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Time to Join the 'Eurosphere'

Europe is figuring out a better future. Canada belongs there, too.

Peter MacLeod 2 Oct

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The softwood lumber dispute is in its twenty-third year. Canadian free-traders and their opponents alike are hopping mad. Most everyone will acknowledge that the once-vaunted dispute mechanism is broken and short of a full out trade war, our options are few.

"Hold up the oil," say some. "Just wait until they get thirsty," say others.

It's hard not to think back to Trudeau's warnings about getting into bed with an elephant and his hope for a 'third way'.

At least this was the thought I had when I read a new book by British foreign policy expert, Mark Leonard. Why Europe Will Run the Twenty-First Century is a hopeful and compelling book that explains why, in Leonard's view, a new kind of European spirit is stirring - one that could come to have as great an impact on the twenty-first century as America did in the twentieth.

If so, perhaps it is time for Canada to get in touch with its own inner-European spirit and work harder to not just emulate what the Europeans are doing so well, but to think about the EU as a way to counterbalance a lopsided relationship with the United States.

The truly new EU

Of course, those eager for the sight of Chinese President Jiantao Hu touring Canada last week, or placing their cards on the pure scientific muscle of a rapidly modernizing India, old world Europe fails to excite.

But Leonard asks that we take a second look.

His book - really a manifesto of the sort that is rarely seen in Canada but enjoys much greater prominence in the UK - sets out to tell another story about the EU. His account isn't larded with the tales that delight the tabloid press of anonymous Eurocrats regulating the size of Spanish tomatoes and Swedish buses. Instead, it's a vigorous account of what he believes is a historic partnership between European nations that are committed to 'pooling sovereignty' in order to pursue a more or less common vision of justice and prosperity.

In Leonard's version, the EU isn't a megalith deaf to the demands of its citizens, nor is the European Union destined to become a United States of Europe. Rather, the EU has created a new category: neither nation-state nor international forum like the G7 or the UN. Instead, he says, think of Europe as a network - one whose power is quickly growing as it works out new systems to exchange economic, social and cultural capital among its members.

Forgotten land?

Consider, for instance, that some 450 million people now carry an EU passport. The European Union's GDP already matches America's and is poised to grow. EU protocols, each ratified by their national governments, have afforded better labour rights, stronger environmental protection, and a pan-European commitment to sustainable energy and high-quality public transport.

Europe is not without its backwaters and high unemployment remains a problem, but its cities are increasingly clean, green and prosperous. They bustle with both business and culture, and the most successful have capitalized on their historic beauty, while reorganizing their economies towards the high-tech, high-design industries and professional services that are the leading creators of new wealth. Couple this with easy and affordable access to post-secondary education and massive, EU-funded investments in scientific research and the sources of Europe's new renaissance are clear.

It should give Canadians pause.

Especially since Leonard lists 109 members of what he contends are part of the "Eurosphere" - countries which are influenced by or are members of the European Union - and Canada doesn't merit a mention. Not one, even though we are the country that didn't rebel and which remains the fourth largest investor in the EU after the US, Switzerland and Japan.

This is an oversight, both Leonard's but also our own. Preoccupied by the US and the mixed promise of North American integration, we've failed to see the EU for what it has become: an alternative.

A natural fit

Run through any OECD league table. From health to education to culture - our natural partners are the Europeans. Line up the Stockholm consensus alongside Washington's equivalent and you'll have a good summation of two worldviews: one which places a premium on balancing open markets with social justice and equality of opportunity and the other that believes in the untrammelled power of markets. Compare and contrast foreign policy. You won't find anyone in Brussels advocating pre-emptive invasions or missile shields.

Of course, Canada's political and social consonance with Europe is an open secret. The real question is why this parity has so far failed to translate into a more active partnership.

Part of the reason is surely based on the outdated idea of "old world" Europe. As North Americans, we naturally clamour towards the new while our public perception of Europe is still stuck firmly in the past. Cutting-edge architecture, software and social policy haven't yet replaced an outdated image of Cold War Europe, with its high taxes, and trade unions.

If true, then this is a perception that needs to change. Otherwise, we risk a future where Canada is squeezed by not just one elephant, but two. The United States and China offer us their market. What they don't offer is a peer group or any of the cooperative structures necessary to address the trans-national challenges created by integrating economies. The prospect of Canada caught between two hyper-economies, trudging fruitlessly to the WTO or court systems for round after round of un-enforced arbitration is not one that anyone should relish. Stated plainly, Canada doesn't need out of NAFTA, but perhaps it needs special membership in the EU. The choice doesn't need to be either/or - the genius is the 'and'.

Begin with Hans Island

So where to start? Read Leonard's book, then mail it to your MP. Encourage Ottawa to beef up its diplomatic representation in Europe. (Having a few more reporters there wouldn't hurt either.) We may not have liked the expense, but outgoing Governor-General Adrian Clarkson's instincts were right to tour Scandinavia. Now we need to follow-up. Start by looking to join specific EU protocols and agreements, including Erasmus, the EU's remarkable university exchange programme that has standardized tuition and credits allowing students and faculty full mobility across borders.

And as for that desolate chunk of rock somewhere near Ellesmere that's been getting all the press of late: don't seize it. Split it. Hans Island is the perfect excuse to bind the Europeans in a shared pact, protecting the north and ensuring our sovereignty through engagement rather than a unilateral claim we can ill afford or defend.

Leonard's book is a wake-up call to think more imaginatively about Europe. We should use it as an opportunity to think more imaginatively about ourselves. The idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket is an old one. I think the word for it is 'strategic.'

The next time Pettigrew meets his Danish counterpart, stop worrying about who owns what. Draw up a timetable for accession talks instead.

That would get Brussels' attention. And Washington's.

Peter MacLeod is a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and convenor of The Planning Desk, an evolving studio for public systems design. In 2004, he drove across Canada visiting nearly 100 federal constituency offices.  [Tyee]

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