Monday, 6 December 2010

The Wikileaks dump and Europe

As the wikileaks "dump" continues to drip drip drip into the media, journalists here in Europe have been scrambling to find important policy-affecting observations from American diplomats about the old world. But while revelations about diplomacy in the Middle East and East Asia have been serious and consequential, observations about Europe have veered more toward tabloid gossip. Perhaps it's a reflection of what little strategic importance Europe has to the United States these days.

While diplomats in Asia were writing about how China may be signalling it will no longer protect North Korea, how Saudi Arabia may be gunning for a war with Iran and how Yemen may be taking credit for US attacks, diplomats in Europe apparently thought it was more interesting that French President is thin-skinned and "an emperor with no clothes" or that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is "feckless, vain and ineffective." The cables from US diplomats in Europe released by Wikileaks so far have often seem dismissive or mocking when speaking about European politicians.

And if you're looking for cables discussing America's relationship with the EU specifically – forget it. They are few and far between, and when they do appear they are dismissive. The Financial Times' euroblog details today details some of the things written about EU leaders. In a 2008 cable from the American embassy in Moscow, a diplomat describes how European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was treated "harshly and condescendingly" during a Moscow diplomatic summit and was excluded from many of the meeting sessions. According to the cable the French delegation remarked at the time that the treatment was due to "the Russian view that Barroso is basically a glorified international civil servant."

Other revelations have caught out EU officials themselves disparaging the union's importance. The EUObserver detailed last week how one of the cables describes a 2004 conversation in which the EU's External Relations Commissioner, the British diplomat Chris Patten, told an American diplomat that the EU will never be a "real power." Patten, who in those pre-Lisbon Treaty days was the EU's foreign relations chief, said the EU could never be a real power because "there is always someone in the room who is overly cautious, and will insist on looking at matters 'sensibly.' To be a real power, a country must be ready and able to adopt and implement a policy, even if the rest of the world considers it unwise. Europeans may agree or disagree with US policy, but they admire that the US is ready to carry out the policies it thinks best, no matter what the rest of the world thinks."

So far, this appears to largely be the theme for any of these cables dealing with the EU. They focus on laughable personality traits, internal squabbling or Europe's confusing mixed messages and lack of centralised leadership.

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