Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Musical chairs in Europe

It has been apparent for some time now that the current configuration of power within the nations of Europe, and in particular in the major players France, Germany, the UK and Italy, will change beyond recognition in the next two years; with, inevitably, significant implications for both international law and relations. Both Lorenzo and Raphael have posted on the demise of Berlusconi and the rise of Sarkozy respectively; and, as I have posted, Blair is unlikely to last beyond 2007. Sadly, we lack a German co-blogger here, but it seems to be widely accepted that Angela Merkel will take over as Chancellor from Schröder in the German elections, in as little as one month's time.

Curiously, however, it is difficult to discerne any single trend amongst these movements from a global standpoint. While the "old-Europe", anti-Iraq (and anti-Bush) camps seem to be taking heavy blows from the impending defeats of Schröder and Chirac - both, crucially, to candidates who are seen as much more pro-free market, "trans-atlantic-friendly" figures - the situation in Italy is, if anything, reversed: Berlusconi has been one of the US/UK's staunchest allies, both in terms of free market policy and international relations. One crucial enigma remains: the issue of what will happen in the UK when Blair goes - almost certainly to be replaced by his Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

The situation in the UK is different from the others, as Blair will be leaving a position of comparative strength - amply illustrated by the fact that he will be handing over power to someone who is (in theory at least) a close ally, rather than an opposition party. And yet, the recent tragic death of Robin Cook, the ex-Foreign Minister who resigned from Government over the war in Iraq (and really the only senior UK politician to come out of the whole affair with his reputation actually enhanced), has perhaps given us a hint as to how the Brown administration would move things. It has been suggested that, when Brown took over, Cook was in line for a high-profile recall to the front line of domestic government; a move that would have been a very clear message from Blair's successor that the new administration would perhaps not be such willing allies to US adventurism in the future (Brown retained a judicious low profile throughout almost the whole of the Iraq affair, only "fully supporting the Prime Minister" when facing a direct challenge to do so).

So how will this latest round of musical chairs pan out? It seems (inexplicably, if viewed entirely from the viewpoint of recednt international affairs and transatlantic relations) that those who supported Bush and the war in Iraq will be replaced by those who didn't, and, to a large degree at least, vice versa. It would be easy to draw from this the conclusion that international law, and international relations, simply don't matter to national electorates to the extent that many of us think they should and hope they might; however, a quick glance at the dominant issues, not to mention the result, of the last UK election should dispel this. Rather, it seems that those who supported Bush are actively paying the price (although Berlusconi, of course, has myriad other charges to answer); whereas it is the domestic agenda in France and Germany that is the most important - regardless of the fact that, although both countries were massively against the war, the likely next heads of state will be politicians who would have, and will, be much more sympathetic to US foreign policy ends and means.

The moral of all this? There probably is one, but I'll be damned if I can work it out. Perhaps only that there is more to (political) life than international relations, but that you ignore it at your peril...

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