British writer and historian Timothy Garton Ash was in Brussels on March 16 to take part in the German Marshall Fund’s annual forum of influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to discuss Euro-Atlantic issues. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak about the future of Europe.
RFE/RL: Does it still make sense for the European Union to push for further eastern enlargement?
Timothy Garton Ash: It is essential. Strategically, for the future of the European Union, with a dwindling share of world population and the world economy, and bad demography, certainly in Western Europe, we need further enlargement, including in my view Ukraine and Turkey, which are the two big ones.
RFE/RL: What do you make of the growing apathy toward the EU that exists in many of the EU’s eastern neighbors at the moment?
Garton Ash: It takes two to tango and Ukraine has in a way worked itself out of a serious candidacy for the European Union by what it failed to do. Because there was a lot of goodwill after the Orange Revolution and that has now dissipated. Poland was a great advocate of Ukrainian membership and it’s a very difficult task, so I agree with that and I think that Ukraine itself in a way trying to play both sides, to have its cake and eat it.
My point is, that from the strategic point of Europe, in a world of great emerging powers like China, India, South Africa, and Brazil, where the West as a whole will have a smaller share of power, it’s in our strategic interest to want that enlargement, so we should want it.
RFE/RL: How should the EU’s relationship with Russia look like in the future?
Garton Ash: Russia has lost an empire but not yet found a role. Russia has to decide what it wants to be. And as we know in Britain, that takes some time. It is quite tough to lose an empire and Russia lost its empire very rapidly and very admirably, that is to say peacefully, it didn’t fight.
Only when Russia has worked out what it wants to be, whether it wants to be an empire of an alternative civilization or whether it wants to be a more or less a normal state in Eurasia, can we work out what our long-term relationship should be. That would be, in my view, for the foreseeable future, one of a special partnership
RFE/RL: what would that special relationship look like?
Garton Ash: Nobody knows but it’s an important statement that it’s not in the prospective of membership because this is not a prospective that Russia itself embraces, unlike Turkey. What we know how to do in Europe is relationships that eventually end in membership. That’s what we have done with most member states. All but the original founding six. The vast majority of member states have gone through relationships that eventually ended in membership. That’s what we should have with Turkey and that’s what we should have long-term for Ukraine. What we haven’t worked out is relationships with important neighbors that don’t end in membership.
RFE/RL; You have mentioned countries like Ukraine and Turkey but what does the future hold for the other countries in the region between the EU and Russia, such as Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia?
Garton Ash: I think long-term, the answers are easy. These are countries that the more free they become, the more they will want to belong to the European Union. When they fulfill the criteria of membership of the European Union, they will become members of the European Union. I would take a bet that in 20-25 [years] they will be members of the European Union. Easy.
More difficult is the question of the values of the European Union. Up to now we have said you must be model liberal democracies, with the rule of law, independent media, functioning market economies, and so on, and then we will bring you in. But then when you look around today’s European Union, if you look at a county like Hungary and what is happening there, or indeed Berlusconi’s Italy. You say, isn’t this a double standard? You have to be model Europeans until you get in and once you get in, you get away with murder. Metaphorically speaking
RFE/RL: Will the euro survive?
Garton Ash: A senior French politician said the other day, “The crisis of the euro is over, the crisis in the euro is still very strong.” I think that is about right. I think the eurozone will survive but the question is at what cost, particularly to the societies and politics of Southern Europe, which are going through hardships really unimaginable to us five or 10 years ago and where you already get a certain radicalization of politics.
RFE/RL: Is the idea of an upcoming Asian century overblown or is the Euro-Atlantic alliance doomed to lose influence in a multipolar world?
Garton Ash: It is not like France taking over from Spain as top dog or America taking over from Britain as top dog. America’s decline is relative but not absolute. And so the challenge we have on a global scale is to find an international order in which there will not be a single hegemon. Since Asia is not a country but half of humankind, you can’t talk about the Asian century in the way you can talk about the American century or the European century, the British century. Because Asia itself consists of a number of great powers which have a very, very tense relationship with each other.