Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A Choppier Atlantic? 

At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that there's at least one good reason to think that the current choppy transatlantic relationship will worsen in the near future:
If you believe the conventional wisdom in transatlantic policy circles, a Kerry administration won’t make much difference to EU-US relations. Kerry would differ from Bush more on style than on substance: Europe and the US would still be divided on the important security and economic issues. Whether this argument is true or not (personally, I’m dubious), the transatlantic relationship is likely to enter a period of turmoil regardless of who occupies the White House. The reason: the increasing interest and involvement of the European Parliament in international affairs.


[T]he new European Parliament is looking around for ways to ingratiate itself with the voters back home (the Parliament is notoriously lacking in popular legitimacy). It’s a safe bet that one of the ways it will do this is by whipping up opposition to deals between the EU and US on security issues, and on politically sensitive economic/trade issues such as genetically modified organisms. This is a relatively cheap and easy way for it to get political kudos, especially given America’s unpopularity with European voters.

The Parliament has some foreign policy powers and is going to be trying to carve out more by pushing its competences as far as they will go. Officially, it has a right to give or withhold its assent to international treaties - it’s starting to try and expand that right into a veto over everyday relations and quasi-agreements between the EU and US in security and economic policy. If the draft constitution somehow passes referendums in Britain and elsewhere, expect the Parliament to try to make the new Foreign Minister more accountable to it, as it has rather successfully done with the Commission’s President. If not, expect the Parliament to use the powers that it has to agitate on issues of concern, just as it’s currently doing in the Passenger Name Record controversy, where it’s taking the Commission and Council to court for exceeding their competences, and (in its view) selling European citizens’ privacy down the river.
This is a good point: a more foreign-policy-oriented EP could conceivably act as an additional veto player on the world stage, reducing the set of reachable solutions to EU/US problems. It's hard to tell (or at least for me to tell) whether we're more likely to see knee-jerk, populist vetoes or simply a different strategic bargaining dynamic in this new institutional context.

A point Henry doesn't consider, but which is equally likely, is that NGOs with global agendas might find an increasingly activist EP a willing and powerful ally and dedicate more of their time and energy to lobbying the European Parliament than the Commission or the US Congress. We might also see ethnic interests investing heavily in cultivating EP sponsors if the likely returns increase. I don't really know which groups these might be, but anti-Israel or anti-Turkey populism seems just as likely to animate the EP's electorate as anti-US grandstanding.

What seems most likely is that the EP, with a similar institutional context and set of powers, will generate foreign policy (and related hand-waving) that resemble that made by the US Congress. Whether this is a good or bad thing, for the transatlantic relationship or otherwise, is tougher to say. It's probably safe to say that most of the US foreign policy initiatives that mainstream consensus thinking tags as irresponsible come out of the US Congress (with one glaring exception at the current time). Helms-Burton, Iran-Syria, you name it: if you're hoping for extraterritorial, questionably legal policies, Congress is your first and best place to shop. On the other hand, many of the most high-minded humanitarian policies also start in the Congress.

Finally, in a perhaps less-likely scenario, a particularly canny foreign power (say the US) might also choose to focus its powers of persuasion on the EP to force the hand of a particularly recalcitrant EU President or Foreign Minister. I'll post more thoughts on this last possibility soon.

UPDATE: Catallarchy is also considering the matter.

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