The Times are Changing for Europe

Now is Europe's moment to take the lead on major foreign-policy issues.

Not so long ago, Henry Kissinger quipped that Europe lacked a single telephone number, but times are changing. "For a year now, we have been thinking of how to strengthen European foreign and security policy", said Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, at his home in Helsinki.  "It is vital that Europe can become an important and efficient actor in foreign and security policy."

After a slate of post-presidential activities as an international facilitator and special envoy in Kosovo, Indonesia, Iraq, Africa and Central Asia,  Ahtisaari is now one of the European key figures behind the impending launch of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on October 1, 2007.

The origins of the ECFR are in what its founders call a "historical moment." In the past, Europe approached global issues via the transatlantic axis. Today, the ECFR's founders believe that Europe can  rely on its own resources to seek serious solutions to global issues, including climate change and Darfur, nuclear proliferation and Iran.

European Moment

At the request of Ahtisaari, I called Mark Leonard, the author of Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century and future director of the EFCR, in London.

"The timing is very good", said Leonard who has directed foreign policy at the London-based Centre for European Reform and The Foreign Policy Centre. He also observed that

in several European countries, new leaders are now in charge, trying to make a real impact. There are new constitutional shifts which support efforts at common European foreign and security policy. The schisms of Iraq have now more or less healed. Many protagonists of war have left. American foreign policy has moved away from the revolutionary stage. Many things that hindered a coherent European policy have subsided.
 In the past, the United States has been a champion of  values, but these have been weakened throughout the Iraq War. It has lost moral authority because of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. It has also lost some of its commitment to multilateral institutions, although this may be temporary. There's need for a strong European voice, as Russia and China are posing a real challenge in terms of liberal democracy and the United States can't do such heavy lifting as in the past.
The idea is to surpass the prism of national policy, to achieve a shared sense of structure and organization. The launch of the ECFR will contribute to an EU which will be a more effective and muscular partner in many issues, including nuclear proliferation.

Example forAmerica

As I got ready to fly to Shanghai, the newsstands featured the Atlantic Newsweek's cover with the smiling caricatures of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "The end of anti-Americanism", promised the cover, "From Iberia to the Russian border, European governments are rebuilding transatlantic bridges."

A decade or so ago, there were hardly any Russians, Chinese or Indians in the Helsinki Vantaa airport. Now, the terminal was swarming with business people and tourists from all three nations. At the same time, the French Airbuses have replaced the U.S. DC-9s and Boeing MD-80s at Finnair, the Finnish national airline.

As the plane prepared to take off from the Helsinki Vantaa airport, the in-flight TV screen featured troubling images from Copenhagen and Frankfurt: Danish police traced the links of the eight suspects to Al-Qaeda, while German police described how the Pakistan-trained Islamic militants had specifically targeted Frankfurt airport and the U.S.  military base in Ramstein, the hub for Iraq and Afghanistan. Both groups of radicals were united by their hate of Americans.

"The failure of the United States to exercise the right kind of leadership", writes George Soros in The Age of Fallibility, a bestseller at the Helsinki airport and across the rest of Europe, "has led me to believe that Europe could play a more important role, and if it did so, it could set an example that America could follow."

Dark clouds hovered above the airport. It began to drizzle.

Dan Steinbock came to the United States as a senior Fulbright scholar in 1986. Today, he resides in New York City and Shanghai and often works in Europe.