The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

mailing list
donate now
join now

Europe's "civic virtue" Or Where do we stand on the ethical foreign policy?

Dr Helen Szamuely

Not long ago I heard a well-known expert on security and international relations remind his audience of Churchill's dictum that successful foreign policy depended on civic virtue and manly courage. These are not fashionable terms, said the expert, but the concepts behind them largely survive. He suggested that while the Americans had manly courage, they were in some way lacking in civic virtue, which the Europeans produced in plenty. On the other hand, the Europeans had no manly courage. In other words, the Europeans refuse to produce fighting forces but believe, or, at least, say they believe in the need for peaceful change and co-operation in order to spread the much-touted "European virtues" of democracy, freedom and human rights. Europe, in this interpretation, stands as the direct heir of Greece in its fight against Persia and, specifically, of Athens in its fight against Sparta. This is an interpretation much to the taste of certain ponderous French politicians who like to muse on philosophical matters. Former President Giscard d'Estaing, for instance, introduced the hundred-odd pages of the most illiberal and undemocratic constitution in modern history (bar the Soviet one of 1936, which had every human and civic right imaginable but added a clause about the pre-eminent position of the Communist Party) with a quotation from Thucydides in Greek and the modern European languages about democracy and the rule by the greatest number.

The problem with all comparisons of "European" and "American" thinking and approach is the difficulty of definition. It is reasonably well known that there are several opinions in American government opinion - one thinks of the unceasing rivalry and disagreement between the State Department and the Defence Department as well as the difficult, non-consensual relaionship between the various Intelligence organizations. But at least one knows what "American" is. When one comes to Europe, it is even more difficult to define what it is that "Europeans" think. The European Union in its struggle to turn itself into a state and a presence on the world scene yeans to have an opinion and attitude but so far these consist of grand statements and expensive structures. The understanding of "civic virtue" clearly is not the same in, say, Sweden and Greece. In the end most commentators somehow imperceptibly accept that France and French opinions and attitudes will serve for Europe and European opinions and attitudes. How the French managed to achieve this position is something of a mystery, though a recent book by Richard North and Christopher Booker The Great Deception 1 goes a long way towards explaining it.

So, let us look at how the French a.k.a. the Europeans display their civic virtue while the Americans flex their muscles. Monday (January 26, 2004) is a good day for such an examination as there were two important political visits taking place. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Russia, while China's President Hu Jintao is eagerly awaited in France. Colin Powell has come from Georgia where he attended the inauguration of the newly elected President Mikhail Saakishvili and, although his public statements about Russia have been friendly and conciliatory, it is no secret that he intends to raise the subject of Russian military bases in Georgia with his hosts. Russia undertook in 1999 to close down its bases and withdraw its troops from the independent former Soviet republic. It has not done so. Furthermore, Russia has maintained direct contacts with several of the autonomomous republics within Georgia, apparently fomenting trouble between them and the Georgian government, even the newly elected immensely popular President. Would it not be a matter of civic virtue to raise these subjects and offer help and protection to a struggling democracy that has just overthrown peacefully a corrupt and oppressive regime? Clearly President Saakishvili thinks so even if no European leader appears to. The EU flag has been flying next to the Georgian one and the newly elected leader has been making statements about Georgia belonging to Europe and being one of the oldest European civilizations. What he really means is that Georgia is one of the oldest Christian civilizations. Otherwise, its culture is not European but uniquely Georgian. One can forgive a man who has not been on the international scene for long and has received a good deal of his political education in the United States for not being able to distinguish immediately between European civilization and the European Union. He will learn.

In particular he will learn that European civic virtue, as formulated by French politicians has little to do with support for fledgling democracies against big bullies. Last year France hosted a summit of African leaders, few of whom would qualify under the heading of democratic and humanitarian. In order to complete the meeting, President Chirac demanded that the EU's mild censure of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe (formerly a rich and peaceful country, though in need of some land reform, and now a barren land where people are either murdered or die of starvation) be suspended in order for this "democrat" to be welcomed in the land of European civilization. This week President Chirac will be host to Hu Jintao, President of China, one of the last remaining Communist tyrannies in the world. No doubt stringent security measures will be put in place and the sort of "disgraceful" scenes of protest we have witnessed whenever an American politician sets foot on European soil will not be seen in Paris. Both the French and the Chinese governments are arguing for a lifting of the arms embargo on China, imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. It is anachronistic we are told on all sides though, to be fair, at least one unnamed Irish diplomat has muttered about some people putting the accent on human rights. But is human rights not what "European" foreign policy supposed to be about? What happens if the no longer embargoed and gleefully exported arms are used in the bloody quelling of another pro-democracy demonstration in Beijing or Shanghai? Apparently, there will be safeguards to ensure that this does not happen and the newly acquired arms are not used against Taiwan. What are these safeguards? There is, it seems, an EU "code of conduct" that governs arms sales. Has anyone told the Chinese government this?

Sweden and Denmark and, to some extent, Netherlands oppose the lifting of the embargo. The United States has expressed serious reservations. That tore it. If the Americans do not want something, it behoves the EU to to do it. Forget democracy, forget human rights, forget civic virtue. In order to annoy the United States and to show them up to be mindless bullies, the European Union, led by the French government, will cut another deal with another vicious tyranny asking nothing in return except a good deal of money (which they may or may not hand over) and support against the Americans (which they will give if it is convenient to them). This is called having a sophisticated political dialogue. It would be a good idea for newly elected President Mikhail Saakishvili to pay attention to the EU's negotiations with China.

    1 Published by Continuum (London) in 2003