The cancer of Nationalism has always been a characteristic in Europe’s history, a mental disease that in the name of protecting national interests has led to global war and destruction. Nationalism has shaped countries by creating new ones or by breaking up old ones and has upset the balance of power established at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and led to WWI, impacting the lives of millions.
The former French President François Mitterrand confirmed this in his final address to the European Parliament in 1995, characterizing Europe’s great torment: “Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre!”
After suffering through centuries of bloody conflict, the European Union has brought us peace, stability and prosperity fulfilling the visionary goal of the eleven founder fathers, among them pioneers of the unification: Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer.
They were aided by the Marshall plan (1948-1951), a European economic recovery plan which supplied U.S. funding on a continental basis instead of an individual basis, to the crippled continent.
The Marshall plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe was part of the Truman doctrine which articulated the policy of containment of the Soviet Union under which the United States pledged to contain communism by providing political, economic and military support to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces.
In the U.S. Congress Senators issued resolutions declaring: “Congress favours the creation of a United States of Europe.” The Marshall Plan, came on the condition that European countries held themselves together. George Kennan, an American diplomat, summed up American policy: “We hoped to force the Europeans to think like Europeans, and not like nationalists.”
These sentiments were shared in Europe as Jean Monnet said “There is no real peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on a basis of national sovereignty. (…) They must have larger markets. Their prosperity is impossible, unless the States of Europe form themselves in a European Federation.”
The Treaty of Paris in 1952 and the Treaty of Rome in 1957 were the first steps taken on a long road which led to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the first tangible and successful attempt to make the objective of a European Union a reality. The economic and monetary union was and is a success scored through the Maastricht Treaty and a major step forward in the process of European integration.
Just as there has been progress, there have been, despite the realization of a single market—where goods, persons, services and capitals can freely move, failures in realizing the objectives (political- fiscal and defence union) and in protecting the values (judicial independence, freedom of the press) on which the EU was build.
Today the European Union (EU) is facing different challenges and in the ever changing global environment effected by different issues, climate and food system disruption; infectious diseases leading to pandemics; poverty and inequality; nature and biodiversity loss; and pollution and waste. Issues which require all-inclusive global long-term solutions since they impact the evisceration if not destruction or survival of the planet we inhibit.
In this environment the EU with the war in Ukraine, declining American hegemony, sanctions and enlargement and must reflect, consider and decide on the question if the expansion of the European project has reached its limits, with the EU not in need of decisions based on moral outrage and expansion, but in need of constitutional reform, consolidation, closer integration and with greater strategic independence.
The European Union in 2022 is at a inflection point with the expansion of members, with the candidate membership of Ukraine, holds the danger of the fundamental reconfiguration of the power distribution in Europe, shifting the centre of gravity from the Franco-German to a Central European constellation to include CEE members including Ukraine which holds the seeds of a split between the Maastricht EU members and the CEE members leading to the EU own demise in the present EU27 form and the return to an extended EU15 Charlemagne.
Influenced by the events surrounding German reunification which was bitterly opposed by Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the European Union embarked in the 1990’s on a path of economic expansion and fundamental change and has attempted to build a safe, prosperous and Democratic Europe. Envisioned was the expansion of the international system by essential legal rules, democratic values and economic expansion of the EU.
At the same the time the consequences of the rapid developments were not fully overseen and to its detriment Europe failed to reshape and expand the constitutional basis. The warnings of the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors to strengthen the Union as a condition for its enlargement, fell in 1992 on deaf ears and were ignored.
After the Berlin Wall fell, the former French president Francois Mitterrand first proposed in 1989 a European confederation of nations which envisioned to include Russia. Although the idea generated interest as Russia and Europe live under the same roof and Russia is historically, culturally and emotionally a part of our European house and despite our ideological and value differences have no alternative but to coexist respecting the limits of this relationship, the idea was never followed though and the opportunities during this cycle of history were wasted.
This are the bitter fruits of our common European history which made Russia to its own detriment, also motivated by its own sense of exceptionalism and the need to control the institutions it joins, not to join Europe in its partnership with the US.
At the same time, despite the recognition we Europeans own a debt of gratitude to our America friends which we never can repay, Europe failed to recognize this historic event gave Europe the choice to divorce itself over time from the US and strive for its own strategic independence and take the responsibility for its own defence and security.
The Eastwards expansion, was a tremendous opportunity, but EU enlargement came also about under influence of the US and served more American interests than European interests. Zbigniew Brezinski refers to this in his book, The Grand Chessboard, American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives as he stated
With The Treaty of Accession signed on 16 April 2003 in Athens, Greece ten countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia), the EU was enlarged and came into force on 1 May 2004 with more than 510 million citizens from 28 Member States which enjoy the benefits of European cooperation.
Now 25 years after the roadmap towards the euro was agreed, the euro has become the world’s second most traded currency and is part of the daily life of 340 million citizens in 19 countries.
The enlargement slowed down the momentum in the EU and weakened and negatively influenced the integration of the European Union and its institutions after the treaty of Maastricht and delayed the “Political Union” leading to the “Fiscal Union” and the “Security and Defence Union.”
After thirty years since the fall of the Berlin wall we see much clearer how there are next to the difference between the North and South members in the EU which show a widening gap between the fiscally pious nations above of the Alps and the profligate countries in the South, also there are stark differences between West and East members in public attitudes toward national identity, religion, minorities and social issues such as gay marriage and legal abortion.
With the continental divide in attitudes and values sharp differences emerge when comparing attitudes in countries historically associated with Eastern (European CEE members) vs. Western Europe (traditional Maastricht members.)
These differences in culture, values and commitments to the democratic-, legal values and human rights and legal values, have led to serious and persistent breach of these values.
In this regard, EEP the largest political fraction in the EU has on several occasions failed to address crony capitalism, authoritarianism, corruption with EU funds and rule of law issues within its ranks, which seems in contradiction for the EEP agenda for an ambitious Europe.
On few occasions the European Commission has found the courage to enforce the standard and decided to activate the preventive arm of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) against Hungary and Poland on the ground that “there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law” there.
The history of EU expansion since 1992 confirms the EU has acted too expeditiously and has compromised on the Copenhagen criteria (1) byallowing countries, despite deep-seeded corruption issues, entry.
Since the enlargement of 2003 it’s fair to say the EU has failed to enforce its own standards towards member states with “Rule Of Law” “Freedom of the Press” “Judiciary Independence” issues.
But at this stage the European Union, a sphere of common values and interests or NATO for that matter cannot open its doors to all who inspire to enter, or has the capacity to absorb or integrate all.
There are a number of countries with official candidate status to join the EU, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey; with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo knocking on the door as potential candidates. Just as former members of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova formally joined the list of EU aspirants following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
There is consensus among EU members that in order to be able to respond to the different crisis’s the union should adopt limited treaty amendments and implement the conclusions reached at Conference on the Future of Europe.. Stephan Lehne, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels addresses the issues, differences and disagreements about the depth of EU integration in a recent article Does The EU Need Treaty Change (2)
The differences of opinion within the EU regarding constitutional reform confirm the split with exists between the traditional Maastricht members and CEE members, which prefer the present status quo whereby the majority can be obstructed by single members which have been able to extract concessions (financial or otherwise.)
The conclusion is warranted the EU is already at brink of institutional gridlock and integration and enlargement before fundamental constitutional- and treaties- reform have been made, addressing the principle of unanimity for key decision makes the EU increasingly unworkable.
At this moment in time the EU is not in need of enlargement but in need of consolidation and to have more stringent “rule of law” conditions for applicant countries and the possibility to reverse the accession process given the lack of progress.
The question is also how far the EU can afford to expand, with most potential candidates placing a huge strain on EU budgets. Rich members, net contributors to the budget, like Germany, Netherlands and other net contributors cannot keep increasing their (solidarity) contribution in favour of the new poorer members.
There the urgent need for EU to make the choice for Europe and re-prioritize its strategic interests and make the choice for consolidation in order to protect the achievements made during the last fifty year. The EU choice for consolidation is an act of self-defence and the limitation will assist Europe in finding greater strategic clarity.
This also applies the problematic situation in Ukraine and the recent question of Ukraine EU candidacy, an country at war and far away to meet the Copenhagen criteria enabling it the start of negotiations on democratic, economic and social norms. With the approval of the EU candidacy of Ukraine, albeit conditionally the EU is putting lipstick on a pig.
Despite the preferences of Poland being Ukraine staunchest supporter within the EU and NATO, which is not surprising given the mutual history in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until it was wiped off the map in 1795. Poland and Ukraine given the close proximity and shared hostility against Russia bind Poland and Ukraine together.
An old Polish saying goes: “There can be no free Poland without a free Ukraine, nor a free Ukraine without a free Poland.” This is in line Polish proposals of 2008, when Poland—along with Sweden—to create a path to EU membership for Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus (which was later suspended), Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia.
In 2020, leaders of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine met in Lublin, to make a joint declaration announcing a new alliance called the “Lublin Triangle”, dedicated to strengthening cultural, economic, political and military ties as well as supporting Ukraine’s eventual EU and NATO integration.
The Polish expansionist vision as well as the corruption, rule of law and freedom of the press issues in some of the CEE member states bear the fruits of the EU own demise. There are fundamental “differences of appreciation” between the Anglo Saxons and the Eastern Europeans on the one side and traditional Maastricht Europeans on the other side.
With the possible expansion of members, with the possible candidate membership of Ukraine, this holds the danger of the fundamental reconfiguration of the power distribution in Europe, shifting the centre of gravity from the Franco-German to a Central European constellation to include CEE members including Ukraine. This holds the seeds of a split between the Maastricht EU members and the CEE members leading to the EU own demise in the present EU27 form and the return to an extended EU15 Charlemagne.
Democracy is a messy affair and the possible alternative which is appearing on the horizon is that of a European Union version two, a more lean and effective EU which might be preferable to some of the Maastricht members.
Although the return to the old Frankish Empire is something to be avoided, a return to an extended Charlemagne by the traditional EU members and re-establishing the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Poland, Ukraine and likeminded is not unlikely, might be even preferrable from the viewpoint of West Europeans, so CEE members can finance and fight their own wars and find common ground in their shared hostility against Russia.
With his new proposals delivered in a recent speech to the EU parliament President Macron made room for Ukraine’s candidacy and revived the old idea of a three-tier Europe: An inner circle made up of a palpably strengthened Eurozone, a second circle that consists of EU members in a strong single market and a much-less-integrated outer “half-way house” circle that is “a union of values, democratic principles and economic freedoms.”
This new form of European cooperation that rejects a swift application process of Ukraine and others makes great sense, is suggesting a broader, different organisation would be more efficient and that it could take Kyiv decades to join the EU and which could potentially one day include Russia and Turkey.
At this moment in time it’s doubtful the European Union has seriously enough reflected on the last thirty years, about the multi-layered relationships with China, Russia and the U.S. and how the EU after the German unification made the pragmatic choice to live cheaply instead of emancipating itself both militarily and politically from the U.S..
In doing so Europe has allowed itself to remain a American protectorate, to serve U.S. political and economic interests. Despite our shared values this is a most unhealthy and unwelcome situation which is effecting European sovereignty, also in the light how since the new millennium the US has turned on several occasions away from Europe.
The unilateralist George W. Bush after criticism on his Iraq war in 2003 pivoted away from Western Europe to Eastern Europe; the erudite Barack Obama turned away in 2009 from Europe to Asia and when he needed Europe for the sanctions against Russian interest knew how to find Europe again; the bankruptcy artist Trump left in 2016 no doubt about his true attentions towards the European Union and made clear the dependency and sub servitude on the U.S. Is not a sound strategy.
It’s concerning the European Union does not recognize and appreciates the moment in time, already confirmed by Angela Merkel in 2017 during the Presidency of the former guy.
Today with US democracy in serious trouble, with radicalization of the Supreme Court OF The United States and with change and authoritarianism only ONE election away, the choices which are in front of us are consequential. Especial with the next authoritarian coming along, someone who is able to use the authoritarian predisposition of the GOP base, someone like Governor Ron DeSantis who is more refined, competent and destructive, than the former guy.
With Declining U.S. Hegemony in the 21st Century (3,4) the current crisis is a fateful, epoch-making moment in modern history. The question is not if the current world order will be changed but what will replace the world order.
In fact there is only one choice, Europe needs to become Europe again and must seek room for to manoeuvre on its own and pursue greater strategic independence, with a more substantive presence.
No doubt and most regrettable Frau Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen is not of the same calibre as Prince Clemens von Metternich. Just as Bundeskanzler Scholz is no Helmut Schmidt or a Konrad Adenauer, but the Bundeskanzler like the French President Emmanuel Macron is right de-escalation in the current regional conflict in Ukraine is required, not escalation to de-escalate.
The commitment by the current president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, made on numerous occasions, to protect the rule of law pales compared to commitments made in the answer to Ukraine request for immediate accessioning and the strong support of Ukraine’s candidacy as pointed out in An Exercise In Political Symbolism (5)
Looking at the European Union during the period behind us, under the leadership of the former president Jean-Claude Juncker (2014-2019) and the current president Frau Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen the E.U. have made self-deceiving choices, more based on the comfortable cosy relationship with the US, than on the logic of creating a strong strategically independent Europe, that translates its economic power into geo-political influence.
By following the U.S. on this primrose path of sanctions and economic war against Russia, the EU is in economic self-denial. This is intended to isolate Russia from China and to exclude Russia from world politics as an independent factor. The goals include “regime change” and “the weakening and total defeat of Russia,” carry extraordinary risks while the EU is Sleepwalking To Nobody Knows Where, And Things Of The Past Become The Future Again (6).
Just as following the U.S. in their China phobia and in the broad coalition against China the European Union is increasing its dependency on the U.S. and is jeopardizing its economic ties to China. Decoupling from China as some in the U.S. suggest makes no sense, and even if this would happen this would take decennia and would seriously and negatively affect the wealth and prosperity of the industrialized western countries.
To follow the U.S. in its greater power competition with China and a new cold war is a temptation the EU must resist. Europe should not get sucked in a contest between China and the U.S. for global hegemony. To serve Europe’s interests, a more balance and pragmatic approach is crucial whereby Europe cooperates when it van and is independent when it must.
Europe needs to discover its strength and prepare for a harsher competition in the global environment and develop a more compartmentalized China strategy, whereby Europe remains open to cooperation with China where that is in Europe’s interest.
Such triangular relations between the three powers will contain element of attraction and elements of hostility, whereby the EU should work with both the US and China to pursue pragmatic policies that maintain stability and result in greater strategic European autonomy.
We Europeans must remember our own history and conclude Europe can, has, and will exist apart from American-led NATO domination and must decide Europe cannot continue to outsource its foreign and security policy to the US, but must take its own responsibility, otherwise the choice is made for Europe’s own irrelevance.
This diatribe expresses my personal views and observations.