Interview: former French diplomat Hubert Védrine on China and a West 'in disarray'
Former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, author of 'History Strikes Back,' offers a realist view on a central challenge for Europe and the United States: the rise of China.
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A: To me, historical moments are divided between World War II, the cold war, and, starting in ’92, the globalized world. There hasn’t been a radical change since then. In ’92, the West thought it had become the master of the world. Instead, we are faced with significant powers like China. We are still in the same trend, in which the West defends its values and interests in a globalized world. Relative leadership is very complex. To me, there is no difference in nature between the world whose emergence I witnessed [in those years] and today’s world -- except that the trend has accelerated and intensified. World leaders are now aware of the challenges. Will we face them separately or collectively? The questions remain the same. True, there have been important events like 9/11, a huge tragedy. But they didn’t change the frame.Skip to next paragraph
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Q: Europe’s Lisbon treaty, now agreed to, and creating a 'federal' Europe, is hard for many Americans to grasp. What does it mean for the EU to now have a president and foreign minister?
A: Europe will never be the United States of Europe. The comparison is nice, exciting – and wrong. The US gathered people who were the same to start with. Europeans are different. Europe will remain a confederation of nation states. For years, the Europeans have been negotiating. There were the Rome treaties in 1957, the great Kohl-Mitterrand-Delors period, the Maastricht Treaty (in which I participated), the Amsterdam Treaty that yielded nothing, the Nice Treaty that yielded controversial results, then the Constitutional Treaty (which is not a constitution), and finally the Lisbon Treaty, which is a rehash of most elements of the Constitutional Treaty. But in reality, the changes are not huge. The European system remains structured by three entities: the European Council of heads of state and government, the Commission, which at one point thought it would become the European government, and the Parliament. From that point of view, the Lisbon Treaty is not a revolution.
The treaty brings some visible changes, some less visible. A very important one is the calculation of votes at the Council: an element of demography will greatly reinforce the weight of Germany, and marginally that of France, Italy, and Great Britain. That is the reason Germany was so keen on passing the treaty. The other big change, of course, is the creation of a president of the European Council and high representative, which is uniting the former functions of Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Again, this is not a huge change: the president of the council, Herman van Rompuy – who will do a good job – won’t be the “President of Europe.”
As to Catherine Ashton, in charge of foreign affairs -- she will only be in charge of the common part of the 27 members' foreign policies, which there is agreement. She will jointly manage what was managed before by Mr. Solana [the former high representative] and Ms. Ferrero-Waldner [commisioner for external relations]. But Ashton is not in charge of merging French and German foreign policies! That is why we shouldn’t expect too much, and why we shouldn’t be dismissive either. It is ridiculous to dismiss Mr. Van Rompuy’s lack of charisma, as if we had been expecting George Washington!
Ashton is not in a position to impose a common policy on Paris, Berlin and London. However, if Paris, Berlin, and London agree on a common position about Russia, China, Iran, the transatlantic alliance, etc., real change will happen. If the three big countries don’t agree, Ashton won’t be able to do much about that.