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Forging a European Worldview

Some complain that the European Union lacks a “worldview.” In fact, the EU’s problem is that it has too many of them.

Europeans’ common experiences and interests mean that they should have a shared view on global issues. But the sad reality is that political, social and economic pressures tend to push EU members and citizens in opposing directions. Shared histories, it seems, are an insufficient basis for shared policies.

Nevertheless, the more pragmatic that Europe’s policies are, the greater the chances of success, not least when it comes to global issues. Europeans have a shared appraisal of many of the world’s problems and often put forward common methods and strategies for coping with them.

For example, on climate change, immigration and development aid, there is growing consensus, as there is on energy policy and the further development of the European Security Strategy. Agreement in these areas is not merely a reflection of some lowest common denominators. In each area, Europe has contributed important added value at a global level.

Indeed, Europe’s community of attitudes is becoming synonymous with solutions to world problems. After all, climate change, energy security and demographic challenges have been part of the European discourse for many years. Now that discourse is starting to be shared by other parts of the world.

The global financial and economic crisis may also be a catalyst for promoting Europe’s vision of a new world order. The EU vision of a capitalist economy harnessed to social progress and subject to regulation, rather than laissez-faire, is growing in influence. New economic powers like China, India and Brazil must find their own ways of addressing social injustice and encouraging equal opportunity for all, and the European model looks increasingly attractive to them.

Yet many differences still separate societies within the EU. There are divergent views on many vital global problems. And although these differences may grow smaller with time, they occasionally take on an alarmingly clear-cut form, as in the case of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It is nevertheless comforting that Europe’s differences on global issues have not had an excessive impact on the EU’s internal dynamics. The war in Iraq did not delay the Union’s “big bang” enlargement and was not the reason for the failure of referenda in France and the Netherlands on the Constitutional and Lisbon treaties.

And Europe does need to develop structures and decision-making processes that limit conflicts of interest by offering compromise solutions. This is the crux of the Lisbon Treaty, which is designed to usher in new institutions and mechanisms aimed at creating more politically cohesive EU external policies. Transferring more areas of responsibility, such as foreign aid and development policies, to EU institutions helps the Union to adapt to new international realities by underpinning its growing importance as Europe’s decision-making center.

Shaping a shared vision of the world should start with Europe’s immediate neighborhood. The enlargement of NATO and the EU has embraced a dozen or so states in Central and Eastern Europe and in the western Balkans. But despite these achievements, European integration is far from complete, and it will remain so until all European countries can follow the same development path.

This failing was the key reason for the Balkan tragedy of the 1990s. Fortunately, the time for armed conflict in that region appears to have come to a definitive end now that the Balkan states are on the path to NATO and EU membership. But Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine and Moldova, also must be treated as a region of special importance.

Ukraine’s population of 46 million means that it is far too big and important to be left out of any vision of Europe’s future. Yet the EU’s strategy toward Ukraine has been ambiguous and obscure. The Orange Revolution’s reform drive has been slowed or even halted not only by domestic political and economic crises, but also by the EU’s perceived indifference to Ukraine’s fate.

EU leaders lament Ukraine’s political divisions and slow pace of reform, and the country’s leaders need to address these criticisms. But lack of progress also reflects the EU’s failure to embrace Ukraine. Reform of a country’s political and economic institutions and its accession to the EU and NATO usually go hand in hand because the prospect of membership makes painful decisions electorally acceptable. In short, it is unrealistic of the EU to expect European outcomes from countries like Ukraine and Moldova without making a full commitment to them.

Fortunately, that approach is changing. The Gas Memorandum signed earlier this year between the EU and Ukraine on the extension and exploitation of Ukrainian gas pipelines is a perfect example; in return for political support and for funding of the extension of its pipelines, Ukraine has agreed to adopt EU rules governing management and access to the gas transmission line. Ukraine also agreed to implement the relevant EU energy directives as part of its membership of the European Energy Community. It is a first step toward Ukraine’s eventual full integration into the EU single market.

The EU’s current lack of unanimity on many world issues, as well as continental issues such as Ukraine, is no reason for despair. The trick for the Union is to develop shared solutions and to take joint foreign policy actions, even when various EU governments see things differently.

Aleksander Kwasniewski was president of Poland from 1995 to 2005. © Project Syndicate

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