No exploration of the politics of a continent is complete without an assessment of how the states within it handle – both jointly and severally – their relations with each other and with the rest of the world. Such an assessment is far from easy. Europe contains states of vastly different weights and sizes. Some fought wars against each other, often alongside allies (most obviously the USA) that are now rivals as well as friends. Some have close geographical or colonial relationships with countries that barely even registered on the radar of other states in spite of the fact that they are now part of the same ‘ever closer union’. The latter (the EU) is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Neither does it have much leverage there over the member state and soon-to-be ex-member state (France and Britain, respectively) who are, even though neither can claim the population or the economic power of Germany, which isn’t. Not only does each European state have more or less unique ideas (and pretensions) about its interests and its role in the world, it also goes about promoting, playing and deciding on them in very different ways. Moreover, there are many analysts who would regard it as hopelessly old-fashioned and simplistic to talk about states as if they were unitary and potentially autonomous actors. Lastly, for all the talk of a world that is getting smaller every day, it is still rather a big place: like policymakers, we can only focus on a few aspects of how Europeans operate, and cooperate, within it.
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