Filling the Vacuum

As the U.S. pulls back, Europe steps up.
From the May 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

Few would criticize the European Union for pushing itself too aggressively as a foreign-policy player on the world stage. The union of 15 states has been scrambling to organize itself politically well enough to speak with one coherent voice. In spite of this, though, a single EU voice is beginning to be heard, encouraged along by the world’s only superpower, the United States.

The Bush administration, with a far more restrained foreign policy than that under former President Clinton, has already established itself as one that views international engagements as very much second in priority to its domestic concerns. Whether or not President Bush’s administration has carefully weighed the effects on its global neighbors of America’s reduced participation in world affairs, one effect is already clear: The destabilizing vacuum created by America’s scaled-back involvement in several key areas of the world is quickly being filled by the only force in the world at this time with the economic, political and, increasingly, military might to do so—the European Union.

The now decade-old Balkan war will be remembered as the event that pushed the European Union into the political spotlight and gave its foreign policy unprecedented influence. As the U.S. decided to withdraw tanks and heavy weapons from Bosnia, it welcomed EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana’s successful efforts to help bring ethnic Albanian groups and ruling parties in Macedonia together. (Read our story on page 20 about Europe’s involvement in the Balkan region.)

Again, when President Bush recently decided to withdraw from negotiations intended to promote reconciliation between North and South Korea, the EU stepped up to the challenge. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson quickly made plans to visit the two Koreas to try and keep dialogue between them alive.

In what represents perhaps the most telling example, the EU has a unique opportunity to begin to exert itself in the Middle East peace process. While the Palestinians are convinced that the U.S. is pro-Israeli and therefore incapable of being an objective arbitrator, both they and the Israelis, albeit cautiously, seem to trust Javier Solana. This may be the fruit of months of efforts by Mr. Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten of trying to convince Israel that the EU is an honest broker.

As the world continues to digest the reoriented outlook of the new U.S. administration, the momentum is quickly picking up for a more assertive role for the European Union in world affairs.