Monday, December 13, 2004

Thoughts of a European security expert - 2

Interestingly, Mme Gnesotto, Director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies and Chairman of the Committee that wrote the proposal for an EU Defence White Paper, expressed her views quite forcefully about “Europe” and America in an editorial for Le Figaro on November 8. Presumably it had taken her several days and several tons of smelling salts to get over the shock of the presidential election result.

Our readers must bear in mind that her thoughts are not those of a random journalist but of a woman who through her position exerts a great deal of influence on the defence and security thinking in the European Union.

Her starting point was that rather odd one that we have noted before: apparently various soundings and opinion polls have shown that a very large majority of the world’s citizens voted for Kerry. (To be fair, Mme Gnesotto or the editor of Le Figaro put the word voted in quotations marks.) George Bush’s comfortable victory left these people angry, bewildered, disturbed.

How on earth do the world’s citizens (whatever that may be) vote for the American president? Most of them do not even vote for their own governments, particularly not in those countries that the French government, for some unaccountable reason is particularly friendly to. Presumbaly, what Mme Gnesotto means is that she and her like on the international conference circuit liked to think that they would have voted for Kerry. (Why she thinks John Kerry’s foreign policy would have been any different is anybody’s guess.)

It is clear to Mme Gnesotto that it is the American people who are out of step with the world. Those who voted for Bush, she explained confidently, were not interested in the war in Iraq or in economic problems. They were voting entirely for moral and religious reasons, enacting a kind of a modern morality play. These benighted individuals perceived the war against terrorism as a war of Right against Wrong. (How different from the sophisticated French politicians who manage to support terroists abroad while introducing draconian rules to deal with anyone suspected of even saying something wrong in their own country. No right and wrong here.)

America, by electing Bush, has isolated herself even more from all democracies. Then again, Mme Gnesotto seems to think that other democracies means the European Union, a questionable definition. As an additional argument she produces the notion that the very ideas that served to elect Bush, served to disqualify a possible European Commissioner: “social intolerance, religious fundamentalism, an apology for inequality among the sexes”.

One rather wonders whether Mme Gnessotto has paid any attention to the religious diversity in the United States and the number of women who are in high position in business and politics. (She was not to know that the new Secretary of State would be female, but the possibility was discussed from the day of Bush’s re-election.)

Furthermore, the open election of the American president is a tad different from the somewhat sordid, secretive deals that create the European Commission.

Mme Gnesotto shows herself to be seriously disquieted by the evident preference of the Bush administration to conduct bilateral relations with European countries, but she is hopeful that realism would overcome ideology and, presumably, the opinions of the great and the good will be deemed more important than democratic accountability.

Where she gets into a muddle and her Gallic logic fails her is whether the division in Europe over Iraq has weakened or strengthened the Union. On the whole, she feels, it has not harmed the process of integration, the ultimate good in European politics: the commons security and defence policy is going ahead as planned (without the common interests), the constitution was signed, there is no sign of political disintegration.

On the other hand, America has suffered from the European division over Iraq, because it has meant that the European allies have not given as much help as was expected. For some reason, this fills Mme Gnesotto with delight. Apparently, this has resulted in America’s isolation in Iraq, which is rather curious since a division would imply that some (most, as it happens) European countries must have supported American action and joined the coalition.

The likes of Mme Gnesotto are, as I have said, not interested in trans-Atlantic deals. They want an acknowledgement that America is in the wrong, and particularly in the wrong for not following instructions so clearly issued by the European elite (instructions that the people of Europe do not follow all the time, either). And one can see what it is they are really afraid of: that the notion of accountable democracy will undermine the integration process and that, possibly, the American administration, which does not see any advantages to that process (and why should it, since it is full of hostility towards the United States?) will help that along by refusing to deal with the EU as a political union.

I do so fear that President Bush’s advances will be rebuffed at the very least in France. The important thing is, surely, not to accept the establishment of that country as the self-appointed spokespersons for the whole of the varied continent of Europe (not to mention the islands off its shore).

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