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Europe: who's on first?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 09, 2010

Since I've already mentioned the subject, and few other Americans are paying attention, let me call your attention to a crisis in the newly reborn European Union.

The EU, you may recall, is now a sovereign international body, with its own president, ready to its devise own foreign policy. But before the EU can even throw its weight around in the international arena, the strains-- which were inevitable in a sovereign international body made up of sovereign international bodies-- are beginning to show.

First there's the diplomatic problem. The EU wants to be an equal player in international affairs, so its leaders hoped that President Obama would attend a EU leadership summit and recognize the EU's leader as his equal. Those hopes have been dashed, as Paul Belien of the excellent Brussels Journal explains:

Washington informed Brussels last week that Obama is not coming because it is not clear who is his European counterpart. Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force on January 1st, Europe has its own President, Herman Van Rompuy. This former Belgian politician chairs the European Council, the assembly of the heads of government of the 27 EU member states. However, there is also José Manuel Barroso, a former Portuguese politician, who is the president of the European Commission, which is the EU’s executive body. And there is José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, who is hosting the Madrid meeting and as such co-chairs the summit meeting of the EU heads of government with Mr. Van Rompuy.

Confused? So am I. So is the White House. So is Europe.

Then there's the economic problem. Greece, a member of the EU, is near economic collapse. The entire European community could bail out Greece, but then it would be only a matter of time before another economically challenged European country (Portugal?) needed the same sort of help, and then another. While the resources of the EU are enormous, they are not unlimited, and citizens of the wealthier countries would soon grow tired of bailing out their insolvent neighbors. Or the EU could allow Greece to crash, but that decision would endanger the cohesiveness of the new European community.

It's the same question, actually. Does Europe want to be a single nation or a group of independent nations? Must Greece change its economic policies to suit the EU leadership? Does Brussels want to assert control over Athens, and would Athens accept such control? If the EU is a single political union, who calls the shots? We're going to learn the answers to these questions soon.

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