Imperialist tensions at the heart of the European Union

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Europe was the main military theatre in both world wars; it constitutes the epicentre of the world's imperialist tensions and it has never had any real possibility of overcoming the contradictory interests of each national bourgeoisie. In fact, "because of its historic role as the cradle of capitalism and of its geographic situation (�) Europe in the 20th century has become the key to the imperialist struggle for world domination" (International Review 112, 'Europe: economic alliance and field of manoeuvre of imperialist rivalries'). The EU, an expression of post-World War II tensions

In the Cold War, when the EEC (European Economic Community) was the instrument of the United States and of the western bloc against its Russian rival, Europe could have a certain reality. Following the Second World War, the construction of the European Community was supported by the United States in order to form a bulwark against the USSR's desires to make headway in Europe. It was set up in order to strengthen the western bloc. Although restrained and disciplined by American 'leadership', which was accepted because the European powers needed to form a united front against the common enemy, important divisions had never ceased to pit the main European powers against each other.

The collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989 led to the dissolution of the opposing bloc and the reunification of Germany, which thus acceded to the rank of a superior economic power. Its new aim was to profit from this opportunity and assume the leadership of a new bloc opposed to the United States. The reasons which had obliged the states of Europe to 'march together' broke into pieces; and this phenomenon has been brutally aggravating for fifteen years. Contrary to the whole barrage about the inexorable forward march towards a greater European unity, the real trend is towards sharpening tensions and a growing divergence of interests between the various European powers.

This historic upheaval has re-launched the struggle for world hegemony and the redistribution of the cards on the European continent. The desperate race between all these champions of peace and democracy to grab the spoils of the ex-Russian bloc has led, for the first time since 1945, to the return of war in Europe. At the beginning of the 90s open imperialist conflict broke out in ex-Yugoslavia, culminating with the NATO bombing of a European capital, Belgrade, in 1999. France, Britain and the United States, themselves rivals, used their local allies to oppose German expansion towards the Mediterranean, via Croatia. The war in Iraq has again shown the fundamental absence of unity and the profound disagreements and rivalries between European nations.

After the Cold War, tensions grow even stronger

Since 1989 Germany has been clearly pursuing its imperialist ambitions in its traditional area of expansion of 'Mitteleuropa', under the cover of building a united Europe. It hopes to use its unrivalled economic power within the principal countries of eastern Europe, as well as the institutional proximity created by EU enlargement, to draw these countries into its sphere of influence. The German bourgeoisie is however faced with major obstacles to its ambitions: on the one hand, the 'everyman for himself' attitude of these different nations, and on the other hand, the determination of the United States to develop its influence in these areas, particularly through NATO. "Five new members - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia - have been welcomed, with great pomp on March 29 in Washington, into the ranks of NATO, one month before their integration into the EU. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have been part of the Alliance since 1999. The United States is already campaigning for Bulgaria and Romania, the other two new partners of NATO, to be admitted, in their turn, into the EU" (Le Monde 29.4.04). The United States is counting on the countries of the 'new Europe' to help it paralyse its most dangerous rival. It calculates that "the more the EU extends, the less it deepens, and that complicates the formation of a political counter-weight to American power" (Le Monde, 4.5.04). This view is confirmed by all the wrangling over the adoption of the new European Constitution.

Despite the reign of everyman for himself and the counter-moves of the US, Germany is still strengthening its imperialist influence to the east. To the west, on the other hand, it comes up against both France and Britain, who can only react to this developing potential of German imperialism.

Britain, in line with its diplomatic traditions, uses every means at its disposal to sow discord between the European powers. But as the main supporter of American military action in Iraq, it suffers from the discrediting of US policy and finds itself more and more isolated in Europe. The impact of the mess in Iraq has shattered the 'pro-American' coalition formed by London, Madrid and Warsaw against Franco-German opposition to the United States. The adoption of a pro-European orientation by the new government of Zapatero, which has announced its retreat from Iraq, deprives it of its main ally in Europe. This defection has dragged Poland, shaken and divided on the choice of imperialist orientation, into a political crisis that has led to the resignation of the Prime Minister and the implosion of the party in power. Despite the difficulties that it is encountering, Britain will be obliged to continue its work of sabotaging any durable continental alliance in Europe.

For France, which has longed to emancipate itself from American tutelage since the 1950s, there's no question of allowing Germany to totally dominate Europe. Neither does it relish the subaltern role that Germany has reserved for it in the framework of European enlargement. That is why it hopes to find in the strengthening and enlargement of the EU the means to guarantee a 'collective' control capable of restraining the ambitions of Germany. We can also see with the reactivation of its historic links with Poland and Romania and, more recently, the development of ties with Russia in order to oppose US intervention in Iraq. On this subject, we should underline that the latter is quite interested in this 'alliance' with France, since it is extremely concerned about being dispossessed of its former zone of influence in eastern Europe, and about the EU and NATO advancing up to its frontiers. All this is aimed at creating a counter-weight to Germany as well as to the USA. At the same time, within the EU, France is again attempting to recapture its influence with the countries of southern Europe, notably Spain, against the hegemonic position of Germany. Finally, if it responds to Britain's advances about developing European defence and constructing a common aircraft carrier, it's because it needs to play the trump card of military power, which is Germany's main weak point.

What then is the real meaning of this campaign about a 'united Europe'? It can only be to serve as ideological propaganda and to maintain illusions about a capitalist world which can never overcome its imperialist divisions.

The tendency towards chaos and 'every man for himself' is not limited to the countries of the ex-eastern bloc or of the 'Third World'. The end of the division of the planet into two blocs, by unleashing the war of each against all, has placed Europe itself at the heart of imperialist antagonisms and already shows that any idea of unity among the national capitals which compose it is a complete fantasy. Between the determination of the United States to maintain its supremacy over the world (backed up by Britain, which also seeks to defend its own particular interests), and the growth of the power of Germany, which tends more and more to pose as a rival of the United States, Europe can only become the ultimate stakes in this confrontation.

Scott, 3/7/04.