Events

Why Europe Fears Its Neighbors

October 21, 2009 // 2:00pm3:30pm

Ever since World War II, European countries have sought stability and security by limiting their sovereignty in order to build connections between states for the purpose of assuring peace. According to what Fabrizio Tassinari coined as the "security-integration nexus," the EU has pursued an ever deeper and wider integration in order to achieve its security goals, and it has often been noted that enlargement has been the EU's most successful foreign policy. Recently, however, the EU has been trying to decouple security from integration by keeping its current neighbors at arms' length. Tassinari argues that this policy runs the risk of failing to meet either goal.

Some of the most daunting challenges for the EU as a political actor are occurring at its borders – ranging from human trafficking, energy shortages to immigration. Individual EU member states still conceive of having their own national interests, which presents ideational and philosophical challenges to a common foreign and security policy for the EU. Tassinari's new book "Why Europe Fears Its Neighbors," seeks to find commonalities among these seemingly different interests in order to promote the European integration project.

In his talk, Tassinari focused on two specific EU neighbors: Turkey and Russia. The main issue in Turkey is the struggle over the meaning of modernity. Typically, Turkey's stalled modernization is blamed on the opposing ideologies that pit the traditional Kemalist establishment against the current moderate Islamist government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He argued that the prospect of European integration presents both sides with an avenue for modernization. Unfortunately, the EU features less and less within the political discourse in Turkey today. The paradox confronting EU policy vis-à-vis Turkey is that the EU accession process is losing ground to a highly politicized debate on identity, religion, and geography – issues that are not at all related to accession.

Relations with Russia similarly challenge the EU's normative influence on the continent. Until recently, the EU treated Russia as a former Soviet state, and for much of the 1990s the EU worked to promote its norms and rules in Russia. Today, however the EU has far less power to effect change. This has meant that the EU has to renegotiate its positions internally while the Kremlin shrewdly seeks to divide European countries, that are dependant on Russian hydrocarbon resources. While Europe has aimed to integrate its energy market and diversify sources, Russia has signed bilateral energy deals with a number of EU countries, trumping the EU's collective power through the realpolitik of pipelines. The recent Russian-Georgian war, Tassinari argued, also showed the limits of the EU's integrational language: The EU "lost the war" since its standards were ignored by all sides.

Tassinari drew three conclusions: First, as an institutional argument, he predicted the lines between being an EU member and becoming a member would begin to blur. That is, countries that do not want to become members may nevertheless be more integrated in terms of contributing to the development of EU norms than accession countries. Second, from a strategic perspective, although the Lisbon Treaty will advance foreign policy coordination, individual national interests will not be centralized. Therefore, informal settings for synthesizing divergent national interests will remain critical. Finally, Tassinari acknowledged that there had been a lot of criticism in Europe on exporting democratic norms, sparked in part by opposition to the US' militant democracy promotion projects. In response, Europeans have tried to do things differently, such as focusing on rule of law promotion in North Africa.

Michael Haltzel expressed exasperation with the EU's structural and unresolved bureaucratic problems. With 27 members, Haltzel noted growing animosities between EU member states due to perceptions that "some {members} are more equal than others." He applauded U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden's and the EU High Representative Javier Solana's joint visit to the Western Balkans, which he saw as an effort "to shake Europe out of its coma."

Problematically, interest by non-member countries in the EU had decreased recently. Like Tassinari, Haltzel noted that even the secular elite, which could be expected to be the most pro-European in Turkey, had cooled towards accession. In part, this may be the result of anti-Islamic attitudes prevalent in EU capitals, which he encountered in recent travels to Germany and Austria. Given that interest in EU membership is the lynchpin of its soft power, Haltzel expressed skepticism about the EU's potential to blur the lines between membership and partnership in its new neighborhood policy, as Tassinari suggested. In "bending the rules" for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in their EU accession processes, the limits of the EU's transformative power have become evident.

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

Wilson Center Photo Gallery

Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

To Attend an Event

Unless otherwise noted:

Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.