Alphen, Netherlands. 14 April. When I was speaking the other day to a senior European Council official he referred to “the enemy across Brussels”. “NATO?” I enquired. “No, the European Commission”, came the reply. As EU foreign ministers meet to discuss the worsening crisis in Ukraine’s eastern regions and with FSB agents continuing unrelenting Russian efforts to destabilise Ukraine Europe is effectively paralysed by division. By exploiting Europe’s many seams Moscow is successfully keeping Europe politically off balance in the midst of crisis. Europe’s cacophony of irresolution and incoherency is testimony to Russia’s success. Can Europeans ever find strategic unity of effort and purpose?
This weekend former Luxembourg Prime Minister, EU federalist, uber-insider and possibly the next European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for the creation of a European Army. On the face of it and given Russian aggression such a suggestion would appear to make sense. Europeans clearly need to spend more on security and defence. Juncker’s argument is that in the midst of the on-going Eurozone crisis the most ‘efficient’ way to afford such a force would be via the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). It is a political trap.
CSDP has its place in Europe’s range of tools because the flag one places on an operation in complex environments is as important as the force or the effort one deploys. However, to seek to exploit the crisis as part of Europe’s interminable battle over EU governance is irresponsible in the extreme. It is vital that Europe’s states take concerted action rather than get lost in the federalist fantasies of M. Juncker.
The problem is that Europe’s most dangerous seam runs right through the EU between ‘common’ structures such as CSDP and collective structures (like NATO) in which the nation-states lead. Typically, M. Juncker is using the crisis to make the case for a real CSDP not so much to deter Russia as to transfer responsibility for national defence to the EU and thus further erode the 'core competence' of the European nation-state. It is a classic federalist ‘functionalist’ manoeuvre which not only enjoys no political legitimacy whatsoever but is downright dangerous at this dangerous moment.
Sadly, the EU's great political seam has created a strategic no man’s land between the unelected European Commission and the barely-elected European Parliament on the one side, and the European Council and the most powerful member-states on the other. Strategically ‘Europe’ is paralysed by a political stalemate between the two camps that is doing immeasurable damage to Europe’s ability to influence events around it. Moscow fully understands this.
To break the stalemate in their favour the federalists in the Commission and the European Parliament want more EU not less. To get there they have resorted to covert (and not so covert) back door political integration. This involves the maximum possible interpretation of the Treaty on European Union and political gambits masquerading as technical fixes under the rubric of “harmonisation”.
Next week a classic piece of “harmonisation” will take place concerning car number plates across the EU. On the face of it the proposal seems innocuous. The Commission recently moved to make it simpler for EU nationals to register their vehicles in another member-state. The aim they claim is to prevent fraud and waste. However, the Commission’s friends in the European Parliament proposed an amendment that would see national designs for car number plates scrapped and replaced with a single EU template. The political aim is to create in the mind of the citizen the belief that political momentum towards a federal European state is inexorable, unstoppable and inevitable and that resistance is futile.
Last week a British diplomat Iain Mansfield won €100,000 for proposing the most compelling case for a Brexit – a British withdrawal from the EU. He will need the money as his career is now toast in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which is packed full of EU loyalists. His central point is that a British exit from the EU would release Britain from the appalling cost of EU regulation. Mr Mansfield misses the point; EU regulation is deliberately excessive because through such regulation the Commission and Parliament (the EU’s twenty-ninth ‘state’) can enforce harmonisation and by extension integration.
For European action to be both effective and legitimate in the face of Russia’s challenge Europe’s states must be clearly in the lead. Therefore, it is time the European Council and the states move to put M. Juncker in his place by decisively taking control over foreign and security policy back so that they can respond collectively to the crisis. If some states choose to demur or stand aside then so be it. The alternative is paralysis.
A truly common CSDP may one day become reality but not for many years to come. However, as long as the European Commission, European Parliament and the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker use such crisis in an existential struggle with the European Council and the states represented therein Europe will be fatally weakened. Moreover, Moscow will continue to exploit the political trench warfare taking place at the heart of the EU and the uncertain and weak Europe it has created.
European strategic unity of effort and purpose right now means more state action and less not more EU. It is time for Europe’s states to lead and act together.
M. Juncker please shut up!