Ask a Senior Analyst — Michael J. Geary

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Michael J. Geary. Questions and Mr. Geary’s answers are transcribed below.

Michal Geary

Michael J. Geary is an Assistant Professor of Contemporary Europe/European Union at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, a Non-Residential Global Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for European Global Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland. He is the author of two books and numerous articles/op-eds about the process of European Union (EU) integration and enlargement, transatlantic relations and British-Irish relations

Mr. Geary has held distinguished fellowships including a Fulbright, Global Europe Fellowship at the Wilson Center and a European Parliament-Bronisław Geremek Research Fellowship at the College of Europe (Warsaw). He holds a PhD from the European University Institute, Florence, Italy.

Shaun Riordan: With the deepening integration of the eurozone, the European Union increasingly seems divided into (at least) three parts: the eurozone, the Eurosceptic North-West and a somewhat abandoned Eastern Europe (also seeing increasing nationalist thinking). How do you see this de facto three speed EU development, what implications does it have for the Treaty of Lisbon (and the European Commission) and how will it impact Britain’s relations with the EU?

Answer: Much depends on how one defines Euroscepticism. It is not necessarily an unhealthy phenomenon. The problem arises when it gets bound up with unhealthy doses of nationalism and right- and left-wing propaganda and the reluctance of mainstream parties to combat the rhetoric. There are differences and divergences between the 28 member states on certain policy fields (foreign policy, agriculture, environment). These have always existed, but managing differences perhaps has become more challenging with each round of accession.

The multi-speed or multi-dimensional nature that you describe is a cause for concern, but I would argue is an inevitable result of the nature of the integration process linked to successive rounds of enlargements. An enlarged EU does not necessarily mean deeper integration with every member state on the same bus and going in the same direction. Each of the 28 is faced with particular national challenges and each has a different relationship with, and approach to, European integration and its direction. Differences have existed since day one whether these are related to policies or visions. The euro and Schengen Area are examples of the multi-speed nature of the EU’s policy framework.

Britain (like other countries) has been able to negotiate op-outs and most likely will continue to exercise this option into the future. London seems to have greater issue with decisions emanating from the Council of Europe than with decisions from the EU’s legal watchdogs. I do not think this continued piecemeal integration greatly affects British-EU relations. Part of the problem for London will be to convince the other 27 capitals (and the EU institutions) to agree to the package of changes (still undefined) likely to be sought after next year’s British general election (should the Conservatives return to government).

There seems to be very little appetite in wanting to accommodate London’s demands (unlike in the mid-1970s, but the Community only had nine members then). Attempts to forge deeper links between eurozone countries through wider treaty changes (a new EU treaty) would allow Britain the opportunity to seek a grand bargain mirrored on what David Cameron mentioned in his January 2013 speech on the subject. Much will depend on the generosity of his EU counterparts and their interest (or lack thereof) in keeping Britain inside the EU. The integration process will continue with Britain maintaining semi-insider status. Much more interesting is whether Britain withdraws from the Council of Europe and the impact that this might have on its relations with the EU.

Larry White: Do you see the EU ever limiting enlargement and specifically what do you see as the end result for Turkey’s status in the EU?

Answer: Yes. Even the United States stopped expanding and it seems conceivable that the EU, too, will at some stage draw a line under the enlargement process. And yes, I see Turkey becoming a member. The real question is, when? Turkey has been a candidate for membership since 1999; accession talks started in 2005 and negotiations are open on 22 chapters, including company law, taxation and environment. There are some obstacles in the accession process. Turkey and Cyprus need to negotiate a final solution on Northern Cyprus. The EU cannot inherit another conflict like it did with Northern Ireland, for example, in the 1970s. Political stability and human rights are important issues (and obstacles) for the EU in Turkey. Currently, there is little movement with negotiations and there is little appetite between both sides to move the process forward.

András Tóth-Czifra: Do you think that, as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, EU member states will shift to a more strategic, rather than short-term approach to foreign policy, which we haven’t witnessed so far? Or will Germany take the lead to negotiate a swift, tactical solution to the present crisis?

Answer: The EU’s response to the crisis has been dismal. but not wholly surprising. It has exposed the bloc’s energy dependence on Russia, its failure to diversify its energy needs and the lack of concrete foreign policy tools that can be employed swiftly. Russia annexed a piece of Ukraine and the EU’s initial sanctions meant that some individual were bared from shopping at Harrods. It took the downing of a passenger airliner for the EU to increase sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy. This should have been done months ago when the conflict started.

Given the diverse foreign policy positions in the EU, it seems unlikely that the Ukraine crisis will result in a more strategic foreign policy being developed. It seems to me that the EU will continue to take each crisis and assess them separately. A unified approach to 28 foreign policies is like trying to square a circle. Initially, I had hoped that Germany might act as an “honest broker” between Russia and the rest in the conflict in the Ukraine. I no longer believe Berlin has the influence to action a peaceful solution. Attitudes in Moscow seem too entrenched.

Cody Zoschak: How do you envision Germany and other key NATO/EU anchors responding to major international interventions in the future. Would they join international coalitions far afield again, or will they limit themselves to Europe and the near abroad?

Answer: That’s a good question and one that has become harder to answer since last year’s crisis in Syria. Since Iraq and Afghanistan, Europeans and Americans have become not so much war-weary but certainly war-wary. It was clear toward the late 2000s, highlighted especially during the Democratic Party primary battle between then Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that there would be a reluctance to get involved in conflicts in far-flung places. Just how much this affected European public opinion and thinking was clear when British Prime Minister David Cameron tried and failed to get parliament to approve some kind of (limited) intervention in Syria last year — despite the fact that the regime in Damascus was most likely using chemical weapons. This created a ripple effect in Paris and in Washington.

Does Syria create a precedent for the use of force in new conflict zones? What if Russia invades Eastern Ukraine? The EU will continue to use its considerable “soft” power globally through the provision of financial aid, trade agreements, exporting many of its core values particularly in the field of human rights and promotion of democracy. Additionally, UN-linked peacekeeping missions would continue. However, the heavy lifting will continue to come from NATO. I argue that successive rounds of EU enlargement to include neutral, non-aligned and NATO countries has made it almost impossible for the EU as a whole to develop a foreign policy that would reflect the role NATO plays in military intervention. Moreover, as we have witnessed with the EU’s timid response to the crisis in Crimea, the EU still views foreign policy through a particular national lens — cooperation rather than integration is the name of the game.

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