Events

Is the US Already an EU Member?

April 22, 2008 // 10:00am11:30am

Evangelos Venizelos

Is the U.S. already an E.U. member?

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,
Washington D.C., 22 April 2008

I consider it a great honor for me to be present today here at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. I would like to express my thanks to the Centre for the invitation and the Onassis Foundation for organizing my visit to the U.S.A.

The contribution made by the Onassis Foundation in cultivating Hellenic-American academic relations is immense. I know this very well from my tenure as Minister of Culture of the Hellenic Republic as we were in close cooperation in order to support the chairs of Hellenic Studies in many American universities. And the Foundation's contribution in the field of culture is equally great by organizing significant exhibitions.

The fact that for many years I have been an active politician without forgetting my academic identity impels me to pay special tribute to President Woodrow Wilson, whose life is a shining example that combines politics and scholarly work.

That this ever so significant center in Washington, D.C., next door to the centers where decisions are made, bears his name is certainly not incidental.

* * *
And now I come to our theme: Is the U.S.A perhaps already a member of the European Union? It is obvious that the title is deliberately provocative. Yet it demonstrates, right from the outset, just how close and inevitable the relationship between the U.S.A. and the European Union is. It shows just how strong the presence of the U.S.A. is both in the interior of the European Union and in all the side processes of European integration.
But before going any further, I ought to explain my point of view, which is not the usual viewpoint from which the question of relations between the USA and the European Union is approached.

I speak with the experience of having participated for more than ten years on the Council of Ministers of the European Union under its various compositions that were responsible for a wide range of topics: from energy and transport to justice and internal affairs and from culture and education to the protection of intellectual property rights. I speak from the perspective of a medium European country that shares the same sensitivities with the majority of the 27 member-states which have a population and economic size the same or smaller than Greece's. I also speak from the perspective of a country in Southern Europe, a country in the Mediterranean. From the perspective of a country in the Balkan Peninsula, the only one that was a member of the European Union until the recent accession of Bulgaria and Rumania and the only country in the region that combines until today the attributes of a member of the European Union, of the EMU, the Euro-zone and of an old - since 1952 - member of NATO. I also speak as a politician belonging to the domain of European Social Democracy, of the European Socialist Party, which is our common forum in the European Parliament. And of course, to tell things as they are, I speak, being fully cognizant of the fact that I come from a country having deep historical ties with the U.S.A. backdating to the Declaration of Independence of the new Hellenic state at the dawn of the 19th century. From a country that has been a firm ally of the U.S.A. during all great international conflicts and recent crises, but also from a country where public opinion is strongly anti-American.

And yet this description is not complete. The critical attitude towards the U.S.A. that still is widespread among Greek public opinion and which worsened in the more recent past because of the handling of the crisis in former Yugoslavia and more recently due to the war in Iraq, does not lessen the great significance that Greeks place on Greek-American relations. Our ties are very close, not only historically and rhetorically but also politically. Everyone in Greece realizes the critical nature of the role that the USA plays in all those matters that are of particular importance to us: The Cyprus issue, Greek-Turkish relations, the issue of the name of FYROM, the enlargement of the European Union and NATO, stability in the Balkans, the situation in the Middle East.

The European Union may institutionally be for the Greek people a point of reference for the economic and political stability of our nation, but the relations with the USA have always been the central point of reference regarding security in the military sense of the term. However, this is the core of the national sovereignty and hence the most critical field of foreign and domestic policy.

In addition, the political juncture that we find ourselves, in is of particular interest.
• We are in a year with presidential elections in the USA. In fact, today the crucial primary elections in Pennsylvania are being held, whose outcome determines, to a great extent, who will be the nominee for the Democratic Party. The Bush administration is in its final months of office.
• We find ourselves in a critical period for Europe, just before the signing of the Reform Treaty of Lisbon (which replaces the Treaty for enacting a European Constitution that was rejected by France and The Netherlands). The ratification process for the Lisbon Treaty has begun, but it must be completed by all 27 member-states. We also have just one year before the elections for a new European Parliament.
• We are debating in the middle of a prolonged international financial crisis that is affecting America firstly, but also Europe.
• We are debating while Turkey is in the throes of a great institutional crisis that once again poses a question of democracy and political pluralism. This time the crisis has to do with the activism of the Constitutional Court, seeing that the legitimacy of the ruling party is being contested, just a few months after its victory in the elections. As are the political rights of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, being contested just some months after coming into office.

We are debating a few days after the NATO Summit Meeting in Bucharest, which was of great interest both to the USA and Greece. Greece and the USA disagreed at Bucharest with regard to the accession of FYROM to NATO without previously having resolved the issue of the name. In the eyes of the Greek public as well as of all the political forces in the nation, without exception, the American Administration by virtue of President Bush himself, appeared to take a one-sided position in favor of Skopje, despite the fact that two weeks prior to the Bucharest Summit intermediary efforts by the USA had been undertaken with a view to assisting the initiative of Ambassador Nimetz being conducted under the aegis of the UN Security Council. In Bucharest, the Greek Prime Minister expressed the common position of all political forces in the nation. Greece, by refusing to have an invitation extended to Skopje (FYROM) to become a member of NATO, is exercising legitimate pressure. All stakeholders must realize that the issue of the name is not some historical oversensitivity on the part of Greece, but rather our concern for stability in the greater region. Greece wants our neighboring country to exist as a single state entity and prosper, becoming integrated into the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. However, we do not want it to cultivate obsolete irredentist illusions through the political utilization of history and symbols, let alone through the development of an artificial ethnic ideology. The Summit in Bucharest did however open the path of accession into NATO for Albania and Croatia. It also sparked off intense concern about the position of the Ukraine and Georgia, in other words, basically concern about the relationship between the USA and the European Union with Russia. It must become understood that relations between the USA - Europe - Russia are triangular ones and therefore their strategic framework must also be discussed very seriously between the USA and Europe. It cannot possibly be imposed unilaterally since Europe is the arena upon which these relations are being tested in essence.

Consequently, I shall not repeat things already known concerning relations between the two continents. Every European visiting the USA feels a bit like Alexis de Tocqueville. They try to understand American reality according to the European perceptions of institutions, relations between religion and politics, the relations between the civil society and the political system, the relations between state and economy. Something similar used to be the case with American travelers in Europe, particularly when they followed the classical route in Greece and Italy.

I belong to those who believe that, despite the differences, the relation between the two continents is genetic. America defines her identity in relation to Europe and Europe in relation to America. The western perception of things still exists as a uniform perception despite the obvious differences. America was the 'new world' in relation to the European Continent of the 18th century. Today, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and of the Federal State of Yugoslavia, Europe appears as the 'new world' concerning many issues that pertain to the interests of the USA.

Of course, within the core of all issues there is always the problem of security. Europe's security has been unceasingly a matter of concern since 1917 with the decision of President Woodrow Wilson to have America join the First World War. The fourteen points of President Wilson were formulated ninety years ago, immediately after the First World War. But when someone reads them today, they could also place them at the outset of the 1990s, immediately after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia. This also explains the weight of historical memory under which Europe functions. This position undertaken by America towards Europe was renewed in the Second World War as well as during the lengthy period of the Cold War. Greece was the first and most critical field for the application of the "Truman Doctrine" and the "Marshall Plan".

On the other hand, in the great issues relating to American security, Europe has always been the first and unquestionable partner of the USA, regardless of individual disagreements and conflicts and regardless of the institutional framework within which the relations between the two sides operated: NATO, Security Council of the U.N, bilateral or multilateral cooperation. The European phenomenon itself finds its origins in the USA. The idea for a large European Federal State according to the US model is to be found at the historic starting point of the European idea. The formation of the European Union from its early stage until today is governed by this very contradictory but insurmountable relation with the American phenomenon. All the steps in European integration are steps for Europe's emancipation from the USA but also steps for cooperation with the USA.

When the history of the European Union was beginning, just ten years after the end of World War II, everyone in Europe was fully conscious of the significance that the stance of the USA would have regarding security in the old Continent. The European Union, initially as the European Coal and Steel Community and later as the European Economic Community, came into being within the framework of an intense military and economic presence of the USA in Europe. The Treaty of Rome was signed after the establishment of NATO, with Germany under occupation and with the dollar as the indisputable international currency.

Today, 50 years later, the picture is much more complex, but still at its heart there is always the relation of Europe - USA.
• The European Union, as a single market and single legal order, provides American businesses that invest and are active in Europe, a field that is much wider and much more certain than the one national market and national legal order, of every European state, can provide individually.
• The Euro and the European Central Bank comprise a monetary and financial entity which the US Federal Reserve obviously takes into very serious consideration. The parity between the dollar and Euro may have been fluctuating recently at the expense of the dollar, but this functions at the same time not only as a means to strengthen American exports and hence the American real economy but also as a system to balance and surmount the on going international monetary and financial crises.
• The European Union of 27 member-states through its constant enlargements towards the countries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as towards the Baltic nations has become the driving force for promoting a basically single Euro -American strategic perception concerning security and stability in Europe.

The restoration of democratic institutions, the accession to international economic structures and the accession to NATO for many years have all functioned as a triptych. The European Union (with the supplementary participation of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) has assumed a very heavy burden regarding the promotion of the first two aspects. Of course, the relations between the USA and the European Union are usually seen as relations between two economic entities. But this is not the historically and politically integrated approach. The annual summit meeting of the USA and the European Union, the Framework for Advancing Transatlantic Economic Integration and the Transatlantic Economic Council, the Air Transport Agreement and Open Skies Plus, the discussions about the Docha round, the talks on Energy Security and the Climate Change, the developments within the context of the US Visa waiver program for all remaining EU Member States, including Greece, are all critical issues, each of which having its own significance. However, the approach to the individual issues ought not to split the historical and political base of USA-European Union relations.

Needless to say, there are in fact points of friction. From Container Security and the exchange of the personal data of passengers on air flights to Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, or the enlargement of NATO. But none of these place the USA outside of Europe. Let me elaborate: In the more "pleasant" field of culture, which is not all that innocent, ideologically and politically, the European Union is unifying as a cultural market through the traffic of American cultural goods, such as films. In Greece, for example, people are much more familiar with American cinema than they are with the Finnish or even the German cinema. I would not say the same about the British, French, Italian or Spanish cinema, but in any event, without a question, American films occupy the first place. From the pleasant field of cinema, we can proceed to the very tough field of energy policy. All the European states and especially those that do not have adequate natural resources or use nuclear energy are concerned about the sufficiency and safety of supply with oil and natural gas. Greece is actively collaborating in many oil and natural gas pipeline projects. We are trying to diversify our supply sources so as to prevent any unilateral dependency. But we do want to be able to be supplied with adequate quantities that are readily available, taking of course into account the future potential of reserves, such as those in Azerbaijan or the possibilities to be offered in the future by pipelines currently under construction. We do however fully understand the American concerns of the risk of unilateral dependency on natural gas particularly. We comprehend the strategic depth of the American approach. But the framework, in which Euro-Russian relations function, just as American-Russian relations function, is not that of a "Cold War". From this aspect, the formulation of a comprehensive and uniform European energy policy would help in balancing relations among the European Union, USA and Russia in the critical sector of energy policy, but in many others as well.

The major issue, however, is the prospect of European integration. To my mind, European integration is a constant choice in America's strategy. I refer not to the relative academic debate and the various theoretical views that are mainly expounded in the USA on this topic. I refer to the final political result that, in my opinion, arises quite explicitly and regardless of any fluctuations in the political juncture. Whoever believes that the crucial issues are the balance of trade between the European Union and the USA, the issue of direct American investments in the European Union, the issue of protecting intellectual property rights for American audiovisual works, the matter of airline services and Open Skies, just to mention the latest very important agreement, undervalues the strategic view of USA-EU relations.

The USA through the network of their bilateral relations with the member-states of the European Union, through their contacts with the member-states of the Union sitting on the Security Council of the United Nations and on the G8 Group, through the management of great issues such as that of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Kosovo, are very well aware of the European political reality. My impression is that the USA has a much more spherical and a clearer picture of the function of the European Union and its course and prospects for its integration than that of the majority of middle and smaller sized member-states concerning the function and future of the European Union. The USA knows very well what the real equilibrium is between the European phenomenon and the phenomenon of the nation-state in Europe.

Besides, the American choices in relation to the European integration are primarily influenced by the parameter of security, whereas the choices of member-states of the European Union are influenced by many other factors as well: from economic interests of every single member-state, to the receptivity of society and of public opinion, to the electoral and political circle, that is in effect reactionary in every member-state, and so on.

A characteristic example is the enlargement of the European Union to include Turkey and the countries of the Western Balkans. The stance of the USA, for political reasons, is clearly in favor of the accession of Turkey and the Western Balkans into the European Union. The stance of many member-states, on the other hand, is from hesitant to negative, especially regarding Turkey. Turkey's prospect for accession into the European Union was one of the reasons why the European Constitution was rejected in the relevant referendum in France.

What is odd but interesting is that the Greek approach to these issues seems to resemble more the American approach as it gives precedent to the matter of security, in other words, precedent to criteria of high policy. In this sense, Greece has always been in favor of the European prospect for Turkey, provided it complies with the criteria that all candidate countries must meet before accession, including respect for international law and establishing relations of good neighborliness.

Greece has followed this line since 1995 with the simultaneous aim of having the Republic of Cyprus join the European Union. An aim which has been achieved. The so-called strategy of Helsinki that was formulated at the summit meeting held there in 1999 links Turkey's European course with the establishment of a relation of good neighborliness with Greece and the resolution of the issue of marking the boundaries of the continental shelf in the Aegean sea, in accordance with International Law and ultimately via the International Court in The Hague.

For the same reason Greece believes that the future of the western Balkans passes through the accession of all the nations in the region into the European Union. After Bulgaria and Rumania, we see the same European prospect, eventually, for all these countries. I should now make special reference to the case of Serbia and FYROM.

I revert, first of all, to the case of FYROM. Greece's refusal to consent at the latest NATO summit meeting to extend an invitation to FYROM to join the Alliance, because a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue was not fore coming, does not mean the end of the intermediary effort by Ambassador Nimetz. We truly wish for a solution. We desire a final solution with a compound name that will apply internationally, to all States and International Organizations. The dispute over the name was acknowledged, after all, as an international dispute with the interim agreement of 1995 and the respective resolutions 817 and 845 of the UN Security Council in 1993, precisely because the name issue was linked with the risk of developing irredentist practices that could jeopardize the relationships of good neighborliness and exacerbate the situation in the wider region, since whatever happens in FYROM concerns, for apparent reasons, both Albania and Bulgaria. Therefore, it is not a case of an emotional or historical reaction but rather of foresight with a purely practical and political content in the name of peace and stability in a very difficult region. Greece is the biggest foreign investor in FYROM. The economic relations of the two countries are vital to the economy of Skopje (FYROM). That there is an open dispute as to the name must not obscure the reality of bilateral and multilateral relations in the region. Greece is in favor of the existence and prosperity of FYROM. We support its statehood. We consider the coexistence of the Slav-Macedonian and Albanian community under the state form of FYROM to be completely feasible. FYROM's accession into NATO can be taken for granted, if the name issue is resolved. But, far more critical is that country's accession into the European Union. Accession that Greece could promote intensively as long as the name issue is resolved. The small size of the economy of FYROM that already is in a candidacy status allows for its accession by priority into the European Union. This amounts to positive pressure and not a veto.

Serbia must also join European and NATO structures. Right now their stance is defensive and awkward, but this is understandable considering the unilateral declaration of the independence of Kosovo and its recognition by the USA and many European countries.

Greece has not recognized the independence of Kosovo because our firm choice has always been full respect for international law and the conflict resolving processes in the United Nations. We do not want a precedent to be created that could cause a domino effect in the Balkans or in many other regions of the world. Of course, I am aware of the argument that Kosovo is a sui generis case and therefore no precedent is therefore established. But the history of diplomacy is full of sui generis cases. Every region with problems believes itself to be a sui generis case. The correctness and historical perspective of each move in the realm of international politics depend on how safe a prediction we can make about the next move. In any event, the accession of Serbia and all the countries in the Western Balkans into the European Union and the structures of NATO is the only long-term and viable solution for the future of the Kosovo.

This particular reference to the Balkans must not cage us in by restricting Greece to its geographical position as a country in that region. Institutionally and politically Greece is not a part of the Balkan region, because since 1944 and onwards it has followed a completely different and purely western course. It is the only country in the region that has followed this course and as a result, Greece may be geographically, but certainly not institutionally, politically or economically, a Balkan country.

However, I revert to the strategic perception of the USA regarding the European Union. It is obvious that the USA has a comprehensive perception regarding the future of Europe and of European integration.

To my mind, the USA is consistently oriented towards a "controlled European integration":
• It wants a large European Union as an instrument for incorporation into the western economic and political system of the states that left behind the adventure of communism.
• It wants a single European market and hence a single European legal order. It has accepted the Economic and Monetary Union and the existence of the Euro.
• It does not want, however, Europe as an institutional and political entity that affects the balances and structures of the North Atlantic cooperation and NATO in matters of foreign policy and of the policy for security and defense or as an entity that seeks a new role for the UN and especially for its Security Council,

In this respect, the European Union, in the eyes of the USA, is an organization suitable to assume the cost of incorporating new countries, a safe field for economic action, a trade partner, but not an equivalent military and political entity.
In fact, the manner in which the USA handles the relation between the European Union and its member-states demonstrates that it has a good feeling of the European correlation of powers. The position of the majority of new member-states that took membership of the European Union from 15 to the current European Union of 27 Member States is undoubtedly influenced, to a large extent, by the historical experience of communism and their relations with the former Soviet Union. It is obvious that in the interior of the European Union - just as in the interior of NATO - the number of states belonging to the "north-Atlantic" wing has increased. Some discern among the traditional "north-Atlantic" stand of certain old members-states an even purer "pro-American" stand among most new member-states. In any event, it is true that with respect to all the big issues two major trends are discerned: one more 'European' and the other more 'Atlantic'. The distinction between continental Europe and the United Kingdom or the distinction between the old member-states of Europe's 15 and the new member-states from Central Europe and the Baltic is transformed into a distinction between a more emancipated and a much friendlier attitude towards the USA.

The USA has undertaken a more active viewpoint concerning enlargement, common foreign policy and the policy of security and defense of the European Union, concerning the single market and European policy in the field of Justice and home affairs. It is very well acquainted with the difficulties and contradictions in the process of European integration; it knows very well the point up to which the so-called "community method" can reach, the latter having an intense federal nature and the point after which it becomes necessary to resort to the intergovernmental method that is based upon respect for the sovereignty of the member-states. Besides, this method is applied to all the large issues, such as the Treaty to enact a Constitution for Europe that came up against the negative outcome of the referendum in France and The Netherlands. The so-called Reform Treaty of Lisbon - as I have already said - has retained to a great extent the essential contents of the European Constitution, but has relinquished to the great symbolisms contained in that European Constitution: the flag, the anthem, and the term Constitution itself, items which imply state sovereignty. From the 18th century that was marked by the American Constitution and American Independence until the 21st century, the distance is short because in either case the concept of Constitution prevails. It is the era of Constitutionalism. This is another historical and genetic connection between Europe and the USA, between the tradition of American Independence and the tradition of the French Revolution. Regardless of how one describes these phenomena that par excellence have to do with the political entity of the European Union, the truth is that the USA is in reality present at the conference tables both of the European Council and the Council of Ministers of the EU. In this sense, the USA is a member and indeed an influential but virtual member of the European Union.

The official American perceptions regarding all the critical issues are represented in the spectrum of political perceptions that are put forward in the European political state of affairs.

Needless to say, the reverse is likewise true. The perceptions that could be described as 'European' with respect to security, multilateralism, management of international crises, are part and parcel the American political state of affairs. They are advocated by American intellectuals, Presidential candidates, Senators and Congressmen in the House of Representatives. The request to close down Guantanamo, when expressed in Europe, could be considered an expression of anti-Americanism. But when the same question is raised by Senator McCain, it is an aspect of American domestic political life and a sign of liberalism.

It is universally accepted that there are large aesthetic and ideological differences between the American and European understanding of history, international relations, war. Many are they who repeat the distinction between a Europe that is a follower of Kant, eternal peace and goddess Aphrodite (Venus) and an America that is a follower Hobbes, clashing with 'evil' and represented by Mars, ancient Greek God of war. It is customary to focus discussions on the differences between Europe and America with regards to the relations between politics and religion. On both continents there are different categories of political speech. On both continents there are simplifying, demagogic and populist views that go against rationalism and viewpoints that are level-headed, responsible, multi-prismatic and rational.

What are significant are the political institutions within which political conformations take place and political decisions are made. From this aspect, the national state in Europe continues to be a vital step both for the functioning of democracy and the protection of the rule of law and of human rights.

The European Union functions as an administrative system. It functions as legal order and as a judicial system; it functions as a single market, but it still does not function as a single political system. There is no fundamental distinction between majority and minority which is the core of a contemporary representative democracy, regardless of whether it is organized according to the American presidential system or according to the European parliamentary or semi-presidential systems of governance. There is no pure European government or a pure European opposition. The European Union is governed by a large rolling coalition in which participants are all the states, all the governments and the majorities of all national parliaments: Christian Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists, and British Labor. Governments that are conservative and governments that are progressive, one-party governments and governments of multi-party cooperation, governments that are stable and governments that are unstable all co¬exist in the European Council and the Council of Ministers of the European Union.

Owing to the twenty-seven different electoral and political circles that exist in the member-states of the European Union, this rolling coalition is continually reformulating, but is maintained. This situation is particularly complex in comparison to the simplicity of the American political system at the federal level, particularly with respect to foreign and security policy, but also vis¬ a vis monetary policy.

Within such a European poli

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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