European Council: Choosing new leaders for the EU betrays efforts for a wider arrangement

From left to right: Taavi Roivas, Estonian Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, Dutch Prime Minister, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, Alexander Stubb, Finnish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, Swedish Prime Minister, Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania. Special meeting of the European Council in Brussels, on Saturday 30 August. (The Council of the European Union Audiovisual Services).

From left to right: Taavi Roivas, Estonian Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, Dutch Prime Minister, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, Alexander Stubb, Finnish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, Swedish Prime Minister, Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania. Special meeting of the European Council in Brussels, on Saturday 30 August. (The Council of the European Union Audiovisual Services).

The special meeting of the European Council held last Saturday 30 August, despite or probably because of the alarming news about the new fall of inflation to the crisis level of 0.3% last month, was almost totally devoted to the Ukrainian crisis. Unfortunately, the new inflation coming close to zero means that the millions of the unemployed Europeans won’t find a job in the foreseeable future. Consequently, this fact will continue to haunt the political and social life in many Eurozone countries. The controversy with Russia and the subsequent sanctions and trade embargos add to the economic misery of many EU countries.

In the economic front, no EU member state will remain untouched by the lack of tangible reversal in the labour market. Under this light, the belligerent attitude against Russia over Ukraine that engulfs Europe offers, among other things, a good argument to quiet down the possible social unrest within the EU. Of course the same is true for Russia. The Ukrainian conflict and the concomitant confrontation with the West offer to the ruler of Kremlin and his entourage, a good political tool in their endeavors to extend their absolute political and economic domination of the vast country.

Economic and strategic issues

Of course the socio-economic issues can’t explain in full what happens today in Europe and in a broad sense in the entire world. As Henry Kissinger writes in his new book, “The penalty for failing (n.b., of the great world powers to cooperate) will be not so much a major war between states (though in some regions this remains possible) as an evolution into spheres of influence identified with particular domestic structures and forms of governance”. Alas, the war in Ukraine is not about the unity and the welfare of its people, but serves rather the strategies of the great powers for the wider region and the world.

Now let’s return to last Saturday’s European Council in Brussels. The 28 EU leaders appointed the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as President of the European Council and the Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini as European Union’s foreign policy chief. Most probably, those decisions reflect a new balance of power within the EU, regarding the club’s strategy and the objectives of its core member states around and beyond the Ukrainian conflict.

Germany’s solution for Ukraine

Do those two appointments reflect a change of internal power relations in the EU between Germany and the European Atlanticists? The answer is certainly yes. Let’s see why. For one thing the change of strategy vis-à-vis the Ukrainian stalemate is also reflected in the text of the conclusions, adopted by the EU Council at the above meeting. The key passage of it reads as follows, “The European Union reiterates the urgent need for a sustainable political solution based on respect for Ukraine‘s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and independence”. For the first time the EU leaders show an interest for the “territorial integrity” of the eastern regions of Ukraine.

Warmongering

This is a departure albeit barely visible, from the so far common EU-US uncompromising strategy to ‘win the war in Ukraine’. Germany, has repeatedly tried to convince its major Atlantic allies, the US, Britain and France, about the catastrophic consequences of a total win in the war against the Russian speaking millions of eastern Ukraine. Only some days ago the German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, demanded that the EU and the West in general backs a solution in the Ukrainian conflict favouring a “federal country”.

The obvious supplement to such a policy proposal is that there can’t be a total victory in the Ukrainian civil war, if a long-term viable solution is to be sought. Still the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a western operative, keeps using heavy artillery bombing and air attacks against residential areas in Luhansk and Donetsk.

The new appointments

All along the Ukrainian crisis the EU’s foreign policy, as expressed by Catherine Ashton, the currently serving head of the Union’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Service didn’t deviate at all from the strong and aggressive attitude of the US towards the Ukrainian separatist rebels and their masters in Kremlin. Now the appointment of the Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the period from the end of the current term of office of the Commission until 31 October 2019, seems to change things slightly.

Italy, like Germany, opposes the strategy target set by the US-Britain-France trio, to cut Russia out from Western Europe and the West in general. The reasoning over it, as in the case of Germany, is economic, traditional and the dependence on Russian energy sources. In any case, this energy dependence is not a one way relation. Both Italy and Germany have considerable vested business interests and even larger plans for future investments in Russia.

Hard and soft policy stance

Together with Mogherini though, Donald Tusk, a hardliner towards Russia, highly experienced in east European affairs, was named last Friday by the European leaders as successor to Herman Van Rompuy in the Presidency of the European Council. It would be of paramount interest if the details of the informal voting were made public. Obviously, the two appointees clearly represent the soft and the harsh stance regarding Russia.

Last but not least there are more signs that Germany, probably supported by Italy and some other minor EU countries like Austria, is now actively trying to formulate a new European stance towards the Ukrainian problem, in divergence from the American intransigence. Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking last week to the German public broadcaster ARD surprised everybody by saying that Ukraine is “free to join the Russian led Eurasian Union”. The German leader spoke to ARD ahead of her visit to Ukraine.

Understandably, this is a tautology because Ukraine is an independent country and may join whichever economic union it chooses. There is a huge difference though, if this liberty of Ukraine is underlined by Merkel. The German leader had more to say. She advocated a decentralised Ukraine, aka a federal state. In short, she asked for a kind of autonomy for the eastern Russian speaking populations, prone to Russian influence.

Naturally this statement was interpreted as an opening to Vladimir Putin in the negotiations to find solutions to a number of problems, like energy supplies and valuable economic relations between, EU, Russia and Ukraine. Yet, this is anathema for the US strategy. Washington aims at ostracizing Russia from the world. The American strategy drawn at its limits, seems to target a permanent division of Europe.

In conclusion, last Friday’s European Council may constitute a step towards a compromise between the EU and Russia over Ukraine and more. Europe is seemingly trying to sidestep the frictions between the West, led by the US and the Russian controlled Eurasian Union.

 

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