Europe’s New Leadership in Perspective

eurocratsMy latest for Foreign Policy, “The Eurocrats Europe Needs,” is up.   It attempts to bring some perspective to the negative reactions — my own included! — that accompanied the selection of  Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton as president and high representative for foreign policy, respectively, of the EU.

Many had hoped for a kind of European George Washington — a commanding figure who would shape the presidency in his own image and lead a strongly unified country. But Europe is not the United States. The more apt comparison might be (as one of my blog commenters pointed out) to Samuel Huntington, the first president under the Articles of Confederation.

Europe has its own parliament, its own flag, its own currency, and a new president. But it’s not even a confederation, much less a country. The three traditional major powers — Britain, France, and Germany — carry outsize influence over the 20-plus lesser actors. The countries in the EU retain, and want, a definite degree of autonomy. Thus, the EU is, in essence, a glorified free-trade zone.


The recent choice to go with low-profile leaders likely means slower progress than some of us might have wished for, but the very fact that these new offices exist is progress. The Atlantic Council’s Borut Grgic has argued persuasively that Ashton can help fix EU foreign policy, helping forge consensus on a whole range of thorny issues from the Balkans to Russia.

It has been 48 long years since the Europe project kicked off. We’re a long way from a United States of Europe, but then again the founders of the United States declared independence in 1776 and didn’t win a true union until after the Civil War ended in 1865. If it takes Europe twice that long, it might still be worth the wait.

I submitted the piece a week ago but the intervention of the Thanksgiving holiday and the vagaries of publication schedules kept it on the shelf until last evening.   The version that appears at FP is about a third shorter than my original (which can be seen as “Europe’s New Leadership” at New Atlanticist) thanks to some deft editing by Annie Lowrey.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Published Elsewhere, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    Nice piece. A strong charismatic type could shatter things at this point. Greece and Ireland will be a real test very soon. Do you think they handle them the same way?

    I think we soon need to start drawing down our troop strength in Europe. They have the financial power. I hope they can function well enough to replace the troops.


  2. Brett says:

    In order to really make the transition to a “United States of Europe”, they’d have to move towards military and foreign policy unification. The former won’t happen as long as they’re under NATO’s aegis, and the latter just seems to keep on being farther and farther away.