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How Americans see it

Posted by Helen Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton takes both the American presidential candidates to task in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune.

According to her, the “European Union does not exist on the American political landscape” and searching through the two candidates’ campaign websites she came up with only seven mentions of the EU apiece. Of course, there may have been mentions of individual European countries but Dean Slaughter ignores that. She is merely astounded that so little attention should be paid to such an important player on the international scene in an election that is unusually centred on foreign affairs.

The trouble is, the international affairs it is centred on – if it is – are in the Middle East and the Gulf, where the EU has played an equivocal part to put it mildly. As far as Iraq is concerned what emerged is the complete lack of cohesion between all the member states.

Still, Dean Slaughter has a point: American politicians must start paying attention to this odd structure that is emerging as a political expression of all the international and transnational ideology that is determined to overcome liberal democracy. The problem is that she does not appear to understand much about it or be able to explain cogently why it is important.

These are the crucial arguments:

“Suppose the citizens of Ohio or Oregon or Alabama understood that the EU has a larger population and gross domestic product than the United States. That English is widely spoken as a second language. That most of the students who are either no longer applying to American schools or unable to enter the United States for a lack of a visa are choosing European universities instead. And that EU representatives are thick on the ground in many developing countries, both trolling for business and doling out aid and advice.

Suppose further that at a time when one of the most important issues in the U.S. election is which candidate is better placed to “win the peace” in Iraq and Afghanistan, American voters knew something about the EU model of building democracy – through assistance, admonition and accession negotiations. Americans would not likely believe that the prospect of EU membership, even if such a thing were possible, would have convinced the Taliban or Saddam Hussein to lay down their arms. But they might think that after the first flush of military victory the EU could teach America quite a lot about the exercise of civilian rather than military power.”
What an extraordinary mish-mash. It does not get any better when Dean Slaughter tries to analyze how Europeans might feel about the EU, Europe, the democratic deficit, the constitution, whatever.

The problem is that any American - and contrary to some opinions, both the candidates have people in their entourage with real interest in European affairs – who looked at the reality of the EU, he or she would dismiss all the above as piffle.

Yes, the EU is big and has a large GDP. It is also economically stagnant. Is that a good thing for America or bad? Whatever it may be, Americans can do little about it. Yes, English is spoken widely in Europe. It is spoken widely everywhere. Those students that go to European (not EU) colleges, have no interest in the Union and at least one of the preferred destinations is in Switzerland. In any case, they have to go somewhere if they cannot go to the States.

The most bizarre part, as ever, is the comparison between American and EU ways of dealing with the world. Dean Slaughter is clearly not of the Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus school of thought, but I do wonder whether she has actually looked at the EU’s record in the last twenty years.

The EU has not built democracy anywhere, least of all within its own structures. It has taken in countries that were already either democratic or busy constructing democratic structures. As the EU tends to undermine existing democratic systems through its own managerial governance, the effect of its assistance and admonition, not to mention accession will be the exact opposite.

To be honest, the EU has not and cannot win any military victories, though it can undermine other people’s. It has not had to disarm anyone and its record in the Balkans during the nineties, when there were plenty of armed people around, is abysmal. Nor has it acutally been successful at substituting civilian for military power anywhere, preferring, instead, to be as chummy as possible with some of the worst dictators around.

This is the sort of thing that makes one despair. It is important to pay attention to the EU as its existence is undeniably important if only in a negative fashion. But what use is that kind of rather ignorant analysis?