Europe Faces Its New Challenge

The result is finally in – Bush wins – and most of the rest of the world is rather less than pleased. You would rather expect that, but can get filled in on the details here in the Washington Post. In that article there is a brief reference to a commentary from Le Monde; reason enough to go take a look at the full piece itself, in the original French (Electoral Archaism). It turns out that that Le Monde commentary is perhaps not the most definitive word to turn to from France’s newspaper of record, since at the time it was put on-line the presidential election’s final result was not yet known – it begins “Despite an advantage held by George W. Bush, the result of the American elections remains uncertain.”

That means, then, that this is not the commentary that you would expect to come down the pike sooner or later bemoaning George W. Bush’s re-election. But it still makes a good point, one easily predicted by the piece’s title. We’re talking here, Le Monde’s editors remind us, of the unique hyperpuissance, that is, of the world’s “sole hyper-power,” so that the identity of its chief executive is of vital importance to people far beyond the US’ borders. That identity, the very “fate of the world” in their formulation (le sort du monde), happens to hang on what is in truth still a rather “archaic” election system. The entire political model is really in question here; “the United States has not known how to, or wanted, to reform an electoral system that, four years ago, already demonstrated its inefficiency and its iniquity.” The conclusion – very rightly – is that this is hardly what should be expected of a nation that otherwise likes to style itself as an example of democracy for the rest of the world.

Otherwise, the newspaper’s editors draw the obvious conclusions from what they could already know about the election results. “America remains divided in two,” they note, although also observing that “whether we like it or not, America has become more conservative, more religious, and more unilateralist, and Republicans mobilized [for the election] just as much as did the Democrats.”

So much for that, courtesy of the Washington Post’s initial mention. More to the point is another analysis in Le Monde, by Daniel Vernet, entitled Europeans Find Themselves Faced With a New Challenge. Bush has (probably) won; most Europeans will be disappointed, although the administrations of both France’s Jacques Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schröder have been smart enough to hedge their bets so as to be able to send off the usual clichéd messages of congratulations to what they both recognize as a incommode partenaire – a rather inconvenient, hard-to-work-with partner.

The main question now, though, is where the second Bush administration goes from here. Can we put any stock in recent statements from Henry Kissinger, that foreign policy in that second Bush administration will mellow somewhat, returning more to the classic “realist” lines espoused by America’s 41st president, George H.W. Bush?

The nominations Bush makes to fill his key foreign and security policy positions in the upcoming months will give us our first indication as to whether this assertion could be true. It is a valid point that policies in a president’s second term are often quite different from what they were during the first – see Ronald Reagan’s record, for example. But, ultimately, Vernet doesn’t hold out much hope for this turn of events. After all, the latest election results – and the further control over the Senate and the House of Representatives that they give to the Republicans – put Bush in the driver’s seat to a greater degree than his selection-by-Supreme-Court of four years ago. This “ideologue president,” as Vernet calls him, should now see the way clear before him to implement all the policy initiatives closest to his heart.

This has particularly alarming repercussions for Europe. While America has steadfastly supported the process of European integration so long as it has remained economic (and lately monetary, with the introduction of the euro in 1999/2002), now that this integration is taking more of a political form – what with attempts being made towards a common European foreign policy and single foreign policy spokesman – America is no longer willing to regard it with such benevolence. Luckily, this integration has likely already reached a point of no-return, whatever the Americans might think of it (although, to be fair, we should check back on this point once we know whether the proposed European Constitution ever turns out to be actually ratified by the member-states). Indeed, it’s even likely that George W. Bush has been the best influence spurring such European political unity for a long time – that is, despite himself and even as he has tried to marginalize Europe’s role on the world stage.

(That’s a curious way to put things, and at first glance it’s not accurate in view of the way the US administration was successfully able to split Europe politically and gain the support of what it termed “New Europe” for its attack into Iraq. Still, it might be more accurate than you think lately – little remains of that Coalition, given the fact that by now most all of the allies which have contributed troops to the occupation have now set definitive deadlines for withdrawing them: the Netherlands, Poland, and lately Hungary. It’s mainly the British who remain conspicuous in that they have not done similarly – yet.)

The challenge now for European leaders, the challenge named in the piece’s title, is to define a new relationship with an America which, from these election results, has shown itself to be less interested in Europe than ever. In all, although it may be controversial whether George W. Bush has been the influence doing most to unite Europe politically, the 2004 election should at least be a sort of wake-up call to European politicians to start acting to make things happen on their own, rather than reacting all the time to policy pronouncements and initiatives out of Washington – because, heaven knows, Washington is likely to take even less notice of European concerns during the coming four years.

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