SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Historian Timothy Garton Ash 'A Clear European Voice is Missing in the World'

SPIEGEL ONLINE talks to historian and Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash about the European Union's weak image in the world, the limits to EU expansion and how Europe should tackle Russia and Iran.


Timothy Garton Ash is one of the most respected commentators on European politics.
Rob Judges

Timothy Garton Ash is one of the most respected commentators on European politics.

Timothy Garton Ash is Professor of European Studies at St. Antony's College, Oxford, a senior fellow at the Stanford University-based think tank the Hoover Institution and a founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a new European think tank. He has earned renown for a genre of writing he calls the "history of the present." His eight books feature historical analysis of transformations undergone in Europe over the last thirty years, with his most recent book, 2004's "Free World," exploring the future of the European Union. His essays appear regularly in the New York Review of Books and he writes a weekly column in the Guardian.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After Europe's failure to come to a common position on the Iraq War and the dramatic rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, the EU has suffered a loss of image among American and European politicians alike. What can Europe do to counter this precipitous decline in status?

Timothy Garton Ash: I think the premise is wrong. If we talk about image-loss, and we look at the world-wide opinion polls, it’s nothing compared to the image-loss suffered by the United States since Bush became President. So it’s more image-lack than image-loss: it’s more that people in the rest of the world have a weak image of what Europe is, rather than having a negative image of it. We’ve just had the largest enlargement in the history of the European Union, in 2004, and that’s a huge achievement -- it’s not surprising if that was followed by a few hiccups. I wouldn’t overstate the degree or prevalence of gloom. What is missing is a clear European voice in the wider world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dialogue among EU member states seems to have become more strained since the 2004 expansion. Is there a conflict between further expansion and deeper political integration?

Garton Ash: I think not. I think Europe has more potential power, because it’s larger and now borders on Russia, Ukraine and most of the Mediterranean. It also makes it more difficult to speak with one voice. That's why you need to have the institutions in place to take coherent positions on Russia and the wider Middle East. At the moment, we don’t have one European policy towards Russia, we have five different ones.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will EU expansion ever hit a wall?

Garton Ash: Europe does not end -- it simply fades away somewhere across the vast expanse of Eurasia, probably somewhere in Russia and somewhere into Turkey. So there’s naturally a limit to its border somewhere. If we imagine a Europe that incorporates the whole of North Africa and the wider Middle East, it wouldn’t be much of a Europe. So, irrespective of whether Turkey or Ukraine join or not, we’re coming to the beginning of the end of enlargement.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Polls suggest that many Europeans don’t want deeper integration. In Britain, for example, the Conservative Party is pushing for a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty -- the product of painstaking negotiations this year in Berlin among EU heads of state -- hoping to solicit a rejection. Do you think that a British referendum would result in a rejection of the Reform Treaty?

Garton Ash: It probably would. But, in my mind, this is no longer a constitutional treaty, so I don’t think we need a referendum on it. I don’t think you need to hand a lot more powers to Brussels in order to have a more coherent foreign policy. This is more about coordinating national policies, so that we all say the same thing at the same time to the same people -- it doesn’t all have to be done by one bureaucrat sitting in Brussels. I think you can do it while retaining a lot of sovereignty and control over your own policy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, some EU countries seem to have ever more conflicts in policy. Relations between Poland and Germany have been notoriously strained since the election of the Kaczynski brothers as president and prime minister in Poland. Do you think lasting damage has been done to the German-Polish relationship?

Garton Ash: It depends if the Kacynskis' Law and Justice party gets re-elected in the coming election.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think their prospects are?

Garton Ash: It could go either way. The beauty of democracy is that you never know the results ahead of time. But I don’t think that there are any longer-term structural problems in the relationship between Poland and Germany. This is a short-term problem to do with a particular paranoia from a particular Polish government. But, if you’re asking whether that's a problem: You bet it’s a problem. If we’re talking about building a strong European Union as a strategic partner with the United States, that is made much more difficult if Germany and Poland are at loggerheads.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should the United States be wondering whether a stronger EU would, in fact, want to be a strategic partner with America?

Garton Ash: My book “Free World” dealt with the question of what future there is for the West as a strategic partnership between the United States and Europe. The truth is, the relationship has to be redefined. We are no longer held together by a common enemy like the Soviet Union. But I think there is an overwhelming commonality of interest in the long term between the US and the EU. The arrival of a new American president in January 2009 is going to be a very important moment in that relationship.

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