Euro-narcolepsy

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Munching a pain chocolat over my International Herald Tribune this morning, it hit me: regardless of the virtues or vices of squishy multilateralism, on a day-to-day basis it sure is about as exciting as watching an escargot race.

Spinning through today's stories:

* Europeans unsure about Turkey joining the EU!
* Greece no longer automatic veto against Turkey joining the EU!
* Turk: Europe underestimates internal Turkish debate over the EU!
* German: Turkey needs "Privileged Partnership," not EU membership!
* U.S., Europe disagree on the so-called "Geneva rule" informally limiting heads of international institutions to two terms!
* Organization of American States, which has no power, could nevertheless reprimand the U.S. over Kyoto Protocol!
* American ex-bureaucrat: Kyoto is important!

Granted, the Herald Tribune, my favorite paper in the world, has long been a sort of daily-newspaper version of Foreign Policy (especially since the New York Times took over sole management two years back), but the context of European geopolitics just screams process over outcomes, talk over action. Nowhere in today's paper is this on more humorous display than in a straight-to-the-round-file open letter to President Bush, co-written in true multilateralist style by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, former London School of Economics director Ralf Dahrendorf, and former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing. "There are five important points to make," they proclaim. These are?

Be multilateral and effective. […]
A strong Europe makes for a strong alliance. […]
Work jointly on the Middle East. […]
It's also the economy, Mr. President! […]
Think of a new strategic forum.

To quote Dave Barry, I swear I'm not making these up.

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  1. Dude, I sure hope you’re posting from the East Coast today.

  2. Why doesn’t anyone ever lecture the EU on fiscal discipline? The big players in the EU have debt per head at least as bad as ours.

    Oh, and no one is multilateral like, er, France. How about we continue to watch out for our interests, we expect the EU to do the same for their interests, and let multilateralism consist of what it always has – back scratching to the extent it is useful to do so.

  3. “The big players in the EU have debt per head at least as bad as ours.”

    Correction: “debt per unit GDP”

  4. Semolina — Thank you for your concern; I’m actually in Paris.

  5. Ahhh, pain chocolat, the International Herald Tribune, escargot … it all comes together now.

  6. The faster we get over our ties to Europe and start focusing on China, the better the United States will be. But, to paraphrase Mark Helprin in the WSJ this week, it’s in our nature to continue to fuck around with the irrelevant EU because that’s where we came from. Shit, I’m the most guilty: I still read Livy and Tacitus and Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul when I should be understanding the dynastic system in China.

  7. Matt Welch,

    Or it could be that your opinions are merely clouded by anti-European bigotry?

    …but the context of European geopolitics just screams process over outcomes, talk over action.

    Which is of course why the Constitution is going forward for referendums, etc.; why the EU expansion went forward; why Romania and Bulgaria will join; why Solana was in the Ukraine to support fair elections there; etc.

  8. Matt Welch,

    Let’s also note that at least two of your links (on their face) have nothing to do with Europe.

  9. Matt Welch,

    I mean, one wonders what the OAS and an American ex-bureaucrat have to do with European geopolitics? Is the OAS now part of Europe or something? Is the ex-bureaucrat working for the EU now?

  10. Yeah, Matt, you big anti-European bigot. He’s got you there!

    Sorry, that’s an inside joke. Welch has a French wife, and I hope to meet both of ’em someday.

  11. Tony,

    I am well aware of the fact that he has a French wife. However, whether he has a French wife or not is not particularly important; it still doesn’t stop him from apparently loathing Europe or the E.U. I’ve sent Hit n’ Run some rather positive stories about Europe over the past few days, yet Welch chooses to post this hyperbolic non-sense (indeed, that’s been the case on a number of occassions). Draw your own conclusions.

    Welch,

    Only a journalist would be so disingenuous as take articles from a single edition of a newspaper and try to paint some grand picture out of them concerning an organization that has twenty-five member states and four hundred and fifty million people under its fold.

  12. Gary, I think his “grand picture” shows only that politics is often slow as molasses.

    BTW Matt, we’re sorry, but that’s the gig: You *must* do that reading, because the rest of us won’t.

    Sam, why the Beatle reference?

  13. Cridland,

    Oh that’s bullshit. Welch’s point is quite clear (though he in no way actually demostrates it).

    Let’s repeat his main point:

    …but the context of European geopolitics just screams process over outcomes, talk over action.

    He demonstrates this by (a) focusing on the debate over Turkey, (b) linking to an article on the current spat over El Baradei, (c) providing us two links to articles that are by a non-European individual and non-European organization, and finally (d) quoting the words of three men who are not to my knowledge even EU officials (Valery Giscard d’Estaing was part of the commission that wrote the Constitution but that hardly makes him a decision-maker in the EU). The thin demonstrative value of these points illustrates the hyperbolic nature of Welch’s argument.

    Of course there’s also the fact that his favorite paper in the world is the IHT, a paper which is largely a re-hash of the NYT (so why not just read the NYT instead?). I mean come on, you’re in Paris, read a paper of substance like Le Figaro.

  14. One can only assume that you don’t read much Welch. Some of us read him because he’s so FOND of Europe, and seems so hopeful that the ‘weenies can pull it together and play a better role in a righteous tomorrow. That he should make time during a visit to Paris to write a post like this demonstrates his clarity.

    Maybe it’s just that he’s a Reasonoid libertarian. Bureaucracy is civilization’s cancer, and all that.

  15. OK, calm down. I’m just saying “anti-European bigot” is pretty uncalled for, when the guy obivously has nothing against Europeans.

    And that “open letter” does sound pretty funny. I thought Tom Friedman had the “open letters” beat for the IHT!

  16. Cridland,

    I read everything that Welch posts here; that is not my impression of his writing.

    …seems so hopeful that the ‘weenies can pull it together and play a better role in a righteous tomorrow.

    Oh, nice troll line.

    That he should make time during a visit to Paris to write a post like this demonstrates his clarity.

    Not really; what it demonstrates is muddle-headed thinking.

  17. Tony,

    The “open letter” is silly. However, I don’t see at as much of a reflection on EU policy or actions though (and that was of course the point of Welch’s little lecture).

  18. Gary — I can assure you that my Anti-European Bigotry is limited almost exclusively to Southern Italian moped drivers, Austrian border guards, and Greek nationalists.

  19. Matt Welch,

    Then I have to ask, why do you seem so obsessed with writing negative things about Europe? Why can’t say a good word about the new bridge in Millau? Or CAP reform? Or efforts to liberalize labor markets in Western Europe (I thought that piece in the IHT on Denmark’s labor laws was pretty fascinating).

  20. Because then we wouldn’t have these fun discussions, you and I!

    The current print issue contains a long feature from me about the European low-cost airline revolution, and how it has left the protectionist U.S. choking in its dust. Now if only the Frogs would get with the program…. Also, I’ve argued in these pages about the benefits of the EU (and its expansion), I’ve profiled the Le Fig-reading Sabine Herold (I prefer Le Canard or whatever that satirical/investigative one is called), and I’ve railed against the counter-productive effects of gratuitous American anti-Europeanism.

    Still, if I can’t make cheap jokes about the foul-smelling Continentals (joke), then the terrorists truly will have won.

  21. Mr. Gunnels,

    So paying people for simply being farmers, no matter what they grow in what amount, with some “anti-abandonment incentives” is a reform?

    Sounds more like a sweet deal for the fermier to me.

    Vive la France.

    QFMC cos. V

  22. Matt Welch,

    Well, whatever your past statements contain (and I still maintain that they contain the trend I wrote of above), your write-up today was definately a cheap-shot.

    Fabius,

    As I understand it, CAP reform has gone past that bit of non-reform to something far more fundamental (despite the efforts of France and Poland).

  23. Maybe it’s because Europe has had its share of demagoguery that they’re quite content to hand over their sovereignty to a mindbendingly dull monolithic bureaucracy.

    And maybe it’s America’s history of mindbendingly dull monolithic bureaucracy that makes it so recently fond of demagoguery.

  24. Pavel,

    Well, in ten to twenty years (heck, now), the EU bureaucracy – nor its Parliament – will not be dull. Every year it becomes more and more a politicized organization that Europeans care more and more about (recent flap over the proposed EU Justice Minister from Italy may be indicative of that); I think that sort of heightened awareness is a good thing if the EU’s constitution and governing structures are to knit the EU member states (and their peoples) together.

  25. If the EU is misunderstood, they do it to themselves. That letter to the prez is absurd, and it is exactly what we hear whenever the US is discussed by continental politicians or press.

    Being ‘multilateral’ means absolutely nothing, and it certainly is unrelated to being effective. I’ve been brewing a thesis for a while about a European obsession with consensus. The tentative idea would be that in general, Europe holds consensus to be self evidently good and the only way to deal with opposing values. Positions without consensus are roundly criticized as religious.

    I am unsure at this point if it is just an obsession with delivering messages to the US about consensus, or if there is something more pervasive to the philosophy.

  26. I can only really speak for Eastern Europe where I’m from.

    There, it’s fair to say that the EU is generally seen as a terribly dull mindless bureaucratic juggernaut that goes around calculating the maximum angulation of bananas and otherwise regulating reasons for its own existence.

  27. I think Matt should write more about European cities and land use.

    But that’s just me.

  28. Jason Ligon,

    The letter wasn’t from the E.U. In this case it was from two ex-politicians and an academic. Anyway its fair to say that the E.U. and Europe is far more complex and varied than you would allow. Why you take the word of three guys as indicative of an entire continent is rather strange in my eyes. And I have to ask, what European “press” do you actually read? Or are you referring to – like most criticis of Europe – to the Guardian?

    Being ‘multilateral’ means absolutely nothing, and it certainly is unrelated to being effective.

    It means a lot of things; at least in some circles it means being opposed to U.S. hegemony; now the impacts of such opposition may not seem to be effective to you, but they are effective to the proponents of such an idea.

    I’ve been brewing a thesis for a while about a European obsession with consensus.

    There is no European obsession with consensus; there are some Europeans who obsess over consensus of course, but that’s not the same thing. Clearly if you knew anything about EU politics you’d know that consensus is not something which is readily prized or a goal sought out over other goals.

    Pavel,

    Seems odd given the strong sympathy toward the E.U. seen in referendums concerning admission in the E.U.; indeed, it seemed to me that the E.U. was viewed more as a cash cow than anything (certainly that’s how Poland in part seems to view the E.U.). I guess there is also the desire not to live in a divided Europe and to be part of the “West” (the latter always being a flucuating notion).

  29. “It (multilateralism) means a lot of things; at least in some circles it means being opposed to U.S. hegemony; now the impacts of such opposition may not seem to be effective to you, but they are effective to the proponents of such an idea.”

    What does inviting the US to engage in multilateralism mean, then? Is it something like, “Please act against your own interests so you won’t be perceived as a hegemonic entity?”

    “There is no European obsession with consensus; there are some Europeans who obsess over consensus of course, but that’s not the same thing. Clearly if you knew anything about EU politics you’d know that consensus is not something which is readily prized or a goal sought out over other goals.”

    More or less all politics that deals with the US obsesses with consensus in public. I will confess to ignorance about internal politics, which is why I commented that I was unsure if the obsession were one strictly for public consumption and specifically related to the US, or if something more philosophical were at play – perhaps something related to stronger post modern inclinations.

  30. “And I have to ask, what European “press” do you actually read? Or are you referring to – like most criticis of Europe – to the Guardian?”

    Point taken. Unrepresentative Guardian and Beeb, except what I see on blogs here and there. At every trade conference, at every climate conference, at every global security gathering, I only ever hear one voice from Europe. I don’t seek out opposing voices from Europe, but the ones I hear from here all say the same thing. That is what I try to wrap my head around.

  31. Jason Ligon,

    I had this really long and thoughtful response but my computer crashed in the middle of it.

    I’ll try to re-write it latter.

    One of the things I did suggest was to read (if I could find an English translation of it) one of Chirac’s recent speech on multi-lateralism; I was hoping that the President’s website (the President of France) would have a translation, and it does:

    http://www.elysee.fr/cgi-bin/auracom/aurweb/search/file?aur_file=discours/2004/0411UK12.html

    Now obviously I don’t agree with everything that Chirac argues for in this speech (indeed, I think at least some of it is simply politicking – especially the stuff on Kyoto), but I think he lays out his position on what multi-lateralism means in that speech (but I think his position is the only one by any means).

  32. …but I DON’T think his position is the only one by any means…

  33. Pavel writes …

    I can only really speak for Eastern Europe where I’m from. There, it’s fair to say that the EU is generally seen as a terribly dull mindless bureaucratic juggernaut that goes around calculating the maximum angulation of bananas and otherwise regulating reasons for its own existence.

    Yeah … and this well-thought out point is confirmed by the fact that 77% of poles voted to join the EU in June 2003…

    I guess the full-court press by E European politicians in the 90s, all these speeches and claims that their countries had a historical right to “rejoin Europe” and be admitted to a institutions they did nothing to build were an elaborate hoax…

    As it turns our membership isn’t mandatory so -if Pavel is right- we can now expect these countries to pull out.

  34. GG:

    I read the Chirac piece last night. It is interesting, but what I got out of it was that participation in international institutions can provide for a stability that power analysis can’t. What I’ve never understood is that even the countries that make these claims only submit to the will of the international body to the extent that they agree with it anyway. It just seems to be a silly claim that an organization with no teeth can be used to forge a multilateralism beyond self interest, which is what we have now. It seems even more silly to argue that the veneer of legitimacy (and I question even that characterization as too strong unless we assume that Chirac’s reformed UN stops coddling to dictators) conveyed by way of UN mandate is in any way a substitute for the underlying power structure.

    It’s like he’s speaking a different language, GG!

  35. Jason Ligon,

    Well, Chirac is discussing what he would like to see and what his vision of the future is v. the reality of today. I’d think he would readily acknowledge that reality doesn’t meet up with what he would like (I guess this is true too of Bush as well with regard to his vision of the world – which oddly enough is similar at points to Chirac’s). As to coddling dictators, well, its probably important to note that Chirac’s Presidency is the least likely to do so since, well, the founding of the Fifth Republic. Chirac’s Presidency (IMHO) is a hundred times better than Mitterand’s when it comes to turning a blind eye to the dictatorships it might have some influence with (being mainly in the middle east and its former African possessions). This doesn’t mean that Chirac’s regime is perfect in this area, but definate reform has followed in the wake of France’s admittedly despicable role in Rawanda; indeed, just compare what France has done in Cote d’Ivoire with Rawanda and you’ll see the marked difference in approach.

    Anyway, I don’t think its so much that Chirac wants to reject a “power structure” as to create a new one; the current U.S. government appears to see this as a threat, but the fact is that the West’s actions regarding globalization (i.e., encouraging it) appears likely to create such a new power structure, and I guess Chirac would argue that its best to be ahead of the curve and create some institutions for that structure to manifest itself in. This is why I think its wrong to assume that Chirac is merely talking about limiting the U.S. when he discusses multi-lateralism or a multi-polar world. At least that’s my reading of his statements; of course, I can only know so much of his opinion short of being inside his head.

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