Superpower Europe 

                 ENTHUSIASTS for an ever-closer
                 European Union are pretty chuffed these days. The great venture that
                 started nearly 50 years ago with plans for France and Germany to combine
                 their coal and steel industries has developed into something only
                 visionaries then believed in. Common market, single market, single currency—all
                 are in  place.
                 Now for political union, starting with a common foreign policy.

                 The war against Serbia has given the notion of a real European foreign
                 policy, replete even with a military dimension of its own, a shot in the
                 arm. It will be pushed by the new European Commission, the EU’s
                 executive, under Romano Prodi, and promoted by Europe’s new
                 foreign-policy spokesman, Javier Solana, the outgoing secretary-general
                 of NATO. Keeping watch, and keeping the officials straight, will be the
                 newly elected European Parliament, now more muscular than ever.

                 The only fly in the ointment, in the eyes of some at least, is the “collapse”
                 of the vaunted new currency, which has slipped by some 13% against the
                 dollar since it was launched on January 1st. Certainly, ministers have
                 mishandled the matter, letting the markets see that they are embarrassed
                 and confused. In fact, however, there is little need to be. Currencies go
                 up and down: that is why (or so it was said) the euro was invented in the
                 first place—to provide an intra-European zone of financial stability. And
                 the slippage against other currencies is hardly dramatic: roughly 8% in
                 trade-weighted terms. This decline should, if anything, actually help
                 Europe’s economy, providing a welcome boost to demand. The slide
                 may upset those who see their currency as a symbol of national strength,
                 but the optimists are probably right in saying that the euro is still destined
                 to match the dollar as a reserve currency. When that happens, it will
                 underline Europe’s coming status as a cohesive new power.

                 And as a rival to America? If Europe is serious about forging a common
                 foreign policy, an opportunity undoubtedly awaits it. The European Union
                 already has 15 members whose combined wealth just about matches that
                 of the United States and whose population is a third as big again. When it
                 brings in new members from the east, it will be an even bigger affair. This
                 opportunity needs to be grasped. Though the United States was crucial in
                 winning the war against Serbia, its reluctance to get involved—for
                 instance, with ground troops who might have been killed—was more
                 palpable than ever before. The Republicans were divided. Bill Clinton
                 wavered. Congress dithered too. Never has it been plainer that Europe
                 must do more on its own, particularly in its own back yard. In both
                 peacekeeping and reconstruction in the Balkans, it is starting to do just
                 that. That is new, and welcome. Is superpower Europe therefore

                 Well, not yet awhile. For the moment, Europeans should keep a sense of
                 proportion. They can hardly point to Kosovo as an exclusively, or even
                 substantially, European triumph—if triumph it is. On their own, the
                 Europeans would have got nowhere. Over four-fifths of the air strikes
                 were carried out by America. And it remains to be seen whether
                 Europeans can handle most of the peacekeeping and rebuilding without
                 recourse to extra American cash, guns or troops. Besides, though the
                 European bits of NATO stuck together during the campaign, it is doubtful
                 that they would have done so had the Serbs held out for, say, another
                 two months.

                 As for Europe’s new executive, a bit of realism is in order here too. True,
                 Mr Prodi is likely to present a better image of Europe, both to Europeans
                 and to the outside world, than did his predecessor. But the most powerful
                 body in the European Union is still the Council of Ministers, which speaks
                 for national governments, most of which remain reluctant to be swallowed
                 up into a superstate, superpower or not.

                 In any event, Mr Prodi’s team may not work altogether smoothly. The
                 trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, is a Frenchman who for many years
                 sat at the elbow of Jacques Delors, a former EU president. If he turns out
                 to be a champion of free trade, who can carry his countrymen with him,
                 his appointment will have been fully vindicated. If not, Europe is unlikely
                 to find a single voice in the one area—trade—in which it already
                 commands an audience. In foreign policy more generally, there is anyway
                 plenty of scope for muddle. Chris Patten, the last British governor of
                 Hong Kong, is to co-ordinate policy, in co-operation (or competition?)
                 with Mr Solana.
                 Rival or helpmeet?

                 The larger point is that Europeans do not yet think, still less act, as one.
                 Germany, now involved in foreign affairs as it has not been since the
                 second world war, was no more ready to fight a ground war in Kosovo
                 than was the United States. Italy regards almost all foreign ventures with
                 great suspicion. Many European countries see their own commercial
                 advantage as far more important than a common front in favour of, say,
                 human rights in China. Moreover, prickly nations like France and Britain
                 (though an increasingly co-operative pair abroad) will not, any time soon,
                 allow themselves to be overridden in foreign matters by a combination of
                 other EU members.

                 Even the motives for a common foreign policy vary. Some Europeans
                 want it as an expression of Europe’s common political will; others as a
                 rival to, and restraint upon, the United States. If it turned into nothing
                 more than a form of anti-Americanism, it would be a disaster. For the
                 foreseeable future, NATO, preferably in synch with the UN, will be the
                 linchpin of western security. America must still take the lead in dealing
                 with most of the world’s danger zones. But in near-at-hand places like
                 the Balkans, America will happily defer to Europe. And even in areas like
                 the Middle East or Russia, Europe ought to be able to play a
                 complementary role to America. Europe can and should exercise a
                 greater influence in the world, but it will not be a superpower for many
                 years yet.