In an article for Newsweek (Looking for Leadership, Sept. 7 2009) Dennis MacShane wrote about how European politicians fear the Obama Administration is ignoring the continent. The article went on to state how Europe needs American guidance and direction, and, after reading it, I was left puzzling: Why the heck?
To my mind, Europe perfectly capable of charting its' own course. Despite an European Parliament election fiasco, in which fringe groups like the Pirate Party won seats, it continues to have rather capable (if somewhat uncharismatic) leaders, like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. These are backed up by fresh, progressive politicians and a recovering economy that should be enough to handle problems like immigrant integration, Silvio Berlusconi, internal problems, interstate oil pipelines and foreign conflicts, like Somalia and Afghanistan.
In fact, Europe has been showing some signs of independence from America recently, which makes its' current search for American leadership all the more puzzling, starting with the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and Nicolas Saarkozy's reaction to Russia's attack on Georgia. While the then-outgoing Bush administration dithered before condemning both combatants, Mr. Sarkozy immediately flew to the area to begin peace talks. The war eventually ended with a six-point peace treaty brokered by Mr. Sarkozy, showing Europe can act remarkably if he wants to, or if it feels threatened enough.
Truth be told, the Europeans can (and maybe already do) lead the way on a number of pressing global issues. They are weathering the economic storm as well as, or maybe better than, the Americans, thanks to the Euro, and their social security systems (as in France). On energy policy and climate change, America could learn a thing, or two, or three from Europe. Nuclear power supplies 78% of French electricity, without any nuclear accidents, while Germany, Spain and Italy make up 3 of the world's top 5 solar leaders, and Britain is the first country to put legally binding limits on carbon emissions. Science and technology is also alive and well in Europe, as evidenced by industrial biotech operations in France and the Netherlands.
Europe can also rest assured due to a simple fact: that it actually shares many common interests with the U.S. Both share a keen desire for obvious causes like world peace, globalisation and "democratization". Working towards these, Europe can rest assured it will seldom clash with America, unless it insists on stupid ideas like releasing convicted terrorists. In any case, Vice-President Joe Biden has also started tackling key European issues in four visits there this year. Still, a strong, Cairo- type speech by Mr. Obama himself, setting specific policy targets, would help in issues like Russia and Muammar Kaddafi.
Europe should thus responsibly realize its' immense capabilities, to check the rise of overdependence on America. Its' leaders should remember that, as Mr. MacShane put it, while "a tradition [of the personal American stroking of European leaders brought] peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy to the European continent" such sentiment might not be so welcome now. After all, 70 % of Germans blame the U.S. for Germany's economic slump.