Dead on Arrival: Geopolitical Europe

By Matthew Karnitschnig

spring, some 35 fathoms under the Baltic, where a towering Russian vessel called “Fortuna” is laying the final section of the 1,230 kilometer-long Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

While the end of Europe’s geopolitical ambitions was long in coming, the coup de grâce was a jaw-dropper, if only because it was self-inflicted.

In what is being called “the humiliation” in Europe’s capitals, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stood silent in Moscow last Friday as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the EU as an “unreliable partner” during a joint appearance on live television. The only response Borrell managed to muster to Lavrov’s lengthy diatribe was a pained grin.

Back in the Brussels bubble, European parliamentarians reacted with outrage and calls for Borrell’s resignation. Belgian MEP Assita Kanko even asked Borrell, a Spaniard, what had happened to the EU’s cojones.

By asking the question, she unwittingly exposed the EU’s dirty little secret: It has none….

Just how Borrell, or anyone else in his position, could hope to conjure a “European” position out of such a morass isn’t clear.

European federalists argue that the way out of such a situation is for the EU to drop a requirement for unanimity in foreign policy decision-making in favor of “qualified majority voting.”

Yet that would only deepen divisions. Imagine, for argument’s sake, that a majority of EU members decided to pursue a rapprochement with Russia against the wishes of the Baltic states and Poland. Or consider what would happen if a qualified majority wanted to side with Turkey in its dispute with Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean.

EU cohesion, such as it is, would be destroyed.

Borrell’s position as “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” is a fairly recent innovation. Like Borrell, his two predecessors in the role, Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, struggled to formulate a coherent EU foreign policy against the agendas of national capitals.

The grand title notwithstanding, the office commands little authority and, as Borrell discovered during his hapless visit to Moscow, even less respect.

At the end of the day, most EU members are content to maintain the comfortable postwar arrangement of relying on the U.S. for security and their own governments for foreign policy.

If Brussels wants to be taken seriously, it should embrace the death of its foreign policy ambitions and move on.

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