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The German Lion and the French Lamb

Can the European Union serve as an example for peaceful integration in the rest of the world?

August 21, 2002

Can the European Union serve as an example for peaceful integration in the rest of the world?

Since the end of World War II, European life has been shaped by the unfolding of a geopolitical fantasy — a miracle of world-historical importance: The German lion has laid down with the French lamb.

As a result, the conflict that ravaged Europe ever since the violent birth of Germany in the 19th century has been put to rest.

The means by which this miracle has been achieved have understandably acquired something of a sacred mystique for Europeans, especially since the end of the Cold War.

Diplomacy, negotiations, patience, the forging of economic ties, political engagement, the use of inducements rather than sanctions, the taking of small steps and tempering ambitions for success — these were the tools of Franco-German rapprochement and hence the tools that made European integration possible.

That integration was not to be based on military deterrence or the balance of power. Quite the contrary. The miracle came from the rejection of military power and of its utility as an instrument of international affairs — at least within the confines of Europe.

During the Cold War, few Europeans doubted the need for military power to deter the Soviet Union. But within Europe, the rules were different.

"The genius of the founding fathers," European Commission President Romano Prodi commented in a speech given at the Institute d'Etudes Politiques in Paris on May 29, 2001, "lay in translating extremely high political ambitions . . . into a series of more specific, almost technical decisions. This indirect approach made further action possible. Rapprochement took place gradually. From confrontation we moved to willingness to cooperate in the economic sphere — and then on to integration."

This is what many Europeans believe they have to offer the world: not power, but the transcendence of power. Europe's experience of successful multilateral governance has, in turn, produced an ambition to convert the world.

Europe "has a role to play in world 'governance,'" adds Prodi, a role based on replicating the European experience on a global scale. In Europe, "the rule of law has replaced the crude interplay of power . . . Power politics have lost their influence." And by "making a success of integration we are demonstrating to the world that it is possible to create a method for peace," he concludes.

No doubt there are Britons, Germans, French and others who would frown on such exuberant idealism. But many Europeans — including many in positions of power — routinely apply Europe's experience to the rest of the world.

For is not the general European critique of the American approach to "rogue" regimes based on this special European insight?
Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya — all of these states may be dangerous and unpleasant, even evil. But might not an "indirect approach" work again, as it did in Europe?

Might it not be possible once more to move from confrontation to rapprochement, beginning with cooperation in the economic sphere — and then moving on to peaceful integration? Could not the formula that worked in Europe work again with Iran or even Iraq? A great many Europeans insist that it can.

The transmission of the European miracle to the rest of the world has become Europe's new mission civilisatrice.

Just as Americans have always believed that they had discovered the secret to human happiness and wished to export it to the rest of the world, so the Europeans have a new mission born of their own discovery of perpetual peace.

Thus, we arrive at what may be the most important reason for the increasing divergence in views between Europe and the United States.

America's power, and its willingness to exercise that power — unilaterally, if necessary — represents a threat to Europe's new sense of mission in the world.

This essay was adapted from a longer article that originally appeared in Policy Review.