European Council on Foreign Relations

The Scorecard tour: Washington

Justin Vaisse is one of the lead authors of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2012. As part of our 'Scorecard tour' he blogs from the launch event at The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. A podcast and a transcript of the event are available here.

In the Scorecard 2012, we document how the financial crisis has negatively affected Europe’s place in the world last year – an issue I tried to elaborate on in a recent article in Foreign Policy. Europe has seen its soft power eroded, its resources diminished, and the attention of its leaders, their available “bandwith”, consumed by the Eurozone crisis rather than the Arab awakening or relations with Russia. This has certainly contributed to the overall erosion in European performance, especially vis-à-vis large powers like China.

Not so fast, said Marta Dassu, Italy’s Under-Secretary of State and an ECFR Council member, at the launch event held at the Brookings Institution on February 22. True, Europeans have been inward-looking and consumed by the Eurozone troubles, but they have achieved something crucial. They have avoided fragmentation and put Europe on the path to recovery. And that in itself is a foreign policy achievement. Would anyone have preferred to see a more active Europe abroad while it was accelerating its disintegration? The leaders’ “bandwith” used for the crisis was thus well spent, and it is now possible to res-establish Europe’s influence on a sounder basis.

Which leads to another argument: the construction of a more united European foreign policy is a long-term enterprise, while the Scorecard records annual variations. As for the erosion of its soft power, or the creeping renationalization seen across the continent, Marta Dassu doesn’t disagree, but here again she points to the overall stability in performance and the fact that many countries still want to join the EU and the Eurozone.

Charles Kupchan, in a an exchange with the more than 130 people who attended the event, pointed out that Europe’s troubles came at an unfortunate moment, that of a strategic retrenchement of U.S. power. At the precise time when Washington would need Europeans to step up to the plate, Europeans have entered a new phase of introversion, and this is not good for the West or world stability in general. However, in his estimate, the European crisis has hit bottom, and is now reaching calmer waters. Which is good news, as “this world needs more Europe, not less Europe”.

All speakers, however, voiced special concern about the situation of the United Kingdom in Europe. Marta Dassu reiterated Mario Monti’s insistence on the value, for European balances and economic orientation, of having Britain in rather than out. And Charles Kupchan expressed bewilderment at the British Tories, suggesting they draft a bill that would read “We hereby resolve that this country should be geopolitically irrelevant until the end of time,” because that’s where their policy is leading. The bridge to the U.S. is gone, that role is never coming back, so that by withdrawing softly from Europe, “they’re sort of standing in the middle of nowhere.”

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