University Post
University of Copenhagen
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One Mr. Europe not a good idea

Europe should give up attempts to have one foreign policy, says US scholar Joseph Weiler

Who should I call, when I want to call the EU?

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger never actually said this. Nevertheless it is quoted at every second EU-related seminar bolstering arguments for an integration of European foreign policy.

But having one Mr. Europe to pick up the phone when the likes of Obama, Hu or Lula calls may not actually be such a good thing.

This is according to Joseph Weiler, a US legal and political scholar, who packed the Ceremonial Hall at the University of Copenhagen on 10 May for his lecture on ‘Europe beyond Europe? From ever closer union to aspiring world power?’.

Note the question marks.

Three presidents

According to Joseph Weiler, Europe has over the last few years only played a minor role in global foreign policy.

While a new constitution could have given the answer to Henry Kissinger’s apocryphal question, »instead we now have three presidents, Barroso, the president of the European Commission, the High Representative Catherine Ashton, and the country’s leader that happens to hold the rotating presidency. So we are forced to ask the same question again,« he says. Who should I call for Europe?

Added to this constitution debacle was the recent COP15 climate summit. For Europe, it was »a humiliation,« says Weiler.

See article Off the cuff with law professor here.

Why a common foreign policy?

Those in favour of Europe’s world power status say that Europe represents a unique voice between superpowers. This given, the world would be a better place if Europe had a single foreign policy. Add to this argument that a single foreign policy is the best protection of Europe’s own interests – never mind the world’s.

Recent reforms of the EU treaty with new European foreign policy representatives and a European diplomatic service move in this direction.

But what if these attempts to forge a common European foreign policy are not a good thing after all?, asks Weiler.

»Is speaking with one voice the ideal type for a good foreign policy? I question this. In a deep sense, Europe loses something important when it speaks with one voice,« he says.

Lowest common denominator

»Take the Middle East, Europe has a foreign policy richness that derives from its history. Britain has a special relationship with one country, France a special relationship with another. This can be cleverly manipulated. In this way it is better to sing as a choir that maximises the potential of different voices,« he says.

Formulating one foreign policy tends to reduce policy to the lowest common denominator. One choir in unison drown out the strong and independent tenors of Denmark and Slovenia.

»It becomes a donkey, but not a horse« as Weiler puts it.

No military is alibi

And the lowest common denominator has had disastrous implications in recent history. For example, the decision to use force to stop the genocide in the former Yugoslavia was taken in Dayton, Ohio while Europe quibbled, finally agreeing to a smaller military presence next to the US.

A low military presence has its own self-perpetuating logic.

»In one way the EU not having a military force, gives a license to member states to also not have military force. It becomes an alibi for disclaiming responsibility«, Weiler says.

Shaking the fixed idea

Joseph Weiler’s defence of the many foreign policy voices provokes a response from Marlene Wind, professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Political Science.

»You cherish the unsettled balance and the many voices. But isn’t this a bit academic? Politicians want a mandate to act. Is that really all we can do today? If Europe has the values worth defending are we not obliged to get our act together?« she asked from the floor.

»I am an academic not a policy maker, and academics should shake up the idée fixe. All I can do is give a context in which to set policy. Is this contradictory?« he responds.

Freedom from religion

Although upholding its many individual foreign policies, Europe can and should fight for ideas, values and fundamentals, such as the rule of law in international relations, Joseph Weiler argues.

In the break, the University Post asks him to specify further which values are European, which values are worth fighting for.

He points to religious pluralism, and the way most of Europe, maybe with the exception of France and its strict secularity, allow religious expression in public.

»At every level Europe is tolerant of ways of engaging in religion in public space, while at the same time providing a freedom from religion for those that choose it.«

Should the secular, but also Muslim, Turkey be welcomed inside the EU?

»In this sense Turkey is an example of the separation of state and religion, and this would if anything contribute to upholding the secular side in Europe,« he says.