The Bush Administration Should Not Back the European Constitution

Report Europe

The Bush Administration Should Not Back the European Constitution

February 16, 2005 5 min read

Authors: Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman

Newly-appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deserves credit for laying down the gauntlet to European critics of U.S. foreign policy. Her gutsy trip to several EU capitals, including London, Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, rightfully won her plaudits across a Europe deeply divided over the war in Iraq and a host of major foreign policy issues, including the Iranian nuclear question and the China arms embargo. The second Bush Administration has sensibly made the strengthening of the transatlantic alliance a key foreign policy priority, recognizing that coalition-building in Europe is critical to advancing long-term American interests on the world stage. The United States must continue to actively engage all major players in Europe, including those with whom it disagrees.


On the question of European aspirations for a common foreign policy, however, the position stated by Rice is problematic. In an interview with the Financial Times and a small group of European newspapers, the Secretary of State backed the drive led by France and Germany to forge a common European foreign policy, reportedly stating that a "unified" Europe was a "positive force":


As Europe unifies further and has a common foreign policy - I understand what is going to happen with the constitution and that there will be unification, in effect, under a foreign minister - I think that also will be a very good development. We have to keep reminding everybody that there is not any conflict between a European identity and a transatlantic identity…[1]


Rice's comments may be seized upon by supporters of a federal Europe, whose goal is the creation of a European super-state, as a counterweight to American global power. They could present her remarks as official confirmation of American support for the EU Constitution and may use them to try to isolate those who are campaigning across Europe for defeat of the Constitution in referenda.


Rice's comments also send a confusing message to Europe regarding the United States' position on further political integration. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, has pointedly refused to back the idea of a united Europe. There is no evidence to suggest that the White House endorses the EU Constitution, and the Bush Administration's position has until now been largely neutral, with a healthy dose of skepticism.


Several important points need to be made regarding the European Constitution:

1. The EU Constitution is not a done deal.
Implementation of the Constitution requires the ratification of all EU member states. Several countries will hold referenda on the Constitution, leaving open the very strong possibility that it will not be ratified. Opinion polls in Britain, for example, show that an overwhelming majority of the British public is opposed to the Constitution and likely to reject it at the polls in 2006. In addition, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland may all vote no, as well.


If a major European country rejects the Constitution, a multi-speed Europe will result, in which some countries opt for closer political union, while traditional U.S. allies such as Britain form an outer core of EU members, with looser political ties to Brussels.


2. Europe is divided, not united. Europe is a union of nation-states, which are deeply divided by history, language, and culture and which maintain a striking division of outlook regarding major foreign policy issues. Iraq is a perfect example. There are currently 12 EU member states with troops in Iraq and 13 EU members who have refused to support the U.S.-led coalition. In addition, there are serious disagreements over attitudes towards American global power, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Kyoto protocol, how to successfully wage the war on terror, and the role NATO should play in the new era. Any attempt to force consensus in Europe, which the Constitution would undoubtedly do, would be inherently undemocratic, counter-productive, and artificial.


3. The Common European Foreign and Security Policy is not in the U.S. interest. It is frightening to imagine what would happen to American interests if the supranational impera­tive in Europe extended further into the foreign and security policy realm. For example, if the Common European Foreign and Security Policy had func­tioned in 2003, Belgium, France, or Greece (all states with strongly anti-American publics) could have kept the U.K., Poland, and Italy from aiding America in Iraq.


Those who wish to preserve America's ability to pursue coalition-building must therefore strenu­ously oppose efforts to strengthen EU for­eign policy integration. Such a process would prevent many European states in a divided EU from realizing their national interests and from working closely with the U.S. to address global problems.

The most prominent casualty of a united European foreign policy would be the Anglo-U.S. special relationship. A neutralized Britain would be forced to remain on the sidelines while America confronted rogue states such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria. It is highly conceivable that, in such circumstances, the United States would have to wage its next major war on its own, with no significant military ally present.


As President Bush travels to Europe next week for meetings with European Union and NATO leaders, he should avoid making statements that will be perceived as a U.S. endorsement of the EU Constitution and Franco-German plans for a unified foreign policy. This would only strengthen the hand of America's opponents in Europe and weaken the position of those who are fighting to maintain the sanctity of the nation-state.


The Bush Administration should adopt an interest-based position regarding the future direction of Europe, emphasizing that U.S. goals in Europe include the preservation of the NATO alliance, the maintenance of the Anglo-U.S. special relationship, and support for a multi-speed Europe, based on the principle of each individual state having greater choice about its level of integration with Brussels.


Simply put, a Europe where national sovereignty remains paramount regarding foreign and security policy and where states act flexibly rather than collectively whenever possible will enable America to engage the continent most successfully. This flexibility, whether in international institutions or in ad hoc coalitions of the willing, is the future of the transatlantic relationship, for it fits the objective realities of the continent.


The central message that the President should take to Europe is the same one that he delivered in his powerful State of the Union address:


Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures.[2]


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D, is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in European Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy of the Shelby and Kathryn Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] Quoted by Philip Stephens and Daniel Dombey, in "Rice Pledges Washington Support for a Common European Foreign Policy", Financial Times, February 11, 2005.


[2] President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, February 2, 2005.



Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

John Hulsman

Former Senior Research Fellow