Crossick: Europe should dust off its founding fathers’ ideals


There is a seat for Europe at the world talks table, but European leaders need to become more strategic and revisit the successful approach of the EU’s founding fathers, Stanley Crossick, the founding chairman of the European Policy Centre, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Stanley Crossick was speaking to EURACTIV Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener during an event to celebrate his 400th post on Blogactiv. 

The first decade of the millennium is ending with two unprecedented crises: climate change and the economy. Both of these have triggered calls for new models of governance. Is a new world order emerging?

I would say it created a new world disorder. And the question is can we now bring a new order in the world, taking into account the changed circumstances of the last 10-20 years.

To what extent will this new order be a multilateral order?

I don’t want to get into semantics about multipolarism or multilateralism. What is clear is that we are at the end of an era of hegemony. If we look at China, which is perhaps the most important of the growing powers, they would not be seeking a hegemonic role. That is not in their spirit, whether they talk about multipolarity or multilateralism. We are talking essentially about multilateralism. Everybody now accepts that no country, not even United States, can go at it alone. We have to work together.

Therefore, it would be multilateralism. The real difficulty, however, is whether the old powers are going to clean to their current representation and direction within international bodies, which is now completely out of keeping with today’s world.

In term of structures, we have heard about the G2, G20, G8+5… which do you think is the best structure?

The G2 is a figment of the imagination of American academics. It hasn’t been a policy brought forward by the Obama administration and Beijing has absolutely rejected it. It is not in Chinese thinking, because if you do G2 with America, you make enemies with others. That’s not its idea. So, forget G2 and forget G3.

It’s pretty obvious that the only real body around is G20. But if the G20 was the only ‘G body’, maybe this could be institutionalised and there should be a more effective structure of operating. But I can see G2 is the only possible vehicle. That doesn’t mean to say we don’t reform the United Nations, IMF or World Bank.

But in terms of political decision-making, there has to be the G20, because you would never get the Security Council in the wanted form, because again you have the problem of the veto. Because underneath all this, this is where the problem of true multilateralism arises: the issue of sovereignty.

Europe has got multilateralism by pooling sovereignty. There are two countries in the world, China and the US, who absolutely refuse. They find sovereignty as an absolute. In fact, this is somehow misguided because both are in the WTO, so they have pooled sovereignty. But there is something so fundamental partly due to history, partly due to their culture, so that we can’t get true multilateralism without pooling sovereignty. We will always get that block to overcome.

But both the US and China have changed tremendously in recent years. What will it take for them to pool sovereignty?

America hasn’t changed. The leadership of America has changed. But Obama is just as much a European exceptionalist as Bush is. Obama is a Clinton multilateralist, which means you do everything possible to involve others but you reserve the right to do it alone if you can’t get it agreed. That is not true multilateralism. There is no change in America.

China, there is no change in this absolute approach to sovereignty and interfering in domestic politics. No change at all. Both countries have changed in many ways, but not in this fundamental respect.

Where does the EU fit into all of this?

I’m afraid for the moment that the EU is sorely needed. If you travel around the world, you will find that China, India and other countries would like the EU to take the lead. The EU is nowhere, as we saw in Copenhagen. So the big question is, will the EU get its act together? There is a seat at the talks table for it, but will it be capable of occupying it?

Do you think the Lisbon Treaty can help?

Yes. The Lisbon Treaty puts the mechanisms in place to change this approach and to work towards a single voice, not necessarily a common voice. You can have a single voice which doesn’t mean you have to agree on every detail, but speak together.

Whether this would be achieved is not dependent on efficient mechanisms. It is dependent upon the will and the ego of the member-state leaders. With respect to the leaders – I would not name them – there is not a kind of bunch of leaders that give you much confidence, with certain exceptions. 

So, it’s all in place but I would go one step further and say that there is too much expected of Lisbon from day one. It gets five years to get the infrastructures in place, before we see whether this would be successful. The common commercial policy wasn’t built in five years, it took decades. For foreign policy it takes even longer. So we have to be patient. But whether we will overcome this, who knows? That’s the big question. The world needs it, not just Europe.

We don’t have five years, with the two crises weighing us down. We saw a very divided Europe in Copenhagen. In a way that’s why the EU didn’t show leadership, for example by going unilaterally to 30% emission reductions. To show the way don’t we have to get our act together? We don’t have five years to take the lead and speak with one voice.

On this issue, this is not question of Lisbon introducing new mechanisms to solve the problem. Forget Lisbon in terms of climate change, the fact is that we have failed to agree more seriously, and this is a fundamental criticism of Europe: that we do not think strategically.

Everything that the Chinese do is strategically thought through. So here was an opportunity is Copenhagen for the EU to take a strategic lead on climate change. We didn’t get our act together before we went there. We didn’t need Lisbon Treaty to do it for us.

But you are absolutely right, we don’t have five years on the climate change issue. There can’t be leadership in Washington because Obama is far too caught up in domestic affairs and can’t get serious legislation on climate change at this stage. China is doing its own thing and you can’t get serious cooperation with China unless someone is cooperating with it and agrees with something that China also wants. There is the EU, which the world is waiting for.

You are talking about the EU getting more strategic. As you know, the EU is rethinking its 10-year strategy, the so-called ‘EU 2020’ strategy. Do you think it will be more successful than the Lisbon strategy has been in the past 10 years?

The problem is that Lisbon was not strategic. It threw everything in, so we could all agree with different parts. The problem is: there are the priorities and the mechanisms to achieve them. That was a failure. It’s now being replaced by 2020 and by about 2019 we will be introducing 2030. Until we are prepared to agree an overall strategy and put the instruments in place, we are just a talk shop.

What should Europe do to become more than a talk shop? What’s your vision?

Being strategic is a matter of mental approach to things. Certainly we can be more strategic. The serious difficulty is that strategy doesn’t normally come from the people in government. It comes from the people who are going to be in government, it comes from think-tanks and the academic community.

If we look at the United States, that’s where the strategy comes from. The Bush strategy – disastrous as it was – came from the neo-con think-tanks. In Europe there is no such underpinning of the political process. By this kind of thinking, there is no strategic thinking at any level. In China, not only are they naturally strategic at the top, but they have very strong think-tanks and academic institutions, which are strategically part of the government in general.

This is something we can certainly do. It has not been our character so far but it is absolutely central. My final comment is, please, if we look at where Europe came from, what we achieved, what problems we had than, today’s problems are fundamentally similar in many respects. We showed how we can overcome problems. If you work together multilaterally, you pool sovereignty and you go for a win-win and not for a zero-sum game.

Our approach, the old approach of the founding fathers, is the approach that should be in the current Europe, and it’s how you create a new world order. We have lost the original approach.

So let’s return to why Europe was a success in the first place, and bring that back. If you talk to the Chinese, they are immensely impressed about what we have achieved, they are immensely impressed by how Germany and France are close together, when they are still struggling with Japan. So, it’s there for everyone to see, but we seem to have forgotten about it ourselves. 

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