Divided Europe Stands

In coming meetings of the G8 (the world's club of rich industrial countries plus Russia), four members--Germany, France, Italy, and the UK--will participate both individually and as members of the European Union, whose President also attends to represent the EU as a whole. But shouldn't the EU have only a single representative? Regardless of whether these meetings are productive, unitary EU participation would be of supreme symbolic value: it would affirm a common European stance in international relations and international economic policy.

The main argument in favor of such a change is that joint participation by the EU would increase Europe's weight in international relations, especially vis-a-vis the US. After all, a key reason for European integration in the first place was precisely to provide a more powerful voice for Europe in the international arena.

The EU's member countries share strict rules on fiscal policy, a common currency (except, for the moment, the UK, Sweden, and Denmark), a common trade policy, a common antitrust policy, and common market polices, just to name a few. So why not having a single representative at the G8 meetings. Indeed, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK basically share a common stance on international economic policy, so why not present a united front to the world where these issues are concerned?

There are two possible answers. One is that despite occasional shows of unity, European countries retain very different views on foreign policy and do not want to delegate this prerogative. Consider, for example, the recent strained relationship with the US. Although the UK remains very close to its transatlantic ally, France is extremely critical, regardless of the color of its government. Italy's position, on the other hand, pivots 180 degrees depending on who is in power. Germany has recently taken a more anti-American stance (perhaps for electoral reasons), but it is beginning to like flexing its independent foreign-policy muscles.