17
Feb

A new study shows Europe’s power waning — and if the continent doesn’t get its act together soon, it could put the global order in serious jeopardy.

By Justin Vaïsse

Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, centre, reacts with Hu Jintao, China's president, second left, and U.S. President Barack Obama, right, during the family photograph at the Group of 20 (G20) Cannes Summit at the Palais des Festivals, in Cannes, France, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. European leaders for the first time raised the prospect of the euro area splintering, choosing to treat Greece's December referendum on the terms of a bailout package as an in-or-out vote on the debt-stricken nation's future in the currency union. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Until recently, Europeans enjoyed a pretty comfortable position in most international organizations. At the IMF, they had an unquestioned hold on the directorship and could lecture other countries on how to govern themselves and run their economies, while each large European country had its own IMF representative. But all that changed in 2011. Now, Europeans are themselves being lectured by China and Brazil for not solving their financial crisis despite having the resources to do so. Europe managed to hang on to the directorship in June when Christine Lagarde succeeded Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but only because of divisions among emerging economies. If the euro crisis continues, Europeans will likely be forced to give up more of their voting weight — as they started doing in 2010 during a reallocation of IMF board seats — and ultimately lose the directorship.

The power realignment at the IMF is just one example of the way the euro crisis has undermined Europe’s geopolitical clout in the past two years, transforming it from a reliable global problem-solver to a problem itself. True, the sky is not falling: Europe has had some remarkable successes in 2011, such as the successful intervention in Libya, the relatively smooth entry of Russia into the World Trade Organization, and the agreement reached at the Durban conference on climate change. But the out-of-control debt crisis has started eroding Europe’s foreign-policy tools and degrading its leverage with other powers like China. The 2012 edition of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard — the result of intensive research by 40 researchers under the auspices of the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution — makes this downward trajectory abundantly clear. If the euro crisis is not solved this year, Europe could experience in the years ahead an even more dramatic loss of power, one that would have negative consequences for world order, multilateral organizations, and the United States.

Washington may be pivoting toward Asia and casting its lot with emerging powers like India and Brazil to maintain its leadership position. But a continued erosion of Europe’s place in the world would bode ill for the Western liberal order Washington seeks to defend. For all their flaws, Europeans are still the largest contributors to international organizations and the largest purveyors of development aid, and they still outspend all the BRIC countries combined in defense expenditures. Additionally, Europe plays an important role in getting the cooperation of other powers for collective solutions favored by the United States. Read more…

Justin Vaïsse is director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe. He is, with Hans Kundnani of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the lead co-author of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2012.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on February 16, 2012.

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