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Denis MacShane: Europe needs to speak with one voice

As Europe's leaders meet in Brussels today their thoughts are on Ireland.

France's President Sarkozy is seeing his hopes of an exciting, delivery-focussed French presidency disappear in the mists and peat of Europe's western edge. He will shunt the Lisbon Treaty into a siding leaving over-excited Europhobes and Europhiles to celebrate the referendum vote or dream up their Plans A to Z to find a way out sometime in 2009, if ever.

Meanwhile, how does Europe show it means business? A key area is a new relationship with America as President Bush's valedictory Europe tour gives rise to excited hopes that his successor will want to repair the fractured Atlantic alliance. Yet for the US under either a President Obama or McCain to have an effective European partner, the EU must learn to speak with one voice. The Lisbon Treaty is not necessary to achieve EU unity. Leadership is and that is missing in today's Europe. On key issues facing the world, both President Bush and his successor face an EU that shies away from taking the core decisions that demonstrate unity in Europe.

The bitter division over Iraq may be over as the main European protagonists such as Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and Tony Blair have quit the stage, though supporters of the intervention in Iraq like Silvio Berlusconi and José Manuel Barroso, as well as the Dutch and Danish prime ministers, are still around.

But Europe is far from agreeing on how to shape a new military profile that could share with the US joint responsibility for the security of the Euroatlantic democracies. Only France and Britain spend more than 2% of GDP on defence. But lectures on military strategy from European nations that will not spend the money or risk their soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan hardly makes the EU a convincing partner on defence matters.

This could change if Britain and France would agree on European military doctrine building on President Sarkozy's historic reversal of General de Gaulle's policy of withdrawal from Nato's military command. Yet egged on by a press and Conservative Party that fulminates against European defence cooperation, London effectively stops the EU from becoming a viable military partner for the US.

Or take the Western Balkans, Europe's backyard which European leaders were unable to stop from chaos in the 1990s until the US got involved.

A decade later, the US and major EU nations have recognised Kosovo just as other breakaway nations from the former Yugoslavia now have full state-hood. A victory for partnership between the US and a united EU? Anything but. Key EU nations like Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia weaken the unity of Europe by refusing to recognise Kosovo. Greece blocks Macedonia's EU and Nato ambitions while Spain lobbies in Latin America against recognition for Kosovo. This bodes ill for the notion that a united EU diplomacy of weight can develop.

On energy, Germany opposes any EU policy aimed at developing nuclear power. German politicians have every right to reject nuclear power for the German nation. But an EU that wants to talk energy policy with Washington but cannot use the word "nuclear" is hardly a convincing partner. EU leaders are also giving in to the hysteria over rising fuel costs instead of saying it's game over for cheap petrol transportation.

The EU remain divided on what line to take towards Russia and the restless attempts by Russia to strike out on its own over Iran, the Balkans, energy policy or interference in Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic States. Perhaps the softly-softly approach of a re-invented Ostpolitik by German social democratic ministers is the right approach. Or perhaps the more robust line from the foreign ministers of Britain, Sweden and Poland should be the common EU position. But there is no united EU answer when the next US president asks Europe: What do we do with Russia?

So before telling America what to do, it would be better if Europe worked harder at speaking with one voice. After the first years of this century when rampant anti-Americanism in key EU capitals was matched by condescending scorn about Europe from American neo-conservatives, it makes sense to repair those divides. Both Senators McCain and Obama have indicated that is their wish. Europe needs to wean itself off anti-Americanism but also needs to speak and act as one. A Europe divided on defence, on Kosovo and Macedonia, on energy and on Russia is little help to the 44th president of the United States.

The author was Europe Minister, 2002-2005