Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
The Hon. Lord Jack McConnell (Former First Minister of Scotland)

08.01.2011 - Interview conducted by Travis Mockler

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Q1.  So the first question I have to ask you is something you touched on pretty briefly in your presentation about the Euro crisis that has been unfolding over the last year. What do you think are some of the fundamental weaknesses of a common currency, and do you think there is the strength and unity within and among EU member countries necessary to address them?  We see countries like Germany really holding out on, for example, the bailout packages, which Angela Merkel has taken a very strong stance against.  How do you think the EU can resolve the differences between its member countries in order to address these problems?

I think the fundamental problem has been a lack of strength and leadership on this issue in the past, rather than today. I think the fact that countries were allowed to get so far off from where they should have been with their public debt† has contributed to the situation in a way that could have easily been predicted - a crisis of confidence in the Euro as a whole and not just in those individual countries.  With that being said, I think that the response, given the difficulty of reaching an agreement between all these countries, has actually been quite assertive in Greece and Ireland. I think the leaders are now much more prepared to put in place the structures that are required. Regarding the agreement reached in December at the European Council, regarding a new structure that will try and prevent this kind of situation from arising again and will give powers to the EU for dealing with such situations, I think that is also a good step forward.  The solving of the crisis has been a real problem and economically, at the moment, there are many needs, but the leadership has become engaged and has taken steps to making sure that the problem doesnít arise in this way again.

So you think that it has been more of a delay than a lack of any real fundamental commitment to a common currency?

Iím not sure if the commitment was there before, but I think it is there now. I think the member states now all get the fact that if they donít have a proper structure in place with the right powers, then every country is going to be affected by the problems in one country.

Q2.  You mentioned that the EU really wasnít included in the leadership during the Copenhagen climate talks.  Are there any specific areas, arenas or issues that you see the EU being able to take a very strong stance on and exhibit some strong leadership in?  You mentioned that people tend to see the EU as a neutral actor, but are there any specific areas where you think it could take more leadership?

I am really disappointed that we lost that role on climate change, but it may be that with the proper engagement of China and the United States face to face, in the long term it will be more likely to produce results, which would probably be a good thing. Iíve been disappointed, from a European point of view, that we are not seen the way we once were and the change has been in two areas in particular.  Regarding development aid, and the effective use of development aid, the EU is a massive contributor to development needs. There are some areas in which we do perform a leadership role, but I think† in terms of delivering the effectiveness of donors and pulling people together, we can do more.  And I think that the new European Foreign Service might give EU representatives on the ground a bit more power and authority to do that, which would be a good thing. The second area, in terms of international talks, where we need to be as proactive is trade. I think that the EU should be involved in resolving impasses in world trade talks. We are the largest collection of strongly developed economies, many of which rely on trade in a big way for growth.  We need to be more aggressively involved in trying to pull together the agreements that are required there.  

Q3. You mentioned the fact that the EU-US relationship is not really being utilized or developed to its full potential. What do you think is the one or two main issues that are prohibiting this development?

I think there has been a mistrust of the United States in the European Union over the last two decades since the end of the Cold War- sometimes for reasons of perception and sometimes for very real reasons. From the other side, since the end of the Cold War, some sections of American leadership have taken the European Union or European states,† their friends, for granted, and for understandable reasons have concentrated their efforts elsewhere. I think we both need to work at this relationship more. Many of the skills of cultural diplomacy and the understanding of the importance of soft power will come into play because I think that if we are clear about our objectives, we will find that we have more in common than that which we disagree about.  If we do come together, understand each other a little bit better and work together more closely, I think we can have a huge impact in the world. There will be places in the world where bilateral efforts by the US are more effective than the European Union could be, but there will also be many parts of the world where the European Union can provide a bridge for the US and a bridge for those parts of the world to the U.S. that can reduce tensions and improve global relations. I think that if we both work hard on our own relationship, we will have better relations in other parts of the world.