Unfortunately, Euro-pessimism is on the rise in the United States. Large numbers of Americans think that the political, economic, and cultural foundations of Europe are crumbling, and there is widespread talk, even amongst "experts", of how the adoption of the common currency was a mistake. This has been reinforced by a seemingly endless string of news reports, opinion pieces, and books predicting the downfall of Europe, which has now become something of an article of faith amongst many on the American political right. The combined impact of this persistent negative media coverage has colored mainstream conventional wisdom, influencing the way Europe is discussed in almost every context, and has created a pattern of overstressing any difficulties experienced, while generally ignoring any of the successes. Consequently, even the best informed and most pro-European of Americans often refer to events on the other side of the Atlantic in a surprisingly pessimistic and skeptical way. For them, Europe may someday rise up to its potential, but for now they see Europe as an uninspiring power. President Obama has recently said that the 21st century will be shaped by the US and China. Indeed, American media gives far more credence to the rise of China, despite the fact that it lags far behind Europe on nearly every measure of power - the only exception being population size.
In light of all this, many Americans do not have any real hope that Europeans can be effective partners in tackling 21st century challenges. They see a Europe of declining defense budgets, a lack of willingness to use military force, and a perceived inability to speak with one voice in the face of international crises.
Many Americans are unaware of Europe's achievements. They tend not to know that the process of EU integration and enlargement has been the most successful experiment in international cooperation, democratization, and peace that has existed in modern times. They are generally unaware that the EU's economy, population, and combined troop numbers are all larger than those of the United States. They may not be aware of the signs of economic recovery that President Herman van Rompuy recently noted, of Europe's high level of innovation (Europe is second only to the US and Japan), and of the strength of the Euro as a major global currency (second only to the US dollar). Most are unaware that the Lisbon Treaty has introduced a much stronger foreign policy structure. Most Americans would be shocked to learn that combined EU defense spending is larger than the next six powers put together - Russia, China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Japan - and that the EU has engaged in 24 civilian and military peace-keeping and relief operations across 3 continents in just 8 years.
Americans are somewhat more aware of Europe's status as a soft power. The EU' support for multilateralism as well as the example it sets in this regard give it a great deal of international legitimacy. Its strong tradition of support for human rights, the rule of law, development, environmental protection, and international cooperation is attractive to many foreign audiences. Some regions of the world are much more interested in Europe: Asia, Africa, and Latin America consciously model themselves after the EU. Of course the EU's biggest soft power impact has been in its own neighborhood through enlargement of the Central and Eastern European countries.
Europe is not a "perfect power". It is still a work-in-progress in terms of integration, and as an integrating region it is relatively young. Nonetheless, as Princeton Professor Andrew Moravcsik argues, by all major measures of power, Europe qualifies as the second superpower, after the US. The challenge is how to overcome serious mis-perceptions.
How should Europe present itself?
I suggest three images that Europe could strive to promote to foreign audiences, especially the US.
First, following from the EU motto, Europe's image should be "united in diversity". Europe is undoubtedly diverse, but its unity under the EU is under-appreciated and far too often not a part of public diplomacy efforts. For several decades now, European leaders have acknowledged that Europe is stronger when it works together, and they have made real progress in following through with this idea through literally thousands of policy initiatives. But this reality is not promoted enough to outsiders.
The second image Europe needs to project is that it does not just talk, it acts. The EU should promote the areas where its values and actions coincide, and where it has an autonomous impact, such as humanitarianism, environmentalism, democratization, crisis management, and development. For example, more people in the world should be readily aware of the fact that the EU is the biggest donor of development aid by some measure, and has a robust and growing Common Security and Defense Policy.
Third, Europe's image should be one of a smart power. It effectively combines both hard and soft power through its comprehensive approach to crisis management, access to its single market, and processes of enlargement, among other things. Military power matters less than it once did, and Europe has a wide range of means to exercise power and influence, stemming from a host of diplomatic, economic, normative, military, and civilian policy instruments. As a result, Europe is far better positioned to play a leading role in the 21st century than any other actor in the international system.
In this multi-polar world, with rising and often unpredictable powers, Europe and the US must now work together to have a global impact and promote their shared values. If Americans come to understand Europeans better they too can promote Europe, as they should. After all, as former European Commission President Romano Prodi recently said, "Promoting Europe is promoting also the American interests." But for its part, Europe can take the lead in promoting itself, and mutuality will likely follow. Indeed, Europeans must realize that they are not only capable of leading the 21st century, they have a responsibility to do so.
Dr. Mai'a K. Davis Cross is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California. She is the author of two books: The European Diplomatic Corps (Palgrave, 2007) and Security Integration in Europe (University of Michigan Press, 2011)
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