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, its nothing compared to the image-loss suffered by the United States since Bush became President. So its more image-lack than image-loss: its 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. Weve just had the largest enlargement in the history of the European Union, in 2004, and thats a huge achievement -- its not surprising if that was followed by a few hiccups. I wouldnt 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 its 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 dont 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 theres 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 wouldnt be much of a Europe. So, irrespective of whether Turkey or Ukraine join or not, were coming to the beginning of the end of enlargement.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Polls suggest that many Europeans dont 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 dont think we need a referendum on it. I dont 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 doesnt 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 dont 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 youre asking whether that's a problem: You bet its a problem. If were 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.
'Enlargement Can't Go on Forever'
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But people in the US still bristle at the mention of a "multi-polar" world.
Garton Ash: Theyre wrong to bristle. If you look at the politics around Iran or climate change, for example, there's simply no way to get anything done without paying attention to major players such as China, India and Russia. I think its a simple statement of fact that were back in a multi-polar world. That doesnt mean that, if Europe and the US decide to act together, theyre not the most important players -- they will still have immense clout. But those two partners will still have to take into account the Chinese, Russian or Indian positions.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nonetheless, some in America still complain that Europe remains a "consumer" of security, rather than having become a "producer". What are the prospects of a common European defense force?
Garton Ash: That is a very good question, because the EU wont be credible unless it has a serious military capacity. That said, it wont be anything like the scale of the US military. But we must have a serious rapid reaction force which can, for example, intervene in failed states.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It seems, though, that in European security circles theres still an emphasis on peace-keeping, as opposed to full military operations.
Garton Ash: I think that can be exaggerated. Dont forget it was the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who pushed for ground troops to be sent into Kosovo and it was former US President Bill Clinton's administration that was hesitant. And Europe was split right down the middle on Iraq. The idea that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus just doesnt hold up.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The EU does have a strong military presence in Kosovo, though negotiations between Serbs and Kosovars over the area's fate seem to have stalled. Do you think if those negotiations fail, the EU should prepare to unilaterally recognize Kosovo's independence?
Garton Ash: I have no doubt that the long-term future for Kosovo is a state of supervised independence, leading to eventual membership in the EU. But it's a very difficult problem, and in the most immediate future, the EU should keep negotiating with all parties involved -- which means, above all, with Serbia and Russia.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You mentioned that the EU is approaching the end of its expansion. Recent elections in Ukraine indicate, though, that Ukrainians are interested in closer ties with Europe. Should Europe be moving closer to Ukraine?
Garton Ash: Like I said, enlargement cant go on forever. But I think we should say a strategic yes to Ukraine, just as weve said a strategic yes to Turkey.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Russia has long seen Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence. By approaching Ukraine, would the EU risk escalating tension with a newly-aggressive Russia?
Garton Ash: I dont think thats true. If the EU takes a clear position -- namely that if Ukraine wants to, and if it fulfills the Copenhagen Criteria, then one day it can be a member of the EU -- then that would actually strengthen the Ukrainian state. It would also create clarity in relations with Russia. And that clarity would serve to reduce tension.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Turkey is probably the most controversial candidate for entry to the EU. If it were up to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though, Turkey would become a "privileged partner" rather than a full-fledged member of Europe. Is that a wise approach?
Garton Ash: This strikes me as one of the most problematic issues currently facing Europe. Europe has long-standing commitments to Turkey, and its short-sighted to simply overlook them. Turkey ought to be seen as an opportunity for Europe to escape insularity, a chance to be a force in the wider world. It would certainly be a failure of leadership to suggest backing away from those promises and to walk away from negotiations.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who should we expect to lead Europe through the next few turbulent years?
Garton Ash: Im not sure Europe has any one leader, and Im not sure that it needs any one leader. That said, were fortunate to have in Sarkozy and Merkel two leaders who are very capable, very active and very engaged. And theres a very strong commission president in José Manuel Barroso. Theres no lack of potential leaders.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany, though, has come under some criticism from the US and France for not showing leadership in negotiations with Iran and by trying to slow down sanctions. Why do you think Germany is being hesitant?
Garton Ash: Im not entirely sure. I do know that Europe cant afford to fail this test. Europe is the best chance to prevent an American-led or American-endorsed bombing campaign against Iran. Europe still has strong economic ties with Iran, and a serious European foreign policy will have to prepare to use those ties as a stick in negotiations. But some countries, including Germany, have been reluctant. Its a shame to think that it might be because of purely domestic considerations. Yes, there are jobs at stake, but that shouldn't determine policy -- because these same European politicians are aware that America may prefer a very different, more aggressive, and more risky policy.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Should we expect the EU to strongly oppose a possible war against Iran?
Garton Ash: Its safe to say that Europe would be nearly unanimous on that count.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Youve written about the need for a communal story about the European Union. If it were up to you, what would the outlines of that story be?
Garton Ash: I feel that a very convincing story can be told about Europe, one that weaves together six major European themes of the past 50 years: freedom, peace, law, prosperity, diversity and solidarity. On that score, the history of the EU has been a success and an inspiration, and the story that Europe tells about itself can be based on a quick comparison with Europe from the previous 50 years. But, the story wont be a one-size-fits-all 19th-century-style narrative, where theres one dominant, all-knowing voice. Thats the beauty of how Europe works -- everyone has their part to contribute, their own history, their own culture, their own perspective. Those voices are different, but they share likenesses, and the concert of those voices will make the narrative.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And how can the newly formed European Council on Foreign Relations contribute to the telling of that story?
Garton Ash: If the goal is to speak with a clearer and more united voice to the rest of the world, to have an impact on countries that are not going to become members, then we have to work out what were going to say. And the trouble is that there are lots of people in London thinking for Britain and lots of people in Paris thinking about France, and lots of people in Berlin thinking about Germany. But even in Brussels there arent that many people thinking European. What are our common European interests? Which instruments and weapons do we have to realize them? Thats what the European Council on Foreign Relations can do. It can do the European thinking. It cant act, but it can suggest how we will and can act. And that is what is really missing -- because Brussels spends more money on cleaners than it does on people thinking about European foreign policy.
Interview conducted by Cameron Abadi.