“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle…In general one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality”.
Alphen, Netherlands. 25 January. Thank God for Dutch pragmatism! Today, two events will take place in the Netherlands under the Dutch presidency of the EU which suggest a way out of the mess into which Europe’s elite have led Europe. The first is what Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte calls “Plan B” for containing the crisis caused by the implosion of EU structures in the face of a clearly-organised avalanche of people entering Europe from beyond its borders. The ‘temporary’ suspension of Schengen and thus uncontrolled free movement is in reality the end of Schengen. The other event is the launch today in Amsterdam of Europol’s new European Counter-Terrorism Centre. What is significant about both initiatives is they reflect the return to Earth of Europe’s elite and the fantasy politics of political union in favour of deeper pragmatism and the realignment in Europe of power, politics and pragmatism.
On my desk there sits a Christmas card sent to me by a senior French diplomat. The card is a photograph of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle walking together down the Champs Elysée on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1944. In the background some American senior officers are also visible. The irony of the photo is that Churchill and de Gaulle really did not like each at other when it was taken. However, they were faced with the need to complete the defeat of Hitler, and increasingly aware of the threat posed by Stalin’s USSR. Critically, the two leaders understood all too well that Britain and France needed the power of each other, and moreover both needed the power of the United States. Seventy years on nothing much has changed on that front.
However, since that photo was taken Europe’s self-obsessed, unworldly elite has spent much of the intervening seventy years trying to expel power from Europe and replace it instead with an institutional straitjacket designed to deny power. Now dominated by a liberal Germany still too traumatised by World War Two to really face up to the real burdens of its self-comforting EU leadership, and a European Commission dominated by small town, small country politicians, the EU remains far too-focused on preventing war BETWEEN Europeans, rather than war in all of its many forms ON Europeans. This obsession with non-power has rendered Europeans incapable of preventing, stopping, or fighting wars that threaten Europe, and instead is fast turning Europeans into victims of dangerous change.
Recently, one former prime minister and foreign minister of a significant EU state told an audience of which I was a part that “Europe is in a mess”. He is right. If Europeans are to successfully face the many dangers that now confront them the EU will need to be fundamentally reformed…or die. David Cameron’s Brexit adventure is such a massive missed opportunity for Britain and Europe. Indeed, Winston Churchill would have despised the theatre d’absurde that is David Cameron’s non-renegotiation of a titbit ‘reform’ package to con the British to remain in a structurally unreformed EU. Germany has wrapped itself in the mantle of EU leadership but is incapable of leading. Worse, Europe is now suffering from the consequences of Chancellor Merkel’s increasingly ‘what is good for Germany is good for Europe’ alternative to leadership. The disastrous consequences of her disastrous open door to hyper-migration demonstrates all too clearly that when she sneezes Europe catches a cold. Incredibly, in another example of “I’m alright, Jack” politics, and in spite of Russia’s attempts to destabilise Europe, Berlin is still pushing ahead with construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Although sold as a ‘European’ project it is in reality a Russo-German project.
However, for all that Europe must still find some way to stand together as ‘Europe’. What is needed is a new EU that supports its member-states rather than seeks to replace them. If such transformation can be achieved the EU will be transformed into a form of super-alliance that secures the citizens that live within its borders. If the Dutch can nudge Europeans down that road then they will help deepen the strategic unity of effort and purpose vital to securing Europe against twenty-first century threats. Moreover, they will also stop in its tracks the mighty glacier of a glacial EU super-bureaucracy creeping ever forward across the green landscape of European democracy, preventing effective and efficient crisis management. In other words, Europeans need an effective, inter-governmental European External Action Service. They do not need a common foreign and security policy.
Frederick the Great once said, “Diplomacy without armies is like music without instruments”. Pragmatism is the key to resolving THE fundamental strategic challenge Europeans today face; how to generate together a critical and credible level of diplomatic, economic, and military power to not only influence the dangerous world in which Europe resides, but change it for the better. THAT is why the EU must be reformed, THAT is why it is vital to keep major power Britain in a really-reformed EU, THAT is why Europeans (and Canadians) must share burdens with the US in a reformed NATO, and above all THAT is why Europeans need credible armed forces, fit in terms of both capacity and capability to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
The idea of ‘Europe’ is an important one and must be preserved. However, to be grounded in reality ‘Europe’ must reflect power, politics and pragmatism.