Fortress Europe: A Conquering Navy - The EU as a significant international player - Dan Jakopovich

Article from Black Flag #225 (2005).

Submitted by Fozzie on July 14, 2021

While rightly acknowledging segregationist tendencies within the EU and the fact that it is playing second (if second…) fiddle to the US, many underestimate its immense power and international significance.

As "the most fully elaborated and authoritative multilateral institution in modern history"1 . the European Union is "the world's largest trader of goods, accounting for 19.1% of global merchandise exports and imports. The European Union is also the world's largest trader of commercial services, with 24.3% of world trade in services".(circa €300 billion) 2 . Together with the US and Japan, it is “home to eighty-seven of the world's top one hundred transnational firms" and they "account for 88 percent of their foreign assets". These three are also "responsible for most of the foreign direct investment that goes on in the world." 3 This Triad, led by the US, is still the principal collective imperialistic alignment in the present world system.

With the creation of a customs union in 1968 a common external tariff as a part of a common commercial policy (focused on relations with non-member countries) has also been established. Issues of external trade have long been the central sphere of European Commissions global influence (since it is a party during trade negotiations, subordinate to the Council of Ministers which sets guidelines). Member states have largely handed over their decision-making power (especially regarding agriculture and fisheries) to the European Union itself. 4

The most important elements of EU's trade policy include the Common Customs Tariff, rules governing imports from outside the EU, as well as EU's prerogatives with regards to investigating complaints made by member states concerning alleged unfair trading practices of a particular Third Country (that country can file a complaint to the WTO in case of an unfavourable decision by the EU).

The export of vital resources (notably petrol and natural gas) is also subject to international agreement5 . All EU policies have to be integrated in the international regulatory system governed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), previously GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

"The GATT/WTO philosophy is 'free trade good, protection bad'. As this is also the driving philosophy behind the EEC/EC/EU integrationist project, one would expect the Community/Union to be amongst the GATT/WTO's best pupils. This has not, in fact, always been the case, as the temptation for the Union Is to pursue the alternative - the creation of a self-sufficient market behind impenetrable external borders.'"6

The EU's protectionist mechanisms include not only tight migration controls, manipulations around the issue of immigrants, and enormous agricultural subsidies, but also delinking their food prices from those of the world market (which is forbidden to the Third World Countries by the EU) 7 . The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU stands as a "silent testimony" to its glaring hypocrisy.

If we could, for instance, disregard the fact that in six of the eight years from 1990 to 1997 underdeveloped countries paid out more in debt service than they received in loans (the total transfer of money from the poor South to the rich North in this period is $77 billion!) 8 , the development policy of the EU, particularly the trade-related technical assistance to which it has devoted over €700 million between 1996 and 20009 , might seem less tragicomic. However, it should still be acknowledged that "the EU and its member states account for more than 50 per cent of both international development aid and humanitarian aid…"10 .

The establishment of the European monetary union enhanced collective decision-making and concerted action, also decreasing the dependency on US manipulations with the dollar11 . Some have even interpreted the war in Iraq primarily as a US reaction to Iraq starting to trade oil in euros in 2000, which could have easily provoked a domino-effect, with other major oil producers such as Venezuela and Russia also switching to the euro12 , What seems clear is the existence of a ruling elite interested in the idea of a federalist Europe as an independent force. 13

The 1992 treaty of Maastricht opened the door for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The violent break-up of Yugoslavia and a lack of coherent response by the EU indicated the weaknesses that could ultimately hinder the entire project of creating a stable European oasis of security and guaranteed profits (admittedly, EU members were more active in peacekeeping duties afterwards). The new threats from nuclear proliferation and "non-state actors" (international mafia and terrorists), together with US unilateralism, interestingly combined in the Kosovo crisis, provided a climate conducive to stepping up the level of approach.

The Amsterdam Treaty14 provided for the appointment of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (the first appointee, Javier Solana, was a former NATO general secretary who had presided over the bombing of Yugoslavia). Among other things, the Treaty empowers the EU "to carry out humanitarian aid and peacekeeping tasks (known as Petersberg tasks), to devise common strategies, general foreign policy guidelines, joint actions and common positions." 15 It also opened the possibility for the development of a common defence policy and joint armed forces16 . Despite the "Berlin Plus" rhetorics of cooperation17 , these developments are seen as a direct threat by NATO and the US18 . An enlightening analysis of the draft for the EU constitution19 recognises an intensified commitment to “collective security", increases in arms, "pre-eruptive action" (like the new US National Security Strategy) and neo-liberal and neo-imperialist policies. It might well be true that the European project is "mired in liberal quicksand"20 , but the "realist”, Machiavellian stance of the major European powers should not go unnoticed either.

Yet, despite everything, common ruling class interests (real and perceived) — factors such as the huge amount of commerce between the world's two biggest trading entities (the United States is the EU's biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly 22% of the EU's total trade) 21 , the Asian challenge and general global insecurity coupled with US control over the main resources, its military and financial dominance - present a risk which keeps the EU under the watchful eye of its Big Brother. But the little brother is not so little any more22 .

  • 1Robert O. Keohane, Sovreignty in International Society in David Held & Anthony McGrew (ed.). The Global Transformations Reader, Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishing Ltd, UK, 2004, p.153.
  • 2EUROPA website/trade/trade issues -
  • 3David P. Calleo, Rethinking Europe’s Future, Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2001, p. 225.
  • 4Steven P. McGiffen. The European Union — a Critical Guide, Pluto Press, London, 2001, p.81.
  • 5ibid. pp. 83-5.
  • 6ibid. pp. 86.
  • 7Samir Arnim, Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, Zed Books, London & New York, p.30.
  • 8The total transfer of money from the poor south to the rich North in this period is $77 billion! - World Development Report 1998/9, World Bank in Wayne Ellwood, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization, New Internationalist Publications in association with Verso, Oxford & London, 2001, p, 47.
  • 9EUROPA website/trade/trade issues
  • 10Steven P. McGiffen, op cit., pp.49.
  • 11David P. Calleo, op cit., pp.330-1
  • 12Geoffrey Heard, Eco-Economy: Economic Perspective On The War, Scoop, 21 March 2003.
  • 13See the website of The European Round Table of Industrialists ( It is a semi-covert pressure group which consists 45 ClOs (general directors) of the biggest European corporations, and basically advocates for a unified and competitive market. Its offices are right next to the European Commission in Brussels (by pure accident, of course). Every six months it also moves its offices right next to the current Presidency (again, a perplexing coincidence).
  • 14See the official website – .
  • 15Steven P. McGiffen, op cit.,p.9.
  • 16Ibid., p. 49.
  • 17See
  • 18"Strobe Talbot, former deputy Secretary of State, said the last thing Washington wanted to see was a European defense identity "'which begins with NATO, and then away from NATO." The risk, he told a seminar at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is of an EU defense structure that first "duplicates the alliance and then competes with the alliance”. Mr Talbot's words also touch America’s basic ambivalence about greater European unity: that it is fine so long it does not threaten US global pre-eminence.” (Robert Cornwell, Europe warned not to weaken NATO, The Independent, October 8. 1999 in Istvan Mezaros, Socialism or Barbarism, Monthly Review Press, New York 2001. p. 55
  • 19Tobias Pfluger. A military constitution for the European Union? (
  • 20Samir Amin, U.S. Imperialism, Europe. and the Middle East, Monthly Review, November 2004. -
  • 21EUROPA website, op cit.
  • 22 On the topic of US-EU relations, especially with regards to the war in Iraq, see my article Germany & US: Discordant Harmony, ZNet, March 21, 2005.