insult at best. On the other hand, if Turkey is offered an “almost” membership along with a nice assortment of Christian states—prominent among them Serbia, Montenegro and maybe even the Ukraine, then the pill might go down with a bit less bitterness. There are some interesting possibilities in an approach of this sort. As an example, the EU would be in a greater position to influence affairs in Israel and Palestine were both (whatever their borders) to be included in the firm embrace of associational status within a Mediterranean “sort-of” EU. Really, if France were as eager as it seems to re-emerge as a great imperial power, the construction of a set of associational relationships keyed to EU norms and EU administration might be more effective than any baroque effort to fashion a non-state constitutional state. But France tends to learn its lessons hard, and neither the Germans, nor the Italians nor the Spanish are likely to seek to discipline their unruly sibling.

My prediction for next week: (1) the constitutional project will be put back on track with the appointment of another committee of old people who appear (at least to the satisfaction of the media) to have some claim to legitimacy in this work; (1) much will be made of the need for expansion, but the stage will be set for the death of expansion by a thousand annoying and complicated details; and (3) the EU will quietly begin to send out feelers about the possibilities of multi-level memberships across the Mediterranean.

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