BRUSSELS – The huge compound housing SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe) lies in the outskirts of the Belgian city of Mons, near Brussels, but it might as well be in an Ohio suburb. It is literally surrounded by gas stations, burger joints, fitness clubs, used car lots, everything in English, not French or Flemish. This is Europe’s heart of darkness, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) heart of light: this is where the Americans listen to the cacophony of Europe – and the world – and command wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan by remote control. SHAPE even listens, insiders say, among other things, to French President Jacques Chirac’s earpiece: French intelligence still has not been capable of coming up with an interference-proof device.

Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the new NATO secretary general post-Lord Robertson, is eager to assure suspicious Europeans – for whom NATO, since the end of the Cold War, has become just a political club charged of promoting the American geostrategic vision – that the new NATO “is not an instrument to serve our American friends.” The Atlantic alliance’s new role, according to him, is “to export security and stability, wholesale.”

So what does that mean in practice, supposing a crisis happens somewhere in Eurasia. Scheffer says that there are three possible scenarios. 1) NATO intervenes. 2) If NATO “does not want to intervene,” for unspecified reasons, the European Union (EU) can use NATO’s means. 3) The EU may intervene by itself. Scheffer insists that the link between SHAPE (NATO’s HQ)and NATO’s liaison officers with the EU (in the EU’s HQ) “is a good thing, and we will see in practice how it works out. I place great importance in good relations between NATO and the EU.”

Sounds confusing? Well, that’s because it is. The secretary general maintains that “it’s in the interest of the Americans that the EU develops its own foreign and defense policy.” Tell that to a neo-conservative in the Bush administration and Scheffer would be dispatched to Mars. But in the next minute, Scheffer himself lays down the law, as it stands: “The Atlantic alliance has an integrated military structure that is unique, while the European Union has limited military capabilities.”

Who’s defending?

That’s quite an understatement. In 2000, the EU created a Rapid Action Force (now with 60,000 men) and a satellite center in Torrejon, Spain. And that’s it. The EU depends on American technology and weapons – like the war in the Balkans demonstrated in full. In the Middle East, the EU can only deploy money and ideas – not force, the language that really makes a difference locally. At the same time, most European diplomats are very much aware that whatever the spin, the values upheld by Brussels are extremely different from Washington’s, at least the Washington of the Bush administration, with its contempt for international law and love affair with the death penalty – unanimously abolished by the European Union.

And that’s the whole point, post-preventive war in Iraq. The Americans want an all-enveloping NATO with as many as three dozen members, capable of intervening anywhere. The Franco-German core of the European Union, plus Britain, favors an EU militarily independent from the US. Anybody in Brussels knows that there can be no Europe without an integrated defense policy. Until now, the EU was behaving like a subordinated empire inside the capitalist world, interested only in defending its markets. This situation may be about to change. Last December, finally the Franco-German-British trio agreed on the terms of creation of an EU defense HQ. Washington didn’t like it, but it will have to live with it.

Europe may still be disunited, but the shape of things to come in terms of leadership of the real “new Europe” is a de facto trio constituted by Paris, Berlin and London. In Iran, their trio of ministers of foreign relations succeeded in convincing the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Paris-Berlin-London plans go further. They are elaborating a general political program to be presented to the renewed European Commission, which will be empowered in Brussels in late 2004. The key points will be innovation and competition; reform of the labor market; and research and post-graduate education. These are essential issues to be addressed for the EU to reach the objective it set itself in 2000 in Lisbon: to have a more competitive economy than the US by 2010.

There’s one big problem, though. Paris-Berlin-London want to achieve all this without spending more money, while the current European Commission – presided by Professor Romano Prodi of Italy – says a much larger budget is needed for the period 2007-2013. Anyway, a more competitive, integrated economy inevitably will have to speak to the world with an integrated defense and foreign policy voice.

Euro vs dollar

The problems facing the EU at the moment are mind-boggling. Take the question of the strong euro vs the dollar. Everyone in Brussels knows that once the budget deficit level of 3 percent of gross national product (GNP) is broken by an EU member-state, its government is forced by Brussels to fall back in line, even running the risk of compromising economic recovery. There’s nothing remotely similar in the US, where the Bush administration, for instance, can run a gargantuan budget deficit.

Says an European diplomat: “It’s not a level playing field. No wonder Bush promises the moon and Mars to American citizens, because the financing is assured: one just needs to increase the American deficit and make the world pay by printing dollars.” This will go on unless – adds another diplomat – “the euro becomes the world reserve currency, and a non-Atlantic Europe buries the Bretton Woods agreement.” Patrick Artus, chief economist for CDC in Paris, does not go so far, but he shows the way out for the moment: “A strong euro is catastrophic. It puts pressure over an industrial environment not equipped to deal with a rapid rise of its currency. The European Central Bank has to act without the US, and coordinate with Japan.”

The meaning of democracy

The Bush administration’s adventure of imposing “democracy” on Iraq by the barrel of a gun has also led Brussels to discuss the meaning of democracy itself. Is it a relative, or absolute concept? Is it a system of beliefs, part of Western political culture, which stops at the door of other cultures and beliefs? Or is it an absolute value, the foundation of freedom, and so the West must “convert” the whole world to democracy? Merging with this discussion is the extremely uncomfortable question of Europe as a “Christian club” – invoked by some governments to justify the exclusion of Turkey from the EU. Another diplomat says this is nonsense: “Bosnia and Albania, with strong Muslim majorities, will one day join the EU. The real question, already posed by a few governments, is about Europe’s frontiers. Where does it stop? If Turkey is admitted, who’s next? Albania and the Ukraine?”

The “New Europe” controversy is still echoing in Brussels. The majority of diplomats and officials at the EU know that NATO’s enlargement first, and then the EU’s, offer a unique occasion for Washington to torpedo European identity and reinforce its influence on the continent. Most of Brussels considers as American Trojan horses in the EU the new former communist, Eastern European members, which will become part of the EU next May 1, especially Poland. Spain, under Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, is also considered a Trojan Horse.

Italy – under Silvio Berlusconi – squandered all goodwill after its disastrous European presidency in the second half of 2003 (see part 1): but nobody in Europe likes Silvio anyway, and he can be easily neutralized. Spain is a more difficult case: not only because of the Bush love affair of Aznar, but especially because Spain – which became a wealthy EU member mainly because of heavy Brussels investment – now wants to have as influential a voice as the big donors who really run the show, France and Germany. Aznar now proudly touts Spain as being at the forefront of the international stage, while since the 19th century Spanish foreign policy was subordinated to France’s. But most diplomats in Brussels – even some Spaniards – consider Aznar as no more than “the third guy in the photo” (a reference to his public appearance before the war on Iraq alongside George W Bush and Tony Blair).

By bye Balkans

Among the new Eastern European members about to join the EU, Slovenia makes the most interesting case. Slovenia is very close to Trieste, where Italy meets the Balkans, the windy city where James Joyce conceived and started writing Ulysses. Tiny Slovenia, with only 2 million people, is arguably the best-prepared of the new EU members. Its GNP per head is equivalent to Portugal’s and Greece’s, and almost 75 percent of the EU’s average. Since becoming independent in 1991 after a quick war with Slobodan Milosevic’s “Yugoslavia,” it entirely reoriented its commerce from the former Yugoslav republics towards the EU. This means that this former member of the Austro-Hungarian empire is not counting on the Balkans for its prosperity: Slovenia is betting on a more civilized Central Europe. A Slovenian diplomat says that “the Balkans must be Europeanized, and we must be the example to follow.” Slovenia’s European credentials are a complex balancing act. The country’s political elites favor a common European defense policy. But they don’t want two Europes proceeding at different speeds. They supported Washington’s position in the war on Iraq. But they insist that being a friend of the US does not mean being an enemy of the EU.

The Washington neo-conservative attitude towards the EU may be epitomized by their mouthpiece, the Weekly Standard, in a cover story dated September 22, 2003, with a headline that speaks for itself: “Against United Europe.” For the neo-cons, the emergence of what they see as an European superstate is a threat to the US (but it’s important to remember that the US State Department has traditionally been in favor of European integration). The neo-cons, via Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rather cartoonish division of Europe between “new” (those who favor our preventive wars) and “old” (those who don’t), thought they had the upper hand. But to start with, the Rumsfeld “with us or against us” division was an ill-informed lie. Historically, “new” Europe is represented by the Franco-German reconciliation after World War II. All Europe is trying to follow this model – although very few countries have reached this kind of maturity. “Old” Europe is really in the Balkans, or further east, in Ukraine or Russia.

Dominique Moisi, special adviser to the French Institute of International Relations, says that the worst possible scenario for the future would be America as an immense Prussia – without an Otto von Bismarck to guide it – and Europe as a giant Switzerland – egoist, prosperous, provincial and impotent. Many of the best and brightest in Brussels are conscious this is not such a far-fetched scenario. But a look at what’s going on in Brussels nowadays at least confirms that the neo-con project of breaking Europe’s back has been a total failure.

Europe may look like it has been broken, but the fact is the Franco-German duo – with increased British input – rules and will remain ruling the show. The 10 new members, once admitted in the EU, will have to bow to how Brussels dispenses with its funds: and the money comes basically from Germany, France and the Benelux countries. Prodi, as president of the European Commission, has repeatedly warned that no one can “entrust his wallet to Europe and his security to America.” Spain’s Aznar, with his ambition of having an European role, has been put in his (limited) place. And the EU has begun to tackle its shortcomings and is now fully engaged in building an integrated defense and security policy.

As much as neo-cons might hate it, the shape of things to come indicates that Washington and Brussels won’t be haggling only about steel quotas, bananas and genetically-modified crops, but geopolitics as well. It may take 30 years instead of six months, but it will inevitably happen. And additionally, it may represent America’s best opportunity to preserve its internationalist role and not succumb to the temptation of a second-rate imperial model.

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