Tuesday, January 28, 2003
France and Britain are to blame - 28th January 2003, 21.06

Here is a column from Olli Kivinen in Helsingen Sanomat that takes a radically different view of the current developments in the European Convention. Instead of viewing the Franco-German motor as a renewed vehicle for integration, he argues that Britain and France remain distinctive and similar powers in their approach to and demands from the European Union. he points out the contradictions of France and britain supoorting a strong European President or a common security policy when their own actions are unilateral and designed to undermine any community approach. Kivinen's answer lies in history and motivation:

France is concerned about the growth of German influence, resulting from the size of the country's economy and the enlargement of the EU. Britain, for its part, is hopelessly trying to hang on to the core of the EU, which is very difficult, because public opinion will not let the country join the common currency.

France and Britain are in different positions from the other EU countries. As victors of the Second World War they are members of the UN Security Council. Both have nuclear weapons, and they are also connected by a common past; both used to be large imperialist powers, who would at times fight over control of Europe, Africa, and even the whole world. It also left them with a willingness to act far away from home and to withstand defeat in any number of corners of the world.

Their magnificent pasts left both countries with the souls of a great power - something which is difficult to shake off. Both are exceptionally assured of the unique superiority of their respective societies and cultures, which creates in their national memories the historical obligation to be leaders of the EU: naturally each of them separately - certainly not both together. The will is there, but after the Cold War, the taxpayers of neither country have much enthusiasm to finance large standing armies.
The great-power soul also weighed heavily in the decision to enlarge the EU. Both countries see the European Union as a way to hold on to the remnants of their great power status. Politics is carried out on a dual level: working together when it suits them, or acting unilaterally whenever it suits them better.
In other words, the two countries engage in multi-centred activity within the EU when it is in their own interests. The other side of the coin is a willingness to act alone, with no regard for the partners, whenever self-interest requires. For instance, the common foreign and security policy of the EU is a good thing in certain situations in which it has instrumental value, but its structures must not be binding - after all, that might commit a country to sustained cooperation with other member states and EU bodies, which in turn would limit that country's freedom of action.

The downside is that increased integration lessens the freedom of action that each power enjoys and the current military weakness of the EU indicates that it cannot live up to the pretentions of these great powers. (Should we call second tier powers great powers now as opposed to the superpower?)


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