Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

What does "more Europe" mean for the Three Big?

Zhaneta Kuyumdzhieva, trainee, August 9, 2012

Notwithstanding the historical period or the type of the analysis, when we use the stereotype notion "global great powers" we always instinctively mean a couple of powerful states, among them Germany, France, and the UK. Their role as policy leaders in the European Union is determined among other things by the fact that the EU is for them just one of their acting levels. Two of those countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council, they have nuclear weapons and are former colonial powers; each one of the three participates in NATO and in G8, and is among the countries with the largest share in the IMF. Their populations is 40% of the entire EU and their diplomats in the Community bodies have almost the same share.

In 2011, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Germany was 20.30%, of France 15.8%, and of the UK 13.8%, which in total is 49.9% of the EU's GDP. All those advantages allow them to affect the international developments and categorically makes them key economic players on the Old Continent. That is why in his article "The Big Three in EU Foreign Policy" Stefan Lehne, visiting scholar of the Carnegie Europe Endowment is right to state that this competitive advantage over the remaining 24 EU member states (although - as he himself points out - it is not politically correct to name it so) comes "naturally, since they simply have more to bring to the table". He is rather categorical in his observation that "if the three are united and actively push for a policy, it is very likely that it will eventually become the policy of the 27. If they are negative or divided, the EU will be effectively paralyzed".

Despite that Germany, France and the UK "play in the same category" and that they are the lead engine in the EU decision making, each one of the three plays to a certain grade its own game. Practically, Berlin, Paris and London still have enough capacity to affect the processes independently. Despite the clear weight shift to the BRICS countries, the interests of the three big EU members - although aimed at concrete regions - can still be realised independently. In addition to this they have their participation in a number of world political and economic fora. The EU foreign policy becomes a tool for expanding or limiting their room for manoeuvres. Therefore, their interest to its shaping is essential for their global performance as independent political or economic players.

More Europe - more for Germany, too

In twenty years Germany not only fully rehabilitated its image as a stable partner in the world and left the painful shadow of the World War II by reaching a powerful economic growth. It also underwent mental transformation - it renounced its ambitions to be perceived as a leading power. Its new, more moderate and not at all "forceful" foreign presence, according to Stefan Lehne, can be summarised by the axiom that "more Europe" will bring also more benefits to Germany - a steady notion in the country"s political circles. Today, its leading role is determined not by mere political interests but is rather a side effect of its successful economic performance. The renouncing of the ambitions for world dominance determined also a quite benign state of internal and external harmony but also of a more limited international commitment and a more visible inclination to be led, rather than to lead.

Probably, just because of this perception and because of the strong sensitivity of France and the reluctance of the UK to transfer sovereignty to the EU institutions, Germany appears the most willing of the Big Three to deprive itself from some foreign policy prerogatives to the benefit of a more effective diplomacy on European level. Lately, the German chancellor has almost all the time been busy with the eurozone crisis. The inclination for "more Europe" (stronger integration aimed at economic recovery) is an element of the governmental rhetoric. In the future, this particularity of the German vision for EU might leave the context of the current stagnation and might unleash an ambition for a more prominent participation and even for leadership in the common external policy of the EU.

The contribution of the country to the strengthening of the role of the common institutions and to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty reforms is, however, undisputable. A number of the amendments were suggested exactly by Germany and their suboptimal implementation met Berlin"s discontent. Currently, the economic power of the country provides it with enough occasions for establishment of partnerships outside the EU, for example, through active consultations with the US and the BRICS countries. This means that the lack of a manifested foreign policy does not actually diminish the opportunities for adequate participation in the global diplomatic game.

More Europe, but not less France

There seems to exist an informal consent between France and Germany that Paris will "lead" in the policies" domain while Berlin will hold the leadership on economic issues. France is the 5th biggest world economy and it has a considerable influence in Africa. It also has military capacity and active cultural propaganda. The right for a central place in the shaping of the scope and the ambitions of the European foreign strategy is determined also by its constitutional system that gives broad competences to the presidential figure. The political model of the country allows the president to act relatively independently - without too much taking into consideration the parliamentary control, the coalition partners in the government and without too much consultations.

Taking as example the mandate of Nicolas Sarkozy, Stefan Lehne analyses both the potential and the limitations of the leading figure in France. A number of initiatives of the ex-president achieved a significant result in overcoming the bureaucratic inertness of the European Union. On the other hand, however, Sarkozy was largely responsible for the long-term collusion between the EU and the authoritarian regimes in North Africa. The latest developments in the Middle East signify an important trend, namely that - notwithstanding France"s ambitions in the region - its capacity for acting are restricted by the international framework of the Quartet (US, Russia, UN and EU). This is a good example of the global re-rearrangement of the political powers.

The demographic trends and the rapidly developing economies provide additional value to the process, adding to its economic aspect. All this suggests that EU will be more and more perceived as one entity and that the French policy will have to become "more European" and will have to work for strengthening the role of the EU institutions.


Taking into account UK"s self-awareness as former greatest colonial power, the requirement for transferring essential elements of its national sovereignty to supra-national regulatory institutions categorically leads to the expectation that it cannot help but be a "more self-minded" partner in the EU. Indeed, recently the country was a kind of "stumbling block" for the new, more integrated political course at Union level. The expectations toward it, to co-operate for stabilisation of the eurozone through a series of unpopular measures, rarely passes the test of the national politics on the Island.

This is not unexpected if we take into account the 40-years-old pending question - what exactly UK wants from the EU and where is it positioned in the Union? If once, for a brief period of its EU membership (mostly during Tony Blair"s government), the ambition for a central place in the EU was on the agenda, today the question is modified - will the Albion stay in the EU, even in its periphery, or will it leave? There is still no solution of this dilemma but David Cameron"s government obviously does not suffer from a lack of will to participate in the shaping of the common foreign policy. UK"s interest is aimed mostly beyond EU - toward US and the need for preservation and even strengthening of its positions in the G20. This task requires mobilisation of all possible means, such as shifting resources from Europe to certain regions in Asia and Latin America, warming relations with the dynamically developing economies, including those with Turkey and Indonesia.

In a situation of a crisis the UK is expected to contribute to the expansion of trade and investments. According to Stefan Lehne, this philosophy in London"s foreign policy is being propagated, particularly by Foreign Minister William Hague, but it still "does not tell the whole story". EU, with its entire system of governance and its means to exert influence, is still a valuable tool for the realisation of the foreign policy goals of the Island. It contributes to the structural reforms and is an effective way for ensuring stability. In this context the option for leaving the EU is not convenient to UK"s ambitions in foreign policy. If it decides to play independently, London will encounter a number of difficulties because it will not have anymore the EU tools at its disposal. The partners needed by the UK will be much more interested in their relations with London if it participates fully in the shaping of the common foreign policy and in the entire EU decision making.

What more is needed for "More Europe"?

Each one of the Three Big brings its own "national luggage" to the vision of common EU policies. The analyst of "Carnegie Europe", however, sees an open threat in the weight of this luggage. The emergence of new actors on the global stage will inevitably limit the individual options for influence. Nevertheless, their current role for the stabilisation of the eurozone is of key importance and depends on just how much will would Germany demonstrate for an active participation in the shaping of foreign policy interests. It depends also on the issue whether France would take the initiative for a more integrated approach in the realisation of those interests and the achievement of strategic goals, and whether the UK would choose to stay in this process.

The crisis could turn out to be an important factor for the determination of new action parameters and of the priorities of the member states. A more conservative monetary union and some better effectiveness of the community institutions (particularly of the European External Action Service) - as a manifestation of the joint effort of all countries in the EU - would lay the foundations for the development of an effective foreign and security policy that would be entirely in the spirit of the Lisbon concept for a more integrated approach in EU governance.