The State of the European Union: Implications for Ukraine

October 29, 2010

The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations has produced a commentary on the state of the European Union that has received considerable attention in the United States. Called “The Potential Twilight of the European Union,” it is the work of US foreign policy specialist Dr. Charles A. Kupchan.

Dr. Kupchan’s vision of the EU and its prospects is markedly pessimistic but, as I will argue, that is because Kupchan focuses exclusively on “Europe” (i.e., the EU) and pays no heed to Europe (the real, existing Europe of the nations), which is where the action is and where dramatic developments are taking place.

In view of the summit meeting between Ukraine and the European Union scheduled for November 20th, it is worth considering Dr. Kupcha’s analysis in some detail.

The Re-nationalization of Europe

According to Dr. Kupchan, Europe’s “historic experiment in political union is faltering”; Europe is experiencing a re-nationalization of political life” as member states “claw back…the traditional powers of national sovereignty.”

He attributes much of this to the “painful toll” of the world financial crisis and the “poisonous politics” revealed by Germany’s reluctance to bail out Greece, thereby breaching the “spirit of common welfare that is the hallmark of collective Europe.” He points out, however, that the root causes of Europe’s malaise go “much deeper” and may be “here to stay.”

The re-nationalization of Europe is evidenced by: Germany’s “disappearing” enthusiasm for the EU; the (initial) rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Dutch, French and Irish voters; the rise of anti-immigrant parties in Holland, Hungary, Sweden and elsewhere; the British Conservative Party’s abandonment of the pro-EU center-right bloc in the European parliament in favor of the Euro-skeptic “far-right” bloc.

What has brought on this state of affairs?

For one thing, generational change. Older Europeans see the EU as “sacred” because it helped them “escape the bloody past” of Naziism, Communism and World War, but the younger generation has “no past from which they seek to escape.” For them, Europe is no longer an “article of faith” but a matter of coldly calculating “costs and benefits.”

For another, many Europeans resent the undermining of their “comfortable welfare state,” which they blame on the EU and its liberalization of trade, capital flows and labor markets.

For yet another, the EU’s expansion to the east and south has “sapped it of life.” New members from the former Soviet bloc are reluctant to cede increasing amounts of sovereignty to Brussels, having just recently won it from Moscow. Kupchan quotes Poland’s late president Lech Kaczynski: “What interests Poles is the future of Poland and not that of the EU.”

In the face of this attitude and in the absence of the “cozy and familiar feel” of Western Europe prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “original members” of Europe have “turned inward.”

What Kupchan finds most regrettable about Europe’s re-nationalization is that it impedes the European “collective” from “shouldering greater global burdens.” He calls Europe (i.e., the EU) America’s “go-to partner on every front—from stewardship of the global economy to curbing global warming to bringing stability to Afghanistan.” Europe’s recent “backsliding” could put paid to one of the “most significant and unlikely accomplishments of the 20th century”—a Europe intent on projecting power “as a cohesive whole.”

Doubling down on the theme of the EU as adjunct to the US push for global strategic predominance, Kupchan sees in popular European opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a contradiction between “widespread aversion to far-flung commitments” and the Lisbon Treaty which was “intended in part to give the EU more geopolitical heft.”

Kupchan deeply regrets that the “vision” of the EU as a mechanism for projecting power globally in support of US-led objectives “has no constituency” and that “wars in distant lands, coupled with plunging defense expenditures from the economic downturn, are tempering the European appetite for greater geostrategic responsibilities.”

Commentary

In our view, Kupchan fails to see the trees for the forest. “Europe” is one thing; Europe quite another. The former is what Charles de Gaulle called l’Europe des technocrats, the Brussels technocracy he said would never have the legitimacy or suppleness to act in world affairs, and which he routinely disparaged as “that thing.”

To this he opposed l’Europe des patries, or, the Europe of the nations. The nation state, whatever its flaws, is real, the organic outgrowth of history and culture. It has legitimacy. It can and does act. And it is not, unlike the EU, a “thing,” a construction as artificial in its own way as the USSR.

The Europe of nations is anything but artificial. De Gaulle could write of France: “All my life I have thought of France in a certain way, like the Madonna in the frescoes, dedicated to an exceptional destiny.” One cannot speak this way of EU Europe.

Kupchan is correct that Europe is re-nationalizing, but, then, it never fully de-nationalized. L’Europe des patries has never been in abeyance, and now appears more firmly entrenched than it has in years. And it certainly was never conceived of as a cat’s paw for US foreign policy. Neither was l’Europe des technocrats for that matter. Both were seen by their proponents as the best way to steer a path between the superpowers to the West and East, even if Europe was allied to Washington through NATO and bonds of economic interest and sentiment.

Kupchan misses the point of European foreign policy entirely because he is fixated on Brussels, when he should be looking to the real power centers—Paris and Berlin (and, for that matter, Warsaw.) That is where the action is. That is where Europe is addressing geopolitical matters of the profoundest kind.

Paris, according to the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold, is taking the radical step of proposing a new security and economic relationship between Europe and Russia, a “single zone of security and economic cooperation…that will pull Russia closer to Europe but alongside the NATO alliance.”

To this end, French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently met at Deauville with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Sarkozy said: “We live in a new world, a world of friendship between Russia and Europe.” Merkel: “We need to put relations between Russia and NATO on a rational track. After all, we face some of the same threats in the world today.”

They invited Medvedev to attend the NATO summit in November in Lisbon. Medvedev accepted.

In a recent analysis of German-Russian relations, Stratfor.com, a noted US on-line source of foreign policy analysis, avers that Germany has lost confidence in the EU as “a trading bloc” that “ensures prosperity.” Increasingly, it sees Russia as the key to its economic future. Germany buys Russian energy products; Russia uses the income to purchase German capital goods and engineering know-how to revamp its crumbling infrastructure. That is a solid basis for a long-term relationship of mutual economic benefit, which, in turn, augurs well for long-term pan-European peace.

Warsaw is also getting in on the act. Since Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin called for normalization of Russo-Polish relations in a speech on September 1, 2009 in Gdansk, relations between Warsaw and Moscow are, according to the Eurasia Intelligence Report published by IRIS, the Paris-based think tank, in “overdrive.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has “lavishly praised the end of antagonism between the two brother Slavic countries” and announced that president Medvedev will visit Warsaw by the end of 2010. A plethora of bilateral initiatives by the two national governments and private Polish and Russian organizations is underway. And there is also an economic dimension to the thaw in relations—in the first half of 2010 the volume of bilateral trade jumped 50% compare to the same period last year.

The development of Russo-Polish relations also has a spiritual dimension. Last summer, a delegation of senior hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church traveled to Warsaw to meet their Polish Catholic counterparts. A reciprocal visit is in the offing. The aim is to work out a common declaration of cooperation between the two churches.

Thus, while the foreign policy of the EU, as such, may, as Dr. Kupchan suggests, be moribund, that of Europe remains astonishingly vital.

It is focused on the achievement of a critically important goal fraught with implications for Europe’s ability to successfully meet a range of challenges, namely the working out of a final settlement of the Cold War embracing the vast pan-European realm from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Conclusion: Implications for Ukraine

Relations with the European Union:

Ukraine’s relations with the European Union have evolved since the years of Orange rule in Ukraine, partly because of the change of government in Kiev, partly for the reasons enumerated by Dr. Kupchan.

Then, Europe kept Ukraine—seen as too big, too poor and too corrupt to be easily integrated—at arm’s length. Kiev’s constant, fruitless wrangling with Russia only confirmed Europe’s lack of interest in inviting Ukraine to apply; the last thing Europe wanted was tension on its eastern frontier.

Ukraine has done much to improve its credibility as a partner of Europe: It has mended fences with Russia, turned the corner on its chaotic internal politics and taken steps to get its economic house in order (though the jury is still out on their long-term effectiveness.)

Having met IMF requirements for resumed lending and joined the European Energy Community (creating a free trade zone in the energy sector), Ukraine has moved smartly in the direction of meeting European standards, even if it still has a long way to go. The EU is particularly keen to see Kiev move against corruption.

Kiev should persist in a policy of patient negotiation with Brussels. Membership of the EU is not in the cards but efforts to establish a free trade area and visa-free travel promise real benefits for Ukrainians. The modernization of Ukraine’s economy through meeting European standards is a project that can and does unite all Ukrainians and the nation’s political class.

Relations with Europe as such:

Ukraine has proved central to Europe’s quest for a post-Cold War pan-European settlement: Kiev’s adoption of non-aligned status was noted in chanceries across Europe. That move helped break the logjam in relations between the two parts of the continent—witness the recent movement in the relations of Berlin, Paris and Warsaw with Moscow, mentioned above. Kiev has played an important catalytic role in this development.

It has done so as a member in good standing of l’Europe des patries, which it is by virtue of being European. No need to wheedle an invitation. For historical, cultural and spiritual reasons, and by virtue of its strategic location, Ukraine is the quintessence of Europe. Its clear vocation to serve as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe, its ingrained habit of looking towards Russia and Asia as well as towards the West, only enhances the nation’s European status.

As such, Kiev would be the natural venue for a European security conference involving European heads of state and government. The initiative would build on President Sarkozy’s recent call for a single zone of European security and cooperation embracing all parts of Europe.