The European Union and September 11th
Parts of this essay are based on an article in “Superterrorism: policy responses”, edited by Lawrence Freedman and published by Blackwells in September 2002.
In the months after the attacks of September 11th, there were signs that some kind of ‘new world order’ might be emerging. The US worked hard to build an international coalition against terrorism, and the Europeans were not their only partners. Many countries joined the alliance, including Russia, moderate Arab regimes and, to some extent, China. When the Centre for European Reform published Europe after September 11th, a set of essays, in early December 2001, the optimistic tone of that book seemed justified. The world’s leading powers were working together to fight terrorism and they supported the US-led effort to overthrow the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
One year after September 11th, however, much of the optimism of those early months has evaporated. Most of the Arab world, never strongly committed to the anti-Taleban coalition, is far more hostile to the West than it was before September 11th. And throughout 2002, while the Bush administration has lurched towards unilateralism and shifted its focus from terrorism to Iraq, the Europeans have become increasingly hostile to American foreign policy. That hostility has done nothing to restrain the enthusiasm of the hawkish faction in Washington, which treats the Europeans’ preference for international agreements over action, their meagre military capabilities and their institutional incoherence with contempt. During the first half of this year the state of transatlantic relations shifted from being unusually co-operative to extraordinarily stormy.
Not all the gains of last autumn have been lost, to be sure. President Vladimir Putin’s Russia still seems fixed on a policy of becoming a more western country. And the Europeans remain behind the US in its war against terrorism – after all, they know that they could be the next victims of an al-Qaeda attack. Furthermore, the attacks of September 11th and the consequent need to fight terrorism more effectively have speeded up the pace of European integration in several crucial areas of policy.
This essay examines the impact of September 11th on the European Union. As a general rule, international crises embarrass the EU. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the EU was largely an irrelevance: various member-states pursued solo diplomatic initiatives and then only Britain and France provided troops to fight alongside the Americans. And during the collapse of Yugoslavia, which happened shortly afterwards, the EU tried and failed to prevent the outbreak of war.
The EU’s response to September 11th, however, was more impressive. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, and during the autumn’s war in Afghanistan, the EU’s 15 member-states were united among themselves and in support for the US. The Europeans offered a great deal of help to the US-led campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taleban, including diplomatic and military support, the sharing of intelligence and new initiatives to help track down terrorists and their funding. It would be premature to say that, in the decade since the Kuwait and Yugoslav crises, the EU has come of age as an international actor. But it has certainly grown in maturity.
A year after September 11th, the war against terrorism seems to have had little effect on much of the EU’s business and many of its priorities. The Union is proceeding with the admission of ten Central European and Mediterranean countries, which – so long as an Irish referendum approves the Nice treaty – are likely to join in 2004. It has established a Convention to prepare the ground for another round of institutional reform that is due in 2004. The EU is trying to refine a system for co-ordinating the budgetary policies of its member-states, and to make it mesh with the monetary policy of the European Central Bank. And it is struggling to implement the ambitious plans for economic reform that were sketched out in Lisbon in 2000, when EU leaders pledged to make the Union the “most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010”.
However, September 11th has affected the Union’s embryonic common foreign and defence policies, where its ambitions have been growing. In December 1998 the British and French governments launched a plan for a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The Union has since committed itself to a ‘headline goal’, a force of 60,000 soldiers that is supposed to be available for peacekeeping missions by 2003. And since September 1999 the EU has had a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), in the person of Javier Solana. Prior to September 11th he had begun to give the EU a more visible presence in international diplomacy, for example by stitching together – with the help of NATO secretarygeneral George Robertson – a peace plan for Macedonia in the summer of 2001.
Events since September 11th have influenced the debate over the future of the EU’s institutions, which has become more focused on the way the Union makes foreign and security policy. But, perhaps surprisingly, the Union’s plans for the ESDP have changed very little. In fact the policy area most directly affected by September 11th has been police and judicial co-operation, where the member-states have agreed to give the EU a bigger role.
In the months after al-Qaeda struck the US, the EU’s ability to maintain a generally united front was impressive. However, by the summer of 2002, policy shifts in the US and events in the Middle East were placing increasing strains on European unity. America’s propensity to act ‘unilaterally’, outside the framework of international treaties and organisations, plus what appeared to be a growing desire to wage war on Iraq, caused dismay in much of Europe. At the same time the rising death toll in the Israel-Palestine conflict produced very different responses from public opinion on the two sides of the Atlantic, further threatening the unity of the alliance against terrorism.
Europe, the soft power
The EU is poorly designed to deal with large-scale, intense military conflicts. Such armed forces as it can call upon are controlled by national governments rather than EU institutions. The nature of the EU’s decision-making machinery means that it will never be able to deploy force as quickly as a nation-state. Some of the EU’s members, like Britain and France, have the capability to fight serious shooting wars, but the EU itself has no such ambition. Even if it succeeds in meeting its targets for the headline goal, the ESDP will merely be able to carry out peacekeeping missions. The EU as such would not be able to contribute very much to a high-intensity conflict such as that in Afghanistan last autumn, or what may be the coming war against Saddam Hussein.
However, some of the current security challenges in places such as Afghanistan highlight the EU’s strengths as much as its weaknesses. For the EU comes into its own when softer forms of power are required. ‘Soft power’ can be defined as the ability to influence events through means other than military force. The EU can use economic assistance, humanitarian aid and trade agreements as tools to help meet its political objectives. The EU can also enhance its soft power through legislation, for example laws that enable it to clamp down on terrorist funding; or through diplomacy, for example by working to strengthen the international alliance against terrorism.
In the months after September 11th , many European leaders – with Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder, Jack Straw and Joschka Fischer among the most active – spent much of their time in the Middle East and South Asia, building support for the U S-led coalition. And during the Bonn peace conference in December, under United Nations auspices and hosted by the German government, European and US officials worked together to persuade the many participants to sign the agreement on the future of Afghanistan.
The EU and its member-states are the world’s biggest providers of development aid, contributing 65 per cent of grant aid to poorer countries. They pay for about 80 per cent of the economic assistance that goes into reconstructing Bosnia and Kosovo, and they may end up the largest donors to Afghanistan. In 2001 the EU gave Afghanistan T352 million of food and humanitarian aid, of which T103 million came from the Commission and the rest from the member-states. At a donors conference in Tokyo in January 2002, the EU and its member-states pledged a further T600m for this year. The money is being spent on projects such as the destruction of opium crops and mine clearance, as well as the salaries of the Karzai administration. From this year until 2006 the EU has set aside T1 billion for Afghanistan.
The EU has used trade as well as aid to promote objectives such as the shoring up of the anti-terrorist front. Thus in December it combined T100 million of extra aid for Pakistan with a new package of trade measures, to reward the Musharaf government for its help in the fight against the Taleban. The EU has removed all tariffs on clothes imported from Pakistan, and increased quotas for textiles and clothing by 15 per cent.
Last November, in an effort to bring the Iranians closer to the international coalition, the Commission proposed the negotiation of a new trade and co-operation agreement with Iran. In June this year EU foreign ministers approved the opening of talks with Iran. The EU has set down clear criteria for progress in these talks: Iran must be willing to discuss issues such as human rights, judicial reform, the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
This putative agreement with Iran shows that EU support for the US-led coalition does not prevent it, occasionally, from pursuing policies which differ from those of the US. President George Bush says that Iran is part of an “axis of evil” and bans American companies from investing there. The Europeans believe that engagement with Iran is more likely to benefit its reformists – and, of course, the interests of European oil companies.
The EU has taken many steps towards tracking down and freezing terrorist funds. All the member-states have undertaken to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. The EU’s members and the Commission have also played an active role in the Financial Action Task Force, the international body which tackles money laundering. Meeting in Washington DC in October 2001, the task force produced eight recommendations on how to deal with the financing of terrorism, for example on the reporting of suspicious transactions.
And in November the EU revised an existing directive on money laundering, to extend the obligation to notify suspicious transactions beyond banks to other groups such as lawyers and accountants (the US still has to pass equivalent legislation). The revised directive also widened the definition of laundering to include the proceeds of all serious crime and terrorism. In December the EU approved a new regulation that makes it easier for governments to freeze terrorist funds and to prevent the provision of funds to terrorists. There is some evidence that all this increased scrutiny is disrupting terrorist networks.
The EU governments have agreed on several lists of terrorist groups to which the regulation on terrorist funds, and other similar laws, will apply. These lists cover not only al-Qaeda and related organisations but also European groups such as the Real IRA, ETA and the Kurdish PKK. By April the EU had frozen over T100 million of assets belonging to named organisa tions or individuals. The EU has drawn up these lists in co-operation with the US, which has undertaken to freeze the assets of a similar list of terrorist groups.
However, the US brands Hamas and Hizbollah, whose members have launched attacks on Israel, as terrorist groups. The EU argues that parts of those two organisations are legitimate; it has therefore blacklisted individuals within those groups, and their terrorist wings, rather than the organisations themselves. There are several other Palestinian groups, such as the al-Aqsa martyrs brigade, on the EU list. Despite such transatlantic differences, the general tenor of co-operation between European and American governments in the fight against terrorism has been positive.
Big against small
For several years there has been a growing tension in the EU between smaller and larger countries. The bitter argument at the Nice summit in December 2000 over voting weights was just one manifestation. Since September 11th, with the British, the French and the Germans leading the EU’s response, the big-small divide has worsened. The EU’s ‘big three’ twice decided to meet as a group. First President Chirac, Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Schröder held a brief mini-summit before the official summit in Ghent on October 20th 2001. Then Blair convened a dinner in Downing Street on November 4th, with invitations going initially only to Chirac and Schröder, but ultimately – following much complaining – to the Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Belgian prime ministers (the last representing the EU presidency), plus Javier Solana.
As far as the leaders of the big three were concerned, it was self-evident that when there was a war on and military questions needed to be discussed, they should be able to meet together, without the presence of EU institutions. Neither the European Commission nor the Belgian presidency had great diplomatic or military capacity. Britain, France, Germany and perhaps Italy were the only EU states whose forces could make a fairly significant contribution to a military campaign in Afghanistan.
But the large countries handled these mini-summits insensitively. They failed to reassure the smaller member-states that they were not trying to establish a de facto Directoire to manage the Union’s foreign and security policy. The small countries argued that the big three pow-wows had in fact talked about matters of EU competence, such as humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, and therefore that EU institutions should have been represented.
The small member-states also made the more general complaint that by acting alone, particularly in dealings with the US, the big countries had undermined EU institutions. In the months after September 11th, Blair, Schröder and Chirac went separately to Washington. Each was happy to win some glory for his country in standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the US. They did talk to each other before their visits, to concert their arguments, but none of them made much of an effort to speak for the EU when in Washington.
However, the leaders of these large countries had a strong defence of their solo diplomacy: Bush and his team wanted to see them personally, since they represented real diplomatic and military clout. In December, when the Laeken European Council decided to send the Belgian prime minister to Washington, to represent the EU presidency, the results were embarrassing: senior figures in the administration did not find the time to talk to him.
Blair’s personal diplomacy, in particular, made a big impact in the US, where the UK became extremely popular. In Europe, the dynamism and self-confidence of Blair’s performance was more controversial. Some on the left regarded him as a war-monger. And some of the less Atlanticist politicians argued that his strongly pro-American line was by definition anti-European. Louis Michel, the Belgian foreign minister and a Socialist, accused him of “grand-standing” and of using “bellicose” language.
Blair would have ruffled fewer feathers in Europe if, when in Washington, he had talked more often about the EU’s as opposed to Britain’s role in the crisis. In his speeches in the US Blair missed an opportunity to get a message to American public opinion that the Europeans were being helpful and supportive to the US-led coalition (most Americans had no idea that, in the spring of 2002, there were roughly as many European troops as US troops in Afghanistan).
Blair may have sometimes got the tone wrong, but the substance of Britain’s diplomacy – like that of the French and the Germans – was generally to promote the European interest. In the autumn of 2001, for example, he counseled caution on Iraq, and he urged the US to take Palestinian aspirations seriously. On both subjects he may have had some influence. In late September and early October, when some voices in Washington were calling for strikes against Iraq, Bush demurred. And in November the president issued a clear call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Therefore when the leaders of the larger countries presented European views or sensibilities during their trips to the US, they probably strengthened the Union’s external policy.
By the spring of 2002, European criticism of Blair was growing. The tenor of his remarks on Iraq appeared to follow Bush’s aggressive line, rather than the general European view that an invasion would be unwise. In May Romano Prodi, the Commission president, attacked Blair in a speech in Oxford, arguing that if the British believed being pro-American increased their clout in Europe, they were wrong. An early version of the speech compared the American-British relationship to a penny-farthing bicycle, with the UK being the small wheel at the back that follows.
One of the Commission’s roles in the EU is to act as the friend and protector of the smaller member-states. It has therefore always opposed solo diplomacy by the big member-states. In May 2002, when Blair and Chirac came out in favour of a new “European president”, a figure to be appointed by the heads of government who would chair the European Council and represent Europe at the highest level, the Commission was upset. The Commission saw the proposal – probably rightly – as an attempt to diminish the role of the Commission president. Many small countries opposed the idea. However, the plan for a European president has gathered momentum among the large countries, Germany excepted. The main argument for such a post is that September 11th and its aftermath highlighted the inability of the EU’s existing institutions to represent it effectively.
One positive consequence of September 11th is that the EU is likely to reform the institutions of the CFSP. The EU’s ‘rotating presidency’ – the system whereby a different member takes over the chairmanship every six months – will probably be scrapped. Until recently the rotating presidency looked likely to survive. When the Nice summit of December 2000 set down four institutional priorities for the treaty revision due in 2004, it did not include the presidency in particular or the EU’s machinery for making foreign policy in general. But both are now rising to the top of the EU’s institutional agenda.
Countries outside the EU have long complained about the rotating presidency. They are fed up with having to adjust every six months to a new set of people and priorities. The EU had never been very concerned about the complaints of Russians, Americans and others. But this changed after September 11th: the EU’s institutions were evidently ill-suited to responding quickly or representing the Union forcefully to the rest of the world. As the holder of the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2001, Belgium had the responsibility for managing the EU’s reactions to September 11th. Being a small country without a huge dipl omatic or military clout, Belgium lacked the credibility or resources to perform that task well.
Not taking the Belgian presidency seriously, the US did not bother to inform the Belgians of its plans. Thus on October 7th, when the US was about to start bombing Afghanistan, Secretary of State Colin Powell called Solana to warn him in advance – but not the Belgian government.
The imminent enlargement of the EU is in any case strengthening the case for reforming the presidency system: the ten countries likely to join in 2004 are all, bar Poland, small countries. It is true that some smaller member-states have run efficient presidencies, particularly with regard to the EU’s domestic agenda. But the EU’s diplomatic weight would evidently suffer if countries such as Slovenia, Malta and Latvia took turns to represent Europe to the rest of the world.
Traditionally, the smaller countries have been reluctant to give up their turn at the presidency: they like their six months in the spotlight, and they fear that whatever replaced the presidency would increase the power of the big countries at their expense. However since September 11th the mood has shifted in many capitals. Small countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland and Sweden have accepted the case for reform. The rotating presidency is likely to go, at least in the domain of external representation. The High Representative and the Council of Ministers secretariat will probably take over some of the presidency’s external tasks.
One way or another, the role of Solana and his successors will probably be enhanced. And there will be pressure for the two sides of EU foreign policy – diplomacy under Solana and economic assistance under Chris Patten, the commissioner for external relations – to become more closely integrated. There is widespread recognition that, because these two sides are managed separately, Europe’s voice is weaker than it need be. In the Middle East, for example, the EU is the biggest provider of aid to the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s major trading partner. But it has never used that economic position to extract much political leverage.
Whatever the reforms that emerge from the Convention and the subsequent treaty revision, Europe is always going to be predominantly a soft power. One of the many challenges for European foreign policy is to find ways of working closely with the US, a country which displays the opposite bias. Under the leadership of George W Bush, in particular, the US is more comfortable thinking about and exercising the hard sort of power. Optimists will argue that these two sorts of power are complementary. The picture in Afghanistan in the first half of this year – with US forces hunting for terrorists in caves, and Europeans keeping the peace on the streets of Kabul – suggests that in some ways, at least, the EU and the US need each other.
On September 12th 2001 NATO invoked Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, thereby enabling the US to call on the Europeans for whatever military help it saw fit. President Bush and his advisers were genuinely touched by this expression of European solidarity. Subsequently many European countries offered military assistance to the US during the war in Afghanistan. Some of those offers were taken up, and not only from the British. Thus French bombers and German mountain troops played useful roles.
However, the US did not avail itself of most of the European offers of military assistance. There were two reasons. One was that the Europeans had few of the high-tech military capabilities would have been useful to the US in the fight against the Taleban and al-Qaeda – for example sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite-guided munitions or the ability to mount combat search and rescue missions. The one European capability that the Pentagon was keen to make use of was special forces, and it took up offers of these from several European countries.
The second reason was that the people in charge of the Pentagon were unsympathetic to the idea of working with NATO’s organisation or EU countries. The experience of the Kosovo air campaign in 1999, when NATO committees rather than US generals took some decisions on targeting, had left a bad impression on the US military. The Pentagon thought – probably rightly – that in military terms it would be easier and more efficient to run the war through US chains of command, slotting in officers from close allies when necessary.
Al-Qaeda struck New York and Washington when the EU’s plans to develop a military role were only half way to implementation. It is a cliché of history that countries or alliances prepare to fight the last war they were involved in. The rationale of the ESDP was to give Europe the means to cope with the challenges it faced in the Balkans during the 1990s.
Most of the ESDP’s institutional arrangements had been sorted out before September 11th. The Western European Union, a military alliance of ten EU members, had been folded into the EU. The EU has the legal competence to run its own military operations – either ‘autonomous’ missions that would not draw on NATO assets, except for the military planners at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium; or missions that would make use of NATO and American assets. The EU has created a military staff to carry out strategic planning; a military committee consisting of senior officers from the member-states, to advise ministers; and a Political and Security Committee of national diplomats, to coordinate foreign and security policy, and to manage crises. All these bodies are situated in the Council of Ministers in Brussels, and come under the aegis of Solana.
But the ESDP is about more than institutions. It is also an attempt to boost Europe’s military capabilities. The Helsinki summit of December 1999, in addition to setting the headline goal for a 60,000-strong deployable force, committed the EU to achieving “collective capability goals in the fields of command and control, intelligence and strategic transport.” The summit also defined “non-military headline goals” for crisis management, such as the deployment of civilian police to a trouble-zone, the training of local administrators and the provision of judges.
Subsequently the EU has created an institutional process for building capabilities. There have been two capabilities-pledging conferences in Brussels, the last in October 2001. Having compiled a list of 144 capability gaps, the defence ministers claimed at the end of 2001 that they had filled 104 of them. They have now set up 17 panels of experts – with one member-state responsible for leading each panel – to work on plugging the remaining 40 gaps.
Cynical Americans will remark that this process has done more to generate paper than real shooting power. Certainly there have been no dramatic improvements in capabilities. In general terms, the ESDP is probably not evolving very differently to how it would have developed if September 11th had never happened. The objectives remain the so-called ‘Petersberg tasks’, defined in the Amsterdam treaty of 1997 as “humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making”.
Have the Europeans been foolish to persevere with their plans for the headline goal, given that the capabilities it has defined would not be of much direct use in the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban? After all, the Afghan war was very different to the kind of operations the Europeans have grown used to in the Balkans. One lesson of that war is that special forces may be crucially important in a military campaign, yet the headline goal says nothing about them. Several governments, including Britain’s, are thinking seriously about expanding the numbers of such forces. There may be a case for some modest co-ordination at EU level, so that the special forces of different countries can learn to work together.
That said, the EU was probably wise to leave the basic design of the ESDP in place. Many of the capabilities that the Europeans are trying to develop for the headline goal – such as transport planes, lightly-armoured mobile troops and better communication systems – are highly relevant to a situation such as that in Afghanistan. For example such capabilities would make it easier for the Europeans to provide effective peacekeeping forces in a place like Kabul, or indeed Baghdad. In any case, other challenges that the Europeans have had to face in recent years, such as Sierra Leone, the Great Lakes of Africa and of course the Balkans, remain problematic. The military capabilities they are trying to develop would be useful in such places.
The Europeans’ armies are experienced at peacekeeping, a task which they usually perform well. About 80 percent of the peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo are from EU countries. The International Security Assistance Force that is maintaining order in Kabul is almost entirely European. Like the NATO force in Macedonia, it contains no American soldiers. The US does not, as a rule, like to commit troops to peacekeeping.
There are other reasons why the EU has not shifted the goals of the ESDP. For one thing, the Petersberg tasks are very flexible. One of them, ‘peacemaking’, could be interpreted to cover EU involvement in a serious military conflict. For another, most EU governments suppose that if they had to commit forces for high-intensity warfare, either NATO would run the show or they would work directly with the US. It is not self-evident that the EU as such would need to be involved. And finally, some of the EU’s non-aligned members would not want the Petersberg tasks to be rewritten in a way that implied the EU was committed to fighting wars.
September 11th has, unfortunately, made little impact on the ESDP’s biggest institutional problem: a dispute between Greece and Turkey over the EU’s links to NATO. Turkey, in NATO but with little prospect of joining the EU, fears that an EU force could – under the influence of Greece and Cyprus – operate against its interests. So for a year, starting in December 2000, Turkey vetoed agreements which would give the EU assured access to NATO military planning, and presumed access to other NATO assets. Finally, at the end of 2001, with the help of some American diplomacy, and written assurances to the Turks, the Ankara government signed up to the NATO-EU agreements.
But then the Greeks refused to accept those agreements, complaining that Turkey had been given too much influence over EU defence policy. Greece fears that Turkey may be able to prevent the ESDP being used to promote Greek interests. Unless Greece lifts its veto on EU access to NATO assets, the EU will in practice find it very difficult to run a peacekeeping mission anywhere. In one respect September 11th is likely to have a positive effect on the ESDP. Since the US became involved in Afghanistan it has emphasised that the Balkans are less of a priority. The Bush administration expects the EU to take on more responsibility for the security of the Balkans. Even before September 11th, the US was thinking of scaling down its troop numbers in Bosnia and Kosovo, and it has done so this year. The Pentagon has encouraged the EU to take over responsibility for the NATO force in Macedonia, and may soon be urging it to do the same in Bosnia. The EU has already agreed to take over the policing of Bosnia from the UN, starting in January 2003. There is a growing realisation among European governments that the Balkans is their responsibility. In the long run this is likely to reinforce their efforts to prepare units of soldiers – and other essential groups such as police and judges – that can be deployed there.
In the short run, however, the Greece-Turkey problem is preventing the EU from expanding its role in the Balkans. Meeting in Seville in June 2002, EU leaders reaffirmed the view they had stated at their previous two summits, that the EU should take over the Macedonia mission. But they made it clear that the problem of EU access to NATO assets needed to be sorted out first. At the time of writing there is little sign of the Greek position softening.
September 11th does not seem to have had much effect on European defence budgets. The long-term decline in those budgets had bottomed out before the al-Qaeda attacks. Britain, Italy, Netherlands and Spain had increased defence spending in real terms in 2001, partly because of their commitment to the ESDP, while France had found more money for procurement. Germany, however, was continuing to cut its budget.
Germany’s budgetary squeeze has threatened the Europeans’ plans to build a new military transport plane, the A400M, which would greatly improve their ability to dispatch forces to a place such as Afghanistan (though by summer 2002 it seemed more likely than not that the plane would be built). Budgets had declined over many years because people felt safe. Politicians did not think that they would win votes by campaigning for more weapons, against schools and hospitals. Since September 11th, one might suppose that people would worry more about their security, and that politicians could more easily make the case for better armed forces.
Not many of the political leaders campaigning in this year’s many European elections have demanded more defence spending, but two that have done so are Jacques Chirac in France and Edmund Stoiber in Germany. Meanwhile Britain’s three-year spending review, completed in July 2002, has increased the defence budget in real terms by £3 billion in the period to 2006. But minor adjustments in Britain, France and Germany count for very little compared with the enormous growth in the US defence budget, which is rising from $280 billion in 1999 to something close to $400 billion by 2003. The inability of the Europeans to sort out the Greece-Turkey problem in the ESDP or boost defence budgets has led to understandable frustrations in the US. Seen from Washington, Europe does not seem to be ‘serious’ about defence. But on the capabilities front the story is not all gloomy.
The real problem in Europe has been more the mis-spending of defence budgets than their size. Too many European armies are still focused on the Cold War objective of territorial defence, rather than on what is now required, namely the ability to deploy soldiers rapidly and sustain them in a distant place. But military reform is proceeding in many EU countries. This year, France has completed the transition to an all-professional army that will be more mobile than any conscript force could be. Italy and Spain are following France in abandoning conscription. Germany – while exasperating its partners with the slow pace of military reform – is restructuring its armed forces to cut the numbers of conscripts and increase the numbers available for service outside the NATO area. There are now more than 8,000 German soldiers peacekeeping in various parts of the world, compared with none ten years ago.
In the short run the EU governments are not going to redesign their ESDP. In the long run, however, they may reassess their military ambitions. They understand that the wider the gap between US and European capabilities, the less the Americans will listen to European views on military matters. The US is starting to put pressure on some European governments to develop the capabilities that are required for high-intensity warfare.
In the spring of this year, President Bush’s National Security Council started to work on the idea that Europe should build its own ‘strike force’ – a standing force that would be available to the EU or NATO and fight beside US troops in a place such as Afghanistan. Such a force would consist of aircraft and ships and possibly – though more controversially – of elite troops. NATO would act as a kind of ‘portal’ through which American commanders could call upon packages of European capability. The idea is that these commanders would be more willing to call upon European assistance if it was packaged by NATO. Such an initiative would require more money in European defence budgets. But it is not inconceivable that, in the long run, the EU may be able to deploy not only the peacekeeping capability of the headline goal, but also some sort of strike force.
Police and judicial co-operation
The biggest impact of September 11th on the European Union has been in the field of police and judicial cooperation. The EU’s justice and interior ministers have approved a raft of anti-terrorist measures which would otherwise have taken many years to pass. Arguably, only one of the measures agreed in the autumn of 2001 – on the reinforcement of airport security – was a direct response to September 11th; the others were already in the pipeline. But the al-Qaeda attacks revived the EU’s efforts to press ahead with the ambitious agenda for justice and home affairs co-operation that had been set at Tampere in Finland in October 1999.
In December 2001 the EU agreed on a common definition of acts of terrorism. Most member-states did not have a specific law outlawing terrorism, which meant that they could not easily prosecute people for incitement to terrorist violence, raising funds for terrorists or membership of a terrorist group. In several EU countries terrorists could not be caught and prosecuted until they had committed murder or damaged property.
The common definition – once transposed into national law by member-states – will make it easier for governments to deal with terrorists. In April 2002 justice ministers agreed on a common range of penalties for terrorist and criminal offences, so that no one country is seen as a ‘soft touch’. At the Laeken summit in December 2001, EU governments were able to agree – once Silvio Berlusconi had dropped his objections – to a common arrest warrant. This is a crucial innovation for the EU: it requires the member-states to rely upon each others’ judicial systems. This principal had been agreed, in theory, at the Tampere European Council. In practice, however, the mutual suspicion of national authorities ensured that little progress was made.
The warrant will apply to serious organised crimes as well as to terrorist offences and will replace extradition procedures between member-states. These procedures have shown themselves ill-suited to dealing with terrorists over the years. For example, French and Belgian courts refused to surrender Basque suspects to Spain, while France was unable to extradite Rachid Ramda, wanted for bombing the Paris metro, from Britain.
When the new system is up and running, the judicial authorities in any EU country will have to surrender a suspect to another EU jurisdiction on the basis of a single warrant. Judges in the state surrendering the suspect will be able to question the procedure used by the requesting judge, but not the substance of the charge in the warrant. Since the EU warrants will apply not only to terrorist of fences but also to most serious crimes, many criminals who have fled to another EU country to escape prosecution will have to leave the EU or hide.
Not only judicial, but also police co-operation has received a boost since September 11th. Europol, the European police office, has to rely on national police forces for both information and to arrest suspects. However, the EU has endowed Europol with enhanced powers since September 11th, notably the right to demand information instantly from national forces, and to co-ordinate arrests by them. A special anti-terrorist team has been created within Europol, to encourage exchanges of information among the various national authorities. The European Council has also given Europol a specific mandate to work with its US counterparts on counter-terrorism. Europol is supposed to become the central body for exchanges of information across the Atlantic. However, co-operation with the US has run into difficulties. Some American agencies have not been impressed by Europol and prefer to work through their traditional bilateral arrangements with the EU member-states.
Existing arrangements for extradition between the EU and the US vary greatly among the member-states. Some arrangements work smoothly and some do not. Furthermore, while most EU countries have bilateral agreements with the US that cover co-operation against crime, including exchanges of information, some, including Germany, Denmark, Finland and Portugal, do not.
So in April 2002 EU justice ministers gave the go-ahead for the negotiation of a new agreement with the US to cover extradition and other sorts of judicial co-operation. This is unlikely to be agreed any time soon. For the EU is demanding that those extradited to the US do not face trial by special tribunals, life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Europeans will be uncompromising on the death penalty: the European Convention of Human Rights prevents extradition to countries which may apply it. The US will be unwilling to offer blanket guarantees, but is probably willing to be flexible on a case-by-case basis.
The impact of September 11th on the EU’s developing policies on asylum, immigration and visas has been less striking than on police and judicial co-operation. Nevertheless heightened worries about terrorism have contributed to renewed efforts to develop common policies for the EU’s external borders. Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, called for the introduction of qualified majority voting on asylum and immigration policy in February 2002 in a speech in The Hague. In the spring and summer of 2002, the growing salience of immigration as a political issue in many countries has reinforced pressure on the EU to “do something” about it.
The Seville summit of June 2002 approved further work on proposals by the Commission and some member-states for the EU to create a common European border guard. The logic is evident: the borders of the EU are not only the borders of the member-states on the front line, but of all EU countries. A consistently high standard is more likely to be achievable if implemented at EU level. Since the risks of lax border controls apply to everyone inside the EU, it makes sense for all member-states to share the burden of policing borders. For example, many of the EU’s illegal immigrants come in through its southern under-belly, notably via Greece, Italy or Spain, while others come in through the central European states that are due to join the Union. The countries of northern and western Europe have an interest in preventing the entry of illegal immigrants, and therefore in helping the southern (and future eastern) member-states with money, expertise and personnel to police their borders.
The minimalist option for European co-operation would involve joint training, the sharing of equipment and comparisons of best practice. Some of the Commission’s more ambitious plans could lead to the establishment of fully integra ted border-guard units, and perhaps naval patrols. Those serving in these units would have the power to check papers and arrest suspects. Fears of illegal immigration and drug trafficking are the main driver of these initiatives. But it is also true that anxiety over terrorism has created a political climate in which politicians are more willing to argue for tougher policing of the EU’s external frontiers.
European integration in these areas leads to plenty of potential problems. Can the EU really become a single judicial space if the courts in some countries are inefficient or corrupt? And what safeguards need to be put in place at EU level to protect the civil liberties of individuals named in arrest warrants or watched by Europol?
The debate over such questions is beginning, and rightly so. But there is no doubt that closer co-operation among police forces, judiciaries and security services is making Europe more effective at combating terrorism – and in the long run, a more useful partner of the US. There have been a few well-publicised cases of magistrates in Belgium and Germany refusing to give the US information on terrorist suspects, because of the legal difficulty of sharing information gained from those in custody. But co-operation between European and American police forces has generally worked well since September 11th.
Since that date transatlantic intelligence co-operation has been for the most part harmonious. The CIA is pleased with the information it has received from European agencies. It reckons that transatlantic co-operation has been never been better, and says that no European intelligence service has held back information that it needed.
However, in the autumn of last year there was grumbling among the European agencies that the intelligence flow was one-way, and that they were receiving little in return for their help. By the spring of this year the tension seemed to have eased, with the Americans becoming more willing to share. The greatest exchanges of intelligence between the US and EU countries have been with the ‘big five’ – Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Problems ahead: Israel, Palestine and Iraq
The terrorist attacks of September 11th brought Americans and Europeans closer together. Most Europeans felt that they too were threatened. The help offered by European governments was appreciated in the US. President Bush’s clear and decisive lead on the need to fight the Taleban and al-Qaeda won much respect in Europe, even on the left of the political spectrum.
In the spring of 2002, however, the Israel-Palestine conflict and the issue of Iraq began to weaken that spirit of transatlantic solidarity. In both cases, the Bush administration produced rhetoric and policies which many Europeans could not easily support. In the case of Iraq, especially, US policies seem likely to create rifts among the Europeans.
This year’s rising death toll in Israel and Palestine did not in itself undermine EU foreign policy. The European governments agreed on the need to condemn Palestinian terrorism and Israeli aggression, and to support a secure existence for Israel and a Palestinian state. They have used their best endeavours to assist George Tenet’s plan for a ceasefire, George Mitchell’s proposals for confidence-building measures and Crown Prince Abdullah’s suggestion that Israel withdraw to 1967 frontiers in return for the normalisation of relations with the Arab world. The Europeans know that their own influence on events in the region is limited, and they have therefore urged the Bush administration to deepen its involvement.
There have been differences of emphasis among the EU governments. France, Belgium and the southern EU countries have been readier to condemn the Israelis, while Britain and Germany have been more reluctant to do so. But the presence of Javier Solana as the EU spokesman has helped the Europeans to pap er over these cracks. He has worked tirelessly as an honest broker, winning the confidence of most parties in the region, including the Sharon government. Solana was the first western politician to fly to Riyadh, in February, when Crown Prince Abdullah unveiled his initiative. And in April Colin Powell insisted that Solana be part of the ‘quartet’ group – alongside himself, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov – that co-ordinates international efforts to help the peace process.
Despite the best efforts of such politicians, the situation in the Middle East remains dire at the time of writing. This creates great dangers for European foreign policy, in particular because public opinion on the two sides of the Atlantic has a very different view of events. Most transatlantic disputes in recent years – whether on missile defence, ESDP or steel tariffs – have in essence been arguments among elites. Public opinion was not very interested in these matters and therefore did not have a great influence on politicians.
But the Middle East is different. Public opinion cares strongly in the US and the EU. Many Americans equate the Palestinian suicide bombers with al-Qaeda terrorists. They regard Israel’s invasion of Palestinian towns as justified. But whereas President Bush described Ariel Sharon as “a man of peace”, many Europeans regard him as more responsible than Yasser Arafat for the escalation in violence. They think the Israeli army has killed too many non-combatants and that it may have breached the laws of war.
Many American and European politicians, including Powell and Solana, have worked hard to avoid a public falling out over the Middle East. However, public opinion is hampering their efforts. In April, during the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the European Parliament passed a (non-binding) resolution in favour of economic sanctions against Israel. Romano Prodi, the Commission president, also called for such sanctions to be considered. Some European ministers have denounced Israel in extreme terms, later saying in private that they had to do so to placate domestic public opinion.
Similarly, in April Europeans were startled to see the effect of public opinion on US policy. President Bush demanded that Israel withdraw its forces from the West Bank “without delay”. But a few days later, after pro-Israeli lobbies had mobilised on Capitol Hill, the president changed his mind. Europeans then watched in bemusement as Paul Wolfowitz, the right-wing pro-Israeli deputy defence secretary, told a pro-Israeli rally in Washington that Palestinians had rights, only to be loudly booed for saying so.
Why are public opinions so divergent? This writer listened to a group of senior Republicans and Democrats, who hold or have held office at the highest level, sitting at the same dinner table in Washington in April. “Europeans just believe in appeasement: throughout their history they have wanted to meet violence with concessions,” was one opinion. Another was that Europeans have an instinctive tendency to be anti-Semitic.
According to a third view, because there are millions of Muslims in European countries, Europeans have a natural bias to the Palestinian cause. A fourth suggestion was that European television stations had failed to show the bloody scenes left by Palestinian suicide bombings. It is possible that there is some truth in some of those points, though certainly not the last. However, a similar group of Europeans would come up with different answers to the question. They would argue that the long experience of terrorism in places such as Northern Ireland, Corsica and the Basque country has taught Europeans that military action alone cannot stop it; and that force, if disproportionate, can swell the numbers of terrorists and the international support they receive. Europeans point out that few American newspapers carried prominent photos of the destruction caused by the Israeli i nvasions of the West Bank, notably in the Jenin refugee camp. Finally, Europeans observe that their pro-Israeli lobbies are less well-organised and powerful than those in the US.
The good news is that most European and American politicians agree on the rough outlines of the deal that is needed in the Middle East: land for peace. While working for a settlement, therefore, they should close their ears to those tribunes of the people who demand that one side or other be blamed. On this occasion, the less that public opinion influences foreign policy, the better. Otherwise there is the risk of a serious transatlantic rift over Israel and Palestine. And if that came about, the result could be a fracturing of European unity: some EU governments would want to shift the European line to prevent too great a divergence with the US.
In any case, rifts among the Europeans or across the Atlantic would weaken the common cause of the fight against terrorism. Iraq is even more likely to cause fissures among the allies. This year, it has become clear that Bush is determined to get rid of Saddam Hussein. The administration has sought to develop a ‘doctrine of pre-emption’, according to which an attack on a sovereign state may be justified if it is developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and intends to use them.
One faction within the administration, including Colin Powell, has wished to focus on the return of United Nations inspectors, and to give Saddam the opportunity to let them go any place, any time, without hindrance; the assumption is that he will refuse, thereby legitimising military action. The second group, which includes leading officials in the Pentagon, has seen the UN is a distraction and a waste of time. This group believes that Saddam will humiliate the inspectors as he did before, and that the US should just get on with removing him.
Most European governments, and citizens, were happy to support the US in its fight against the Taleban and al-Qaeda. They understood that Osama bin-Laden and his network are a direct threat to them. But very few Europeans regard Iraq as a threat. True, he is trying to develop nuclear arms and already has chemical and biological weapons. But he is a long way from having an atom bomb, and he has not used chemical or biological weapons since the 1980s. At the time of writing there appears to be no evidence that he has worked with international terrorist networks.
Deterrence seems to prevent Saddam from attacking neighbours or using his biological and chemical weapons. As one British official puts it: “Pre-emptive military action to stop Iraq getting nuclear arms is easy to justify, but Iraq – unlike Iran – is a very long way from having them, and there is not much point in taking pre-emptive action against biological and chemical weapons since Iraq already has the expertise.”
Europeans worry about what comes after Saddam, as well as the impact of a war on Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Egypt and the Kurds. However, Americans have become less tolerant of WMD since September 11th. They see that al-Qaeda and Iraq have a common interest in wanting to hurt the US as much as possible. Despite the lack of evidence that Saddam has collaborated with al-Qaeda, they worry that he may hand his WMD to terrorists. Many Americans think Europeans naïve to believe they are safe from Saddam and his weapons. And they think that so long as Saddam is deposed swiftly, European and Arab allies will soon adjust to the change.
Iraq always has been, and perhaps always will be, the Achilles heel of EU foreign policy. On almost every issue of importance – such as the Balkans, Russia, China, Iran and even Israel-Palestine – the Europeans have developed either a common policy or at least a fairly common perspective. But not on Iraq. Britain has stuck doggedly to the US line, for example in maintaining the no-fly zones over southern and northern Iraq.
France has often been critical of America’s hard line on Iraq, sometimes teaming up with Russia and China in the UN Security Council. Other EU countries have fallen somewhere between the British and French positions. It was notable that, at a Brookings Institution-Centre for European Reform seminar in Washington in April, the political directors of the British, French, German and Italian governments put forward very different views on Iraq, without any pretence of a common position.
In recent years, Britain and France have made a real and partially-successful effort to bring their positions closer together. In May 2002 France – like Russia – signed up to the British and American plan for ‘smart’ sanctions against Iraq. The UN Security Council’s new sanctions regime is designed to prevent Saddam from building up his weaponry, but not to hurt the Iraqi people.
Nevertheless if the issue of waging war on Iraq comes to the fore, Britain, France and Germany are likely to have very different views. Tony Blair has made it clear that he will want British forces to fight alongside those of the US in any effort to rid the world of Saddam. In September 2002 Chancellor Schröder stated that Germany would not want to join a war against Iraq in any circumstances, while his rival Edmund Stoiber took a line that was almost as doveish. Meanwhile the French line was somewhere between that of Britain and Germany: France has tried hard not be too critical of the US since the Gaullists replaced the Socialists in May 2002. If such divisions persisted or worsened during a US-led war against Iraq, the credibility of the CFSP would be greatly damaged. And Blair’s stature among other European governments would suffer: Britain would be seen as America’s closest ally rather than a country that could aspire to lead the European Union.
Of course, much will depend on how the US goes about tackling Iraq. If the moderates in the administration get their way, it is possible that the US could build a broad coalition against Iraq. Suppose that the US works hard to get UN inspectors back into Iraq. Suppose that France, Russia and other key countries agree to a UN inspections regime which allows the inspectors complete access, any time, to any place they want.
Suppose that Bush makes a serious diplomatic effort with the Europeans, the Russians and the moderate Arab governments, to garner their support. Suppose, too, that Bush tries hard to re-energise the Middle East peace process, and that he forces Ariel Sharon to move towards a political settlement. Assuming that Saddam rejected the inspection regime, or played games with the inspectors, it is plausible to imagine that the EU would then take a common position in support of US military action. It is quite conceivable that France and perhaps some other EU countries could join the British in contributing forces to the US-led action. In these circumstances, Blair could avoid serious embarrassment among his European partners, and he could probably ride out political opposition at home. So long as the conclusion of the military operation was the departure of Saddam, and the loss of life had not been too great, European public opinion would probably welcome the outcome.
However, that relatively optimistic scenario requires a huge number of conditions to be met. If the US decides to sort out Saddam on its own, most European politicians – and much of European public opinion – will oppose the US. And that would gravely weaken the coalition against terrorism. Finally, a stronger Europe?
By the early autumn of 2002, the two sides of the Atlantic appeared to be drifting further apart. This was partly due to economic disputes such as those over steel tariffs and farm subsidies, and partly due to the differing views on global governance – typified by American opposition to the International Criminal Court – that had plagued transatlantic relations before September 11th. Nevertheless some of the drift derived from the va rying responses of Americans and Europeans to the threat of terrorism and the situation in the Middle East, and from their views of the others’ response. Europeans see Americans as too keen to solve problems by force alone, reluctant to work with allies and international bodies, and unwilling to dwell upon the causes of terrorism. Americans see Europeans as naïve in their attitude towards ‘rogue’ regimes such as Iran and Iraq, unwilling to spend money on improving their outdated military capabilities and incapable of acting decisively.
Many European leaders are learning to acknowledge the strength of those American criticisms. They are starting to realise that, rather than carp about US unilateralism, they should do something about making the EU a stronger and more effective international actor. Then the Europeans would have a better chance of influencing the Americans. It remains the case that, so far, the Europeans have not increased defence budgets significantly. But they are starting to think harder about how they can enhance their military performance.
Furthermore, substantive discussions are underway on how to make EU foreign policy more effective. The Europeans have taken significant steps to strengthen their co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs. One consequence of September 11th has been a greater awareness of Europe’s weaknesses, and a growing desire to address them. Europe remains primarily a soft power, but its edges are starting to harden.
By Charles Grant, Director, Centre for European Reform
For more CER analyses go to the