Thursday

29th Feb 2024

'Europe is increasingly fading away'

The rest of the world will not wait for Europe while it bickers over institutional reform and external policy issues, says Joschka Fischer, ex-German foreign minister, warning that the risk of it becoming a "playground" for upcoming super powers grows by the day.

Tempered by his time in the US where politicians are already looking to China and India as the next powers to be, the former politician-turned-Princeton-professor has a very sober view of the European Union's position in the world as it dusts itself off from recent 50th birthday celebrations.

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  • "Goodnight Europe?" (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Here in the United States, I hear 'who is Europe, where is Europe?' They are looking for China and for India. Europe is increasingly fading away beyond the horizon in the Atlantic," Mr Fischer tells EUobserver in an interview.

"This is a development which is definitely accelerating, so when you talk with the [US] political elite, the weaker Europe is, the less interest you will find."

Relating a recent incident where a former Indian foreign minister came to lecture at Princeton and said that the 21st century will see three superpowers – India, China and the US – Mr Fischer said "I was sitting there and I thought, 'why the hell is nobody in Europe realising what is going on!'"

Under-performing

"Europe must defend its own strategic interests," he said noting that France, the UK and Germany are "under-performing in a globalised world."

Even Britain, which puts such store by its 'special relationship' with the US and continues to have an ambivalent relationship with the EU, will have to come on board if it is to have any influence in Washington.

"If the UK wants to defend its national interest number one [the special relationship], it must be in a position to deliver Europe, but to deliver Europe, it must be more European."

Mr Fischer, who was consistently one of Germany's most popular politicians while foreign minister between 1998 and 2005, said that Europe cannot change "geopolitics" as it is linked to the Middle East, Russia, the Caucasus, Africa – all creating "enormous pressure" from the outside.

This means Europe must look out for its "common interests." These include internal and external security issues as well as economic concerns.

Taking energy security as an example, Mr Fischer says "[Russian president] Putin is playing a game with oil and gas supplies. What's the European reaction? It can't be a national one. It's an illusion."

"If Poland were to have a shortage in its oil and gas supplies, knowing the division of labour in the common market this would hurt immediately and lead to the shut down of plants in the United Kingdom, in Germany, in France, in Benelux, in Scandinavia."

He also cites the recent controversy over the planned US missile defence shields to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic saying this is something that should be discussed in the European framework and not only in NATO, as it is a European interest.

Europe still lacks \"legitimacy\"

Institutional reform remains the key, according to Mr Fischer, with the bloc currently trying to restart treaty talks after the EU constitution was rejected in France and the Netherlands in 2005.

Reforming the EU's institutions would not only make further enlargement possible as well as give the bloc more flexibility in a globalised world, it would also help get Europe's citizens emotionally on board.

"In the old days, Europe was self-evidently in the shadow of the two great wars. The process of self-destruction, the partition of my country, of Berlin, and the continent, the confrontation of the two superpowers – East and West – on European soil, this all created a certain emotional and rational self-evidence for the European project and for the West."

At the moment, however, Europe is "just in between."

"It is strong enough, especially in economic terms…but it is not transparent enough, it is not legitimate enough that people understand the importance of the European project."

People are not interested in institutional reform, he says, but they well know how to tell a "lousy" result from an "excellent" result.

Reform will create efficiency which in turn creates "legitimacy," he says adding "as long as Europe is a weak factor in security, people will understand that it is not relevant."

Goodnight Europe?

Once known for his visionary and federalist view of the European Union – a speech in 2000 on the creation of a European federation caused political waves throughout the bloc – he now says he does not have a "best case" scenario for Europe but a "realistic" vision.

In this realistic scenario, member states pool their sovereignty in "certain important points" while also "playing a dominant role in the framework of this European Union."

Although he is "not too pessimistic" about the future of Europe – he does not see it breaking into a core Europe of just a few integration-minded member states - Mr Fischer does have a worst case scenario.

In this situation, the bloc would not have carried out internal reform by mid 2009 – the ambitious date set by the current EU presidency, Germany - and would then not have the political strength to agree its next long term budget three years later.

He sums it up so: "The alternative will be that a re-nationalisation [of powers] will weaken Europe and we will be the playing ground for superpowers in the 21st century - this means goodnight Europe."

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