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Europe Sleeps As Power Passes It By

By Pascal Boniface

The European Parliament elections turned out to be a democratic disaster. Massive abstention underscored the strong disinterest - if not mistrust - many European citizens have toward the election of their European representatives. This is not good news, now that the European Parliament has begun to wield more authority. In addition, the anti-institutional vote was important. Political parties supporting more European integration actually represent only a small percentage of European citizens. The protest vote is likely to trigger -- or more precisely reopen -- a debate over the legitimacy and popularity of European institutions.

Strangely, the euro-pessimism or euro fatigue so evident among Europeans themselves stands in stark contrast to the ambitions that non-EU citizens seem to hold for the EU. Neighboring countries want to join the EU and people in many parts of the world are eager to see Europe playing a more active international role, becoming a global player.

The situation is thus neither satisfactory nor gloomy. But if nothing is done it could worsen. When we look to Europe's near-term future, there is some reason to be pessimistic. Europe risks being downgraded as a power and losing credibility. The risk for Europe is to be a minor player in a world that is becoming multipolar.

In this regard, Obama's election is both good and bad news for Europeans. It represents hope for a U.S. open to multilateralism and greater cooperation with other nations. But Europe is not a top priority on Obama's strategic agenda. And such new American approaches could dilute one of Europe's main assets vis-à-vis most foreign countries: its use of soft power, in contrast with - and sometimes opposition to -- American hard - and occasionally brutal - power. With Obama in the White House, the United States could utilize both soft and hard power in a more convincing manner than Europe.

The EU's international policy is still largely dependent on great European powers. But French, German, Italian, Spanish, and British leaders seem to prefer to play solo rather than to cooperate. Rivalries - including personal ones - are stronger than collective approaches. The European Commission is composed of second rank people. None of the Commissioners are known outside Brussels - in fact most are not even known in their own countries. Current European Commission President Manuel Barroso, focused on his own probable re-election, seeks least common denominator policies and seems unable to launch ambitious projects.

Europe is sleeping while others poles of power are marching on. The awakening could be painful. The sooner the better.

Pascal Boniface is the Director of the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) in Paris.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (2)

jondoh Author Profile Page:

YEOLDS --> you should do your homework before you accuse someone else of "mouthing off on other people's choice of society". Mr. Boniface is French - thus a member of that "society"... So I think he's perfectly justified in commenting on it, even in an American forum.

yeolds Author Profile Page:

How much easier to plod along in a social democratic economic mileau than to worry when the body-bag comes form Iraq. Is it nor nicer to have public healthcare rather than face bankrupcy after a serious illness, so common in interventinist USA. Worrying about ecology and doing something is better than spewing hot air and doing nothing so usual in USA-land.

Politics is for a leisure class, which is essentially incapable of any useful contribution to economy. It also keeps journalists busy spewing the appropriate spin.

An aging society which has for decades had a ferility rate way below natural replacement does not need endless new goods, endless shopping or MACMASIONS. Sedentary life is so much easier on the nerves.

I am getting tired of USA commentators constantly worrying about the future of EU, while their society is one of the most depressing for the avarage wage-slave - falling real income, no healthcare and socializing bankers' losses on the future generations of the land.

Absolute hipocracy in commentary, in action and in speeeches by a society which expounded on the Washington Consessus for all others on all continents, but when the S**T hits the fan, they denounce their own ideas of appropriate action for their own economy

Solution to mr. Boniface : solve the problems of USA ere tyou mouth off ojn other people's choice of society.

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