Looking at the European Union from an outside perspective—let’s say from Yale— leads almost inevitably to one question: When will they finally solve their economic crisis? Currently, the world has primarily one interest in the EU, and that is the recovery of the globe’s largest economy. This is understandable and certainly legitimate. Nevertheless, anyone who has a stake in Europe’s trajectory should look at the broader picture: The EU as a global player has no bright future without a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Freshly reelected German Chancellor Angela Merkel points out that Europe, while comprising 7 percent of the world population and 25 percent of global GDP, is responsible for roughly half of worldwide social spending. And if the Union wants to remain a shaper of world politics, it must balance spending with income and productivity. However, what the European crisis showed on a regional scale is that separating economics from politics simply does not work: a single type of currency for 17 different countries without fiscal and political coherence cannot succeed. Currently, the primary focus in the EU is on more fiscal integration, which is partly a step towards greater political integration. Nonetheless, ignoring the lack of common foreign policy stances now will severely harm Europe’s ability to be a stabilizing factor in the world, even after a hoped-for economic recovery.
During the last four years, the European agenda has been dominated by stabilizing the Union’s economy. Roughly a year after the onset of this ongoing debacle, another international crisis emerged: the Arab Spring. This kaleidoscope of revolutions and civil wars struck right on the doorstep of the EU. And to address such events, institutions like the CFSP and its major branch, the Common Security and Defence Policy, were established. Still, when it came to specific and crucial decisions about military engagement, countries could not find a common ground. Germany even abstained from the United Nations resolution authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya, while two days later the United States intervened alongside France and Britain. If the EU wants to play the role of an influential global power, then a basic prerequisite is a cohesive strategy for Europe’s immediate neighborhood.
But why should the US care about a geopolitically weak EU? A European attempt to substitute a real common foreign policy with economic stability would have two negative effects on the US. First, it would increase the uncertainty about possible future collaborations, meaning the US would have to reassess its relationships with several countries. As we’ve seen, even when a crisis like the Libyan civil war arises that pertains to both parties’ interests, only an ad-hoc coalition can form, leaving the vast responsibility to few powers. A second issue is the loss of EU capacity to address Middle Eastern security issues. If the compromise building process took place within the EU, then more countries would be driven to combine resources. Germany was able to abstain from voting on the UN’s resolution because committing to European unity in foreign affairs was not its primary objective: both upcoming elections and public opinion polls indicated no support for foreign intervention. The current shift in US foreign policy towards Asia and less direct intervention has a clear impact on responsibilities; the US will have to rely more on Europe to tackle problems within their sphere of influence. On the other hand, the EU (and Germany in particular) must accept that, for the immediate future, they can expect less direct assistance from the other side of the Atlantic.
Drawing an analogy from intra-European affairs to an international scale, it seems highly unlikely that the EU can expect to maintain worldwide influence without a coherent foreign policy. Economic prosperity always works in a specific political frame. Within Europe, the lack of agreement over political framing has led to an economic downturn that yet to be resolved. Internationally, the influence of the EU is not based on pure economic power either, but relies on sufficient political unity paired with the capacity and credibility to execute common strategies.
The EU and US have interests in other regions, and most of these interests are of an interconnected security-economic nature. Both recognize that their own prosperity and security also rely on economic and political stability around the world. A growing European Union is of vital interest to the US and its trade partners worldwide; all the same, it is not enough. The ability to act as one entity in international affairs is necessary to project stability. The Euro crisis must not be used as an excuse to put off political integration, but as a lesson in the importance of making the Common Foreign and Security Policy a reality.
Nils Metter (’17) is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.