DIPLOMATS clashed at a high-profile debate held in Bratislava on April 19. Some panelists said the European Union must absorb its newcomers before discussing further enlargement, while others said it must build bridges toward former Soviet states and Turkey. However, everyone agreed that the European Union is a long way from creating a common foreign and security policy.
The debate was a part of the Transatlantic Drift Debates, a series of discussions that draws top diplomats and policy experts from around the world to discuss transatlantic relations.
Three ministers, six state secretaries, four former foreign ministers and numerous ambassadors and public policy experts met in Bratislava's Primate's Palace to hash out answers to specific questions:
To what extent should new-member countries promote democracy in Russia's backyard?
Should the European Union develop a common foreign and security policy?
Would a unified Europe and stronger Asia productively counterbalance the US?
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and his Polish counterpart, Piotr Switalski were among the distinguished participants at the April 19 session.
The founders of the Transatlantic Drift Debates see its function as "the glue between buildings".
Marc Ellenbogen, who heads two out of the three groups that put on the event, told The Slovak Spectator: "We like to think of our Transatlantic Drift debates as a kind of brainstorming session at an exclusive level."
The debates are off the record, which means that panellists can say whatever comes to mind without worrying that their comments will be attributed to them in print.
The Global Panel Foundation, The Prague Society and The American Foreign Policy Council are the organizers of the Transatlantic Drift Debates series. At the Bratislava event, they worked in cooperation with the Institute of Public Affairs. A student forum took place the day before, on April 18.
The views expressed in the Primate's Palace were uncommonly frank. One panellist said inviting Turkey into the EU would be an enormous mistake. Another held that the EU was not ready for expansion now, and would probably not be ready for another 15 years. Yet another urged all new union members to aggressively export democracy to neighbouring countries.
The first debate looked at the role Central and Eastern European member countries should play in transatlantic discussions involving Russia and the European Union. The second debate registered dissonance about what a common foreign and security policy would look like for a united Europe. Essentially, it was agreed that Europe is a long ways away from creating a common policy.
In the third debate, most panellists agreed that living in a uni-polar world, where one superpower reigned amidst lesser satellite powers, would be preferable to a multi-polar world.
A big discussion ensued as to whether China or India would be at the opposite poles in a multi-polar new world order.
In an interview after the conference, Ellenbogen described the third debate as yielding the "biggest question of the day".
"It wasn't a question of Europe's resources or abilities to become a superpower, but its lack of leadership. What is the formula for leadership going to be for Europe moving forward? What is the formula for managing this leadership? Those were the two big questions that came out of the afternoon. This revolves more around a lack of political will than an incapability of Europe to actually challenge the United States," said Ellenbogen.
Once the ideas from the debate settles, organizers from the Global Panel Foundation, The Prague Society and The American Foreign Policy Council will produce reports and send a synopsis to relevant governments. Ellenbogen says the debates make a difference.
"When I look at public policy, when I look at the people who go back to their own governments and corporations, I do have a sense that these interactions have helped. People have formalized their point of view and are challenged to think of things in a different way," he said.
Oleg Manaev, a university professor in Belarus, was prevented from attending the conference by the Belorussian authorities.
The debate in Bratislava was the sixth such conference. Debates VII, VIII and IX are planned for Sydney, Warsaw and Kiev.
26. Apr 2005 at 0:00 | Julie Garrison Frederick