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Foreign Policy Fears: the ‘special relationship’ versus strength in numbers

robert whelan, 10 September 2007

Throughout the half-century that Britain has been debating further integration into Europe, our association with America has proved a crucial point of debate. With the history of this ‘special relationship’ spanning back decades and indeed predating even the earliest roots of the EU, many commentators have been reluctant to see closeness between British Prime Ministers and the US Presidency threatened by ever-closer union with Europe. However, certain international crises that have emerged in recent decades have led many to question the prudence of too-close alliance with our American peers, writes Pippa Knott.


In recent years, the allegiance of Europe’s national leaders to various international partners and organizations has been tested by conflicts and crises that have arisen across the globe – and none less spectacularly than the deeply controversial questions of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blair was widely criticized for committing British troops in the Middle East under Bush’s heavy influence; and yet it is precisely this trans-Atlantic alliance that arguably merits protection against the encroachment of the EU’s increasing powers.
A report published by the German Marshall Fund, published on 7th September 2007 has shed new light on the debate over relations with America, This showed that European citizens are currently tending to favour stronger engagement in foreign policy by the EU. Specifically, 88 per cent of respondents from across the continent support the notion that the EU should take greater responsibility for ‘global threats’. It was, furthermore, reported that this attitude would be unlikely to be reversed, regardless of the result of the upcoming US Presidential election. Simultaneously, the departure of the European heads of state most closely associated with American cooperation, at least in military deployment (Blair and Schroeder, but also to an extent Chirac), has led to the expectation that European foreign policy could well depart further from that across the Atlantic.
Illustrating this point, while Nicolas Sarkozy sought to dampen the anti-Americanism of Chirac’s latter days during his recent trip to the US, professing that France and the US remain ‘great friends’, he also reminded his international audience that even the greatest of friends may not find agreement on all issues – demonstrating a reluctance to be swept along in the American foreign policy tide that is in evidence among some European powers. His opposition to the war in Iraq was indeed blatant and widely-reported.
This comes despite widespread outcry against the implementation of a European ‘foreign minister,’ that surrounded the recent debate over the Reform Treaty. Such a post would replace the two posts currently instated to deal with Europe’s foreign affairs (those of the Commissioner for external relations, and the EU’s foreign policy High Representative). This potentially unifies and strengthens the EU’s international voice, but equally could undermine the ability for member states to have their views on global matters considered.
Critics of the Reform Treaty’s provisions – and often of deeper European integration in general – have suggested that strengthening Europe’s foreign policy presence in this way takes the union one step further down the path towards the creation of a supranational superstate. Sceptics and Europhiles alike have often pointed to the potential for Europe to act alongside ‘superpowers’ such as America: dictating international politics; controlling the world’s most powerful military forces; and regulating trade across all global regions. It is this very situation that gives rise to the dilemma that currently faces us: involvement in a strong European international force, versus allowing the US – and potentially rising stars such as Russia and even China – hegemony on the world stage.
It would seem that following American foreign policy controversy of recent years, public opinion is moving away from clear allegiance with America, instead looking to forge a coherent European approach that levies increasing weight among other great global players. British politicians and their public alike must carefully consider which route is to be pursued in the quest for the continuation of a loud and clear British voice in international affairs. The German Marshall Fund report highlights the growing unpopularity of American’s foreign policy across Europe as a whole. It remains, however, foolish to allow this to preempt a fall too far the other way: into a situation of national dependence on Brussels for international leadership and direction.

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