The Independent View: The accidental superpower called Europe

Ever since the formation of a political union in Europe, the Continent has battled between liberalism and socialism (or left vs right) – the argument was mainly based around economic reform. This problem still persists today, with France resisting the free market approach and Germany unwilling to restrict trade union power.

France and Germany, at first, rejected any Anglophile influence within the European Union and rejected the economic liberal stance of Britain. It is difficult to understand or justify the positions Europe once took, especially over the Chinese arms embargo, which the EU wanted to end. But Europe is now starting to adopt liberalisation of markets, and is building an ethical foreign policy, stronger military partnership, and abandoning plans to maintain the Chinese arms embargo.

This experiment is now 27 members strong, and recently expanded to create a Mediterranean Union within the current system. However, the Mediterranean states do have access to the European market, and vice versa, because a minority of the Mediterranean members wanted to join the European Union but were denied access on the grounds of not being “European”. So the EU created a union within a union.

It is difficult to predict if the Mediterranean Union will work; Turkey, after all, still wants to join the EU. The misfit and unorthodox transition has put Europe in an uncomfortable position within the world and the new Union is located in uncharted waters; the Middle East process has been inadvertently placed into the hands of a nervous, yet powerful cabal.

Israel, Palestine and Syria are part of this new Mediterranean Union – all leaders expressed a desire for peace and President Sarkozy congratulated the willingness for change. These enemies once expressed their desire for Europe to lead the crusade for peace, which automatically undermined and undercut American influence in the Middle East. It is difficult to suggest how Europe will take this new found role of the most dominant diplomatic force in the world when the Commission is hell-bent on integration and constitutional reform.

European leaders are forlorn and frustrated. Until we reject constitutional window dressing and start using this new profound influence, Europe will just be a modern Austrian-Hungarian Empire: a monolithic collection of nation states and nationalities associated with political infighting leading to eventual breakup. In other words, a powerful federation unable to work together.

The Union is a potential superpower: the EU can defend and promote European virtues across the world. Historically, foreign affairs traditionally resulted in ‘Old Europe’ descending into diplomatic fallouts, as once again happened over Iraq. Tony Blair became the ‘traitor’, and was banished by the French. Now Blair is a potential President of Europe – funny how times change. Blair made Europe realise the world needed a strong European Union, which was willing to play a significant role in the international community.

Europe, when combined, has a collective population of 500 million citizens and the largest economy in the world (if you includ non-Eurozone members). We are living in the post-American world where the US superpower is declining and entering a similar stage to that of Great Britain in the 1930s. These years of uncertainty have led to a Europe achieving goals by accident and unsure where the journey into a global force will venture to. Human rights, democracy and justice are the values we Europeans to seek to promote – not enforce or impose – to all four corners of the Earth. But is the current method the best solution for the European community?

The future for Europe is unclear and hard to evaluate. Influence, and the spreading of it, will be vital for the aspirations of the European Union. In the new global community the Union cannot be seen as protectionist and isolationist, when China and India will be seeking to expand their sphere of influence. The reluctant United Kingdom, however, could remain the Achilles heel of Europe unless we see an administration with a pro-active policy towards the EU: we could become the protagonist and the leader if only a government wanted to be more European.

Many will disagree with my comments – others will object passionately – but maybe we can all agree on one point: Europe needs to reject achievements by accident and start making significant distinctions in foreign affairs. The EU should be moving away from internal talking to repositioning itself as a potential superpower. If Europeans do not, then Europe faces a future as a voiceless power in the world.

* Daniel Furr is an independent liberal, not linked to the Lib Dems, currently studying business at Greenwich University. He is also a part time freelance blogger commenting on politics and international affairs.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and The Independent View.


  • “Ever since the formation of a political union in Europe, the Continent has battled between liberalism and socialism (or left vs right)”

    Except many of the prime architects claim their political origins from among the three main distinct traditions and the there is strong agreement across the EU that the three top jobs should reflect this political balance.

  • Paul Pettinger 23rd Jul '08 - 10:50pm

    Arguing that the EU should become an Empire is surely one of the most unattractive ways to sell the organisation. I don’t want to live in a world of large political blocks, it sounds like some kind of hellish vision of an NUS conference, but on the world stage. Internationalism is not about creating an island called Europe (plus a bit of North Africa). That’s not pluralism.

  • Was 1820-1910 a period of remarkable peace between European nations?

    In terms of warfare mortality rates disease grew to be a bigger threat as the massed frontal assault became a less favorable tactic to be replaced by the artillery barrage, but in terms of actual warfare continental peace only existed from the perspective that Britain was isolated from any conflict (Crimea excluded).

    Was it even the greatest period of imperial expansion?

    ‘European’ liberal culture has colonised and expanded into far more corners of existence since 1950 and at ever increasing rates because we haven’t put away our historic squabbling and have admitted we can remain disunited behind a single banner.

    We have started to win the case for parliamentary democracy by pointing out how this creates a system of checks and balances against overwhelming power which is being taken up across the world particularly by African, Latin American and South-East Asian countries as the means for them to exercise the equality of their voice against larger neighbours.

    The eternal question we face is how to accurately formulate a multi-lateral global polity by ensuring accountability is enhanced without undermining any of the foundations which constitute it. Continentalism is only one part of the full answer.

    The ‘accidental superpower’ is a description traditionally used to describe Britains involvement in India. Trade agreements were not defended by political settlement but by militarism and hegemonic exploitation at the expense of all.

    So the term doesn’t apply to any definition of Europe when the balance of internal divisions clearly showed positive dissent over the subject of the invasion of Iraq and forces are actively pushing and opposing superpower status. And it will continue to be a misapplication of the term while we export our examples of best practise and good governance around the world – the importance of this struggle remains highlighted in areas where resistance is greatest (Afghanistan, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Congo etc).

  • Daniel Furr 24th Jul '08 - 6:12pm

    Paul, my reference to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire wasn’t meant to suggest the European Union should become an Empire.

    I was merely using a historically example of a federation unable to operate as a unit. I was not advocating the creation of a European Empire.

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