The United States should continue to support the development of the European Union's (EU) common foreign and security policy, which would enable it to speak with a single voice on international issues, according to former Italian Prime Minister and former European Commission President Romano Prodi. Against the background of the elections for the European President and Foreign Affairs High Commissioner, Prodi outlined the choice facing Europe: being the world's greatest laboratory for institutional innovation, or becoming a museum. Active support from the US could help to compel EU member states to make the compromises required to continue the EU's innovative approach to resolving pressing political and security problems.

US support of European integration has been essential since the inception of the EU. In the post-war period, Prodi explained, the United States focused its resources to promote European reconstruction, reconciliation and economic integration. Its support for the European Coal and Steel Community—which initiated the treaty system on which the EU is based—contributed towards Franco-German reconciliation and helped to redefine a century of war to one of lasting peace on the continent.

European integration was built around the innovative concept that cooperation on economic matters would eventually spill over into the political and security spheres. The economic integration of the European continent has been remarkable. A key goal of this integration was met while Prodi served as President of the European Commission: the creation of a single European currency. Thanks in large measure to the strength of the Euro, the EU's ability to conduct fiscal policy during the current financial crisis has been incredibly important. For member states that have been hit particularly hard by this crisis, Prodi described the EU as a "savior."

Yet, while the US has always been supportive of Europe's economic integration, it has been skeptical about European autonomy in security issues. Prodi asserted that the US has always preferred that NATO serve as Europe's mainstay for security cooperation. During the Cold War, US-European solidarity on security issues was a necessity, not a choice, and only two Cold War security issues—the Vietnam War and the deployment of the 'Euromissiles' in the 1980s—ever challenged this solidarity. Thus, the stark bi-polar international space limited the spill-over effect, and delayed the EU's political and security integration.

In the post-Cold War era, the inherent instability of the multi-polar system created a clear need for better coordination of foreign and security policy among the EU countries. Yet, after a long history of unity, according to Prodi, US-EU relations during the George W. Bush administration began to crumble. The Bush administration's overall vision of the world differed substantially from that of some of its European allies, especially on issues such as the Iraq War and the Kyoto Protocol. US-EU tensions were reflected in the fracturing of a policy consensus among EU member states, making the hope of integration on political and security issues seem ever more distant.

During his first year in office, President Barack Obama has done a great deal to shift the tone of the US-EU relationship. But, Prodi pointed out, the people of Europe are also coming to realize that Obama cannot be a savior, and that Europe is no longer at the center of US foreign policy. Therefore, the EU must continue to work towards the goal of moving beyond economic issues towards greater political unity.

The newly adopted Lisbon Treaty will go a long way towards giving the EU a clearer voice on important global issues. Prodi described this strategy as "organized multi-polarity," which could prevent the rest of the world from exploiting the divisions between EU member states, and will strengthen the European Union's position in an increasingly multi-polar world. For the policy to work, Prodi asserted that Europeans must realize that national sovereignty cannot be unlimited and that unanimity in decision-making is not possible with 27 member states. Compromising on these issues, he stressed, will allow Europe to be an actor, not a spectator, in the world, and will give the United States a strong partner with which to enter an increasingly globalized world.

For the foreseeable future, Prodi posited, the United States will remain the dominant military power in the world, but many of the problems which we face—global climate change, the economic crisis, among others—cannot be addressed by military means. The United States therefore should do everything it can to support a stronger, more integrated Europe which would be its first choice as a partner in confronting these issues.

By Nida Gelazis and Tim McDonnell
Christian F. Ostermann, Director, European Studies