Friday, June 24, 2005

Looking to the future?

There is a certain amount of discussion in the media both here and in the United States, where there is a temporary spate of interest in European affairs, of where Mr Blair can find his allies in the fight for the reform of the EU.

There are, to begin with, two objections to the whole scenario. One is that a slightly reformed and more efficient EU is not a desideratum, any more than Gorbachev’s putative more efficient Communism was. In fact, both are complete impossibilities.

The other problem is that Mr Blair, as we have discussed several times on this blog, has no clear idea of what it is he wants the EU to become and how to go about achieving it. His “opponents”, mostly the fearsome threesome of Juncker, Chirac and Schröder, on the other hand, know the answers to both those questions extremely well.

But a few tinkering agreements may be possible. Where are those allies going to come from?

The obvious answer is the new member states, who would certainly support Britain, should this country lead a break-up of the foreign and security policy. Without being Atlanticist or Anglophone, those countries perceive Russia as the enemy and are considerably less anti-American than the west Europeans. The reasons for that are obvious and lie in very recent history.

Alas, in this as in various other matters, Britain is letting them down. There is no movement to break up the CFSP and to refashion the strategic architecture in a more sensible fashion.

When it comes to the budget, the situation is a little more murky. The East Europeans are hoping for greater hand-outs, though they do not seem to be able to deal with the money they already have.

Whether the hand-outs come from the rebate or from a bigger input into the budget from the West Europeans matters less to them than the final outcome. They are, therefore, more likely to heed the siren call of the French, probably realizing that reform of CAP is an unlikely scenario. Noticeably, that is rarely mentioned by East Europeans.

There are the Scandinavians and the Dutch, who are unhappy with the way the EU is going and may well be instrumental in some very serious changes. Possibly, they, rather than the British, will be the ones to bring about the project’s demise.

France and Germany remain the biggies and Blair is clearly beginning to address his vaporous comments to the successors of the present lame-duck leaders.

Chirac may or may not stand in 2007. If he does not, he will move heaven and earth to ensure that his successor will be Dominique de Villepin but he may not manage it. In which case, it will probably be Nicola Sarkozy.

Where do these two gentlemen stand on the EU? We know about Villepin. He is a ferocious anti-American and sees the EU and all its dealings in terms of what is best for France. He does not even disguise his opinion that the universally recognized anomaly of the CAP is nothing of the kind, since it benefits France and what benefits France, according to the self-published poet, benefits Europe. Toujours l’audace.

Sarkozy has been a little more circumspect. He has made no statements about the CAP, preferring to focus on the need for more money to be invested in research and development and omitting to mention how much of that would come to France.

It is clear from comments made by his staff and supporters that he will never depart from the French presidential line about CAP. He wants to win, doesn’t he?

Ths former Socialist Laurent Fabius, whose involvement in a sordid scandal to do with transfusion of infected blood and people dying of AIDS has done him no harm at all, led the no campaign. His line is that Chirac is not doing his best for France because he is not ensuring that the EU budget becomes bigger as France needs both the CAP and more funds for research.

That leaves Germany, where the likelihood is that Schröder and the SDP will lose the September elections to Angela Merkel and the CDU. (Nobody is making any bets on Italian politics. How wise.)

Germany may well become interesting. Unlike France, the country is beginning a slow and painful internal reform process, though it often reminds one of Lenin’s title “One step forward, two steps back”. (That was about the German Social-Democrats as well, oddly enough.)

The CDU with its probable coalition partner, the Free Democrats, is committed to some idea of a reform, as it is clear to the meanest intellect that the German economy cannot keep on spluttering the way it does without there being really serious problems and upheavals.

She and the CDU foreign policy spokesman, Friedbert Pflüger, have already made noises to the effect that the foreign policy is likely to change under their rule. Becoming slightly more pro-American and less pro-French is not very expensive and not likely to be too unpopular. Schröder’s policy of slavishly following Chirac and boxing Germany into a corner was not altogether popular, particularly if that meant no American support for the cherished German plan of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

What of the CAP and the budget? There are cautious comments coming out of the CDU that they would be interested in a wholesale reform of the latter and some changes in the former. Clearly, they cannot be too outspoken as their sister party, the Bavarian CSU will fight any reform of the CAP tooth and nail.

Here, however, we must take note of an important aspect of the discussion and that is the background and personality of the new leader. Angela Merkel is not just going to be the first woman Chancellor (and the first woman leader of something called Germany since the early Middle Ages) but she is an Ossie.

She grew up in East Germany. Her father was a Lutheran pastor, which means there must have been various problems for the family and, also, that she learnt early not to express too many opinions.

She is a physicist by training, which also puts her out of step with much of the German political establishment, and her first political experiences were in the dissident and opposition movement in the DDR.

Her talents were recognized by Lothar de Maizière, the first elected leader of East Germany and by Helmut Kohl. But she realized very quickly when the financial scandals broke around the latter that she had to distance herself from him.

Her rise in the CDU has not been easy, it being a somewhat crusty, male-dominated organization. But there she is, at the top, with an outlook on the world that is likely to be very different from all her predecessors.

Whether she will be Blair’s ally remains to be seen. The likelihood is that Blair will have forgotten his fight to “modernize” the EU by the time Merkel’s probable election takes place. But that she will be an unpredictable force for change cannot be denied.

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