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Haiku Herman's G2 _ UPI
12-07-2009, 11:27 PM,
Haiku Herman's G2 _ UPI
Haiku Herman's G2
Published: Dec. 7, 2009 at 12:01 PM
By MARTIN WALKER, UPI Editor Emeritus

BRUSSELS, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The real task of Haiku Herman, as the currently fashionable nickname goes for the new resident of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy, is to squash talk of the world's new leadership team of the United States and China as the G2. Instead, the Belgian politician, whose hobby is writing Japanese-style haiku poems, should find ways to remind the world that the real top team is the traditional G2 of the United States and Europe.

"The choice for Europe is simple," says British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "Get our act together and make the European Union a leader on the world stage or become spectators in a G2 world shaped by the U.S. and China."

"The specter of the G2 … is haunting European governments as much as the specter of revolution haunted its courts in the days of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto," notes Francois Godement, a French specialist on China at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

It was Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, who first proposed a U.S.-China G2 team to address the international financial crisis, tackle climate change, limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and maybe even engage jointly in the Middle East peace process. Henry Kissinger chimed in with a call for U.S.-China relations to be "taken to a new level."

The American obsession with the spectacular rise of China is understandable; Beijing has become America's banker. And yet the United States is not China's biggest customer; that title goes to the EU, although the Europeans have managed to do so without going as deeply into debt as the U.S. economy.

This helps explain why Van Rompuy's job should not be too difficult, since a lot of economic logic is on his side. Even when China overtakes Japan this year to become the world's second-largest economy, its gross domestic product will barely reach $5 trillion. The United States and the European Union are each more than three times larger than that. Allowing for the recent volatility of exchange rates, U.S. GDP is around $15 trillion, and the combined GDP of the EU's 27 member states is just over $17 trillion.

If China were to grow at 5 percent a year for the next 20 years, while the EU and U.S. economies each grow at half that pace, China's GDP would still be about one-third of their combined size. And China's daunting problems of demographics, politics, ecology, arable land and water, and resource scarcities make it a risky bet to assume China could consistently maintain that level of growth.

The difficulty is that the United States and China are sovereign states, where decisions that are made in Washington and Beijing hold good for the whole country. By contrast the EU is a hybrid, a confederacy with some federal characteristics, and with some big nation-states like Britain, France and Germany that have the clout to go their own way. Other big states, like Italy, Spain and Poland, may wish to go their own way but do not always have the clout.

This EU hybrid has a single supreme court and an increasingly common legal system, and rather more than half the members share a single currency and a single central bank. But the only field in which there is one EU foreign policy with the EU Commission in charge is in trade negotiations. And even they can be undermined by a national veto, as France blocked the trans-Atlantic free-trade project negotiated by Sir Leon Brittan and Mickey Kantor in the 1990s.

It is not widely known that the EU has more troops under arms than the United States. But of the 2 million European men and women in uniform, the Kosovo campaign demonstrated that barely 40,000 of them can be mobilized and deployed for combat operations, and there has not been much improvement since. Even if it could mount a military force to match its economic weight, the EU has no common foreign policy other than being hesitantly pro-American, suspicious of Russia and keen on exporting to everybody.

Although the United States has always said it wants a partnership of equals with Europe, in reality it has been happy to have a series of more or less loyal and subordinate allies, and has astutely played off the Big Three of Britain, France and Germany against one another. So a real Euro-American G2 may have to await the coming of a real EU polity, which is exactly what the new Lisbon Treaty that created the post of permanent EU president was seeking to provide.

So far, the conventional wisdom says that Belgium's former Premier Herman Van Rompuy is too low-key to make much difference. In Belgium, where he is known as an astute political operator who held the country together when it looked like dividing into Flemish and Walloon regions, they know not to underestimate him. He may not say much, Belgians report, but when he does it can be devastating.

One striking recent example was his remark: "The financing of the welfare state, irrespective of the social reform we implement, will require new resources. … The possibility of financial levies at the European level needs to be seriously addressed."

This prospect of a new round of EU-level taxation is not only political dynamite, it also reaches to the heart of the main European question: how far can or will it become a single political entity. Taxes to sustain the welfare states imply a common socioeconomic system. This may not be practical politics in the Europe of France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel, but it lays down a marker for Haiku Herman's term.

It also points to the only kind of EU that could make up a sustainable and reliable G2 with the Americans, one that brought as much power and political will to the relationship as Washington did. It would have to be a far more federal and unified European state that shared a common social system, common economy and common politics. This is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

Perhaps it will not need to do so. The Chinese themselves seem embarrassed by talk of a Beijing-Washington G2. Asked about such a G2 after Obama's China visit, Feng Zhongping, the head of the European section of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, gave the following reply:

"Europe is especially concerned about the so-called G2 of China and the United States. At present, there is talk that Europe opposes the notion of a G2, and that Europe believes that the world should adopt effective multilateralism, with the participation of more countries. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's statements (on this issue) on the one hand tell Europe that China places great importance upon its strategic, cooperative partnership relationship with the European Union. They also say that this is an excellent opportunity to clearly indicate that China fundamentally has not promoted the idea that China and the U.S. will form the two major powers. China believes that the idea that (China and the United States) could undertake the responsibility of administering the world is incorrect."

Haiku Herman may have more time than he thinks, except that his term is 30 months, which can be expanded to a maximum of five years.

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