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Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail
Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

Timothy Garton Ash

Beyond Berlin: Europe's new chapter starts now Add to ...

Well, they did it beautifully. Despite the rain, I found the official celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall a genuinely moving affair. The organizers, presumably guided by Chancellor Angela Merkel, got almost every accent right. Freedom, Europe and the wider world were the themes, not German unity.

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Everyone was given their share of the credit: the East German woman from Leipzig who had been locked up by the Stasi for carrying a banner demanding "an open country with free people"; Poland's Lech Walesa and Solidarity; the Hungarians; Mikhail Gorbachev; the United States. (Oddly enough, the one person who did not receive adequate acknowledgment was Helmut Kohl.) And how good to put near the end of the celebration an interview with Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi pioneer of microcredits, who talked about the wall still separating rich north from poor south: die Mauer der Armut , the Poverty Wall.

So, three cheers for Germany and three cheers for Europe. Looking at the searchlights piercing the night sky above the Brandenburg Gate, we could reflect on the extraordinary distance travelled in a city that was at the heart of two world wars and the Cold War. But then it was over. The police started clearing away the crowd-control barriers; and at dinner, we were told, the leaders of the European Union were quietly conspiring about who should be the next chair of the European Council and the new high representative for foreign and security policy.

Should the chair be the inspiring haiku-writing Belgian Herman Van Rompuy? Should the high rep be Britain's brainy Foreign Secretary, David Miliband? Has Mr. Miliband really ruled himself out, bravely choosing to remain on the bridge of the New Labour Titanic? Will Peter Mandelson nobly step into the breach, becoming the Lord High Representative? Or will the job go to former Italian prime minister Massimo d'Alema?

I have already proposed my candidates: the Nobel Peace Prize winner and elder statesman Martti Ahtisaari for the chair, former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer or, failing that, Mr. Miliband for high rep. Yet, even if the usual EU horse-trading behind closed doors ends up producing two weak, colourless figures - two rabbits out of a grey hat - we will still have the possibility of creating a Europe that acts more "as one," to recall the words of the Berlin song.

We will still be able to create the institutions, notably a new European foreign service. And what we do with those institutions depends, with the Lisbon Treaty as without it, on the political will of member states and their governments. If they want it to happen, it will. If they don't, it won't.

They should want it to happen, because whether Europeans have anything much to celebrate in another 20 years will depend on whether they get their act together in their relations with the rest of the world. Of course, there are still vital things to be done inside the frontiers of today's EU: the creation of new jobs, the integration of Muslim fellow citizens, to name but two. But, increasingly, the key challenges for the EU lie not within its own borders but beyond them.

Geographically, the agenda starts with the rest of Europe that is not yet in the EU. Enlargement fatigue is palpable at every turn, but there is still a lot of Europe to be brought in, before "Europe" is really Europe: the rest of the Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, perhaps Georgia and Armenia, and, as a strategically vital special case, Turkey. Provided they meet all the conditions for membership, we should want these countries to be EU members, in our own long-term enlightened self-interest, as well as in theirs.

Then there is Russia. If the EU does not have a Russia policy, it will not have a foreign policy. And to have a common Russia policy, it needs a common energy policy. To the south and southeast, there is the question of how we help the modernization, liberalization and eventual democratization of mainly Muslim countries that are not, in any foreseeable future, going to be members of the EU. Although the Berlin Wall has gone, there is still the wall separating Israelis and Palestinians.

Farther afield, there are the great emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil. Measured against its own unhappy, divided past, Europe has ascended; in relative power, it is descending. The United States no longer looks automatically to Europe as a strategic partner. (Barack Obama's appearance in a video message at the Brandenburg Gate only served to remind everyone of his physical absence. They should have left it to Hillary Clinton.) Mr. Miliband's argument that Europe faces the choice between a G2 world, with the crucial shots being called by the United States and China, and a G3 world, including the EU as the third partner, usefully simplifies and exaggerates to make the right point.

Beyond that, looming larger still, is the Poverty Wall of which Mr. Yunus spoke. The EU has the largest economy in the world. It and its member states combined give more than half of the world's official development aid. If it acted "as one," and strategically, no one would have a better chance of lowering the wall between rich north and poor south. Largest and most important is the planetary challenge of climate change, with time now running out before next month's Copenhagen summit.

The point is this: You don't need to have any sentimental attachment to Europe whatsoever to understand that to tackle these problems, we need the scale and clout that only Europe gives. This has nothing at all do with dreams of an "ever-closer union." Europe is a means, not an end in itself. The purpose is to defend and advance the vital interests of all its citizens.

Europe has a great story to tell from the past 60 years, and it was told brilliantly in Berlin on Monday night, but that story is mainly about what we have achieved inside Europe. The next chapter will depend on what we do outside it.

Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European studies at Oxford University.

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