Tuesday, 1 January 2008

50 Not Out!

Happy New Year.

This New Year marks the passing of another significant milestone in the development of the European Union. On 1st January 2008, Slovenia takes over the rolling Presidency of the EU. Admittedly, the Presidency is more symbolic than substantial, but what a symbol it is. To mark the extent of this achievement, we have to cast our minds back to the dark days of July 1995.

In July 1995, Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution. The most severe fighting had spread to the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Bosnia and ethnic cleansing was at its height. The European nations had accepted a UN mandate to protect the Bosnian Muslims in a number of ‘safe havens’. At Srebrenica, they failed abjectly in this task.

This failure had three long term repercussions. First, it led to the direct involvement of the US in the Balkan Question. Second, it led to the realisation that EU foreign policy without hard power behind is was just hot air. Third, it led to a realisation in the EU that the long term solution to the Balkan Question would be absorption rather than containment. Each of these repercussions may come into focus in 2008.

The direct involvement of the US in the Balkan Question managed to resolve the issue in the short term, but at the cost of long term damage to the relationship between Europe and the US. In the post-Srebrenica environment, it was the manner in which Madeleine Albright swaggered around Europe, lecturing the EU nations on how they should be more like the US, which fed the dissonance between the EU and the US that resulted in the US receiving the active opposition of some EU nations in Iraq. In 2008, when the British policy of withdrawal from Iraq is finally achieved, the US will, essentially, be alone.

If the EU could no longer ensure that its foreign policy objectives could rely upon the support of the US, there was also a realisation that the EU would have to develop some form of hard power to enforce its policy, when the need arises. Since 1995, the nations of Europe have been developing EUFOR – a nascent European Defence Force, Eurocorps – a permanent military force, and the Helsinki Force – a more general troop commitment. This is very much a work in progress, but EUFOR is set to be deployed as a peacekeeping and humanitarian force in Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008.

Slovenia is the template for the Former Republics of Yugoslavia to follow. Slovenia was the first Former Republic to join the EU, it was the first to adopt the Euro, and it was the first to join the Eurozone. By accepting the Presidency of the EU, Slovenia in 2008 has arrived at the top table of nations. It also points to an answer to the conundrum of globalisation. We are often asked how a small nation can find a voice in the world of globalisation. We can now point to Slovenia as an example of how to solve that conundrum. With a population of about 2 million, through the EU, Slovenia now punches well above its weight.

Perhaps 2008 will see the greater development of other regional associations along the lines of the EU, such as Mercosur and the African Union?

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