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The EU's fragmentation

By Ian Bremmer

Two years ago, there was a debate in Washington about whether a strong Europe or a weak Europe was preferable. There's no disagreement today. A more multilateral U.S. foreign policy needs a stronger Europe. As the G20 weakens the West's global strategic position, the United States will increasingly need coherent policies from its principal allies to maintain its international influence and leadership. Europe, however, appears to be fragmenting.

Witness Germany moving away from EU fiscal targets, which will make it harder for the European Commission to compel other countries to develop credible and consistent fiscal policy. Meanwhile, European tax policy changes need to be implemented to cover the costs of interventions, stimulus packages, and revenue shortfalls-but they have barely begun. Upcoming elections in the United Kingdom could produce major ripple effects next year. And the risk of a complete breakdown in negotiations over Turkey's bid to join the EU could further divide the continent.

Overall, political issues will be tougher to deal with in 2010 than they were at the height of the economic crisis. As things unraveled in late 2008 to early 2009, governments had no choice but to use existing policy tools. Now they may have to take up the difficult task of developing new ones.

The European agenda next year will be full of challenges, many of which require policy coordination. There will be impediments to effectively managing a crisis in a truly pan-European bank; uncertainty over corporate refinancing, particularly in eastern Europe; and emerging political problems combined with social discontent as the difficult tasks of footing the bill for crisis responses become more pressing. At this point, a real move toward greater European consolidation looks like it's still a long way off.

Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images