Summer of discontent

The EU will have to justify its own claims that bipolar ?spheres of influence? in Europe are consigned to history by taking affirmative action in the Black Sea and Caucasus region

This article was published on the Financial Times website on August 28 2008

The European Union ends the summer in some anguish. On 30 July, the Doha Round collapsed. Much to the evident frustration of the European Commission, the Council of Ministers failed to back the compromise proposal from WTO director general Pascal Lamy for a special safeguard mechanism to protect the interests of certain developing countries. France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Lithuania led the faction in the Council of Ministers which scuppered the mandate of the EU’s chief negotiator Peter Mandelson.

The effective end of these complex multilateral trade negotiations is indeed, as Messrs Lamy and Mandelson say, a collective failure by the global community. But the recriminations inside the EU, which is supposed to have a common commercial policy, will continue to poison the atmosphere in Brussels and, more pointedly, to mar the Union’s attempt to shift spending away from agricultural support towards industrial productivity.

Georgia has added to the Union’s woes. It was entirely predictable that Poland and the Baltic states would lead the charge against the Russian incursion, and that the older member states, notably France and Germany, would be critical of Mr Saakashvili’s adventurism.

The emergency meeting of the European Council which is to take place in Brussels on 1 September will have to consider how to resolve these differences. One hopes for a sense of proportion compassionate about the victims of war but dispassionate about its outcome. That a resurgent, nationalist Russia should seek to adjust its borders in the Caucasus is hardly unexpected; nor, according to the principle of self-determination, could it finally be opposed on democratic grounds. Mr Putin’s aggressive policies are not without adverse consequences for Russia itself, whose society is already poor, ill and ageing, and whose military, exposed to the limelight in Georgia, did not seem really to have re-equipped itself since the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Tight comparisons with the Soviet period are false: Mr Stalin, unlike Mr Putin, did not have to worry about the global financial markets. The West should not forget that the Cold War has been won.

It is in this context that the European Union should develop a new strategy for its dealings with Russia. It will have to justify its own claims that bipolar ’spheres of influence’ in Europe are consigned to history by taking affirmative action in the Black Sea and Caucasus region just as it has done in the Balkans. As the European Council on Foreign Relations says, the EU must cooperate with the Russians or consider sanctions. ’It cannot do both.’ * European troops will be needed to police the ceasefire in Georgia and to give space and time for conflict resolution efforts to work under the auspices of the OSCE. The armed forces of France and the UK are already over-stretched elsewhere. It is now up to other EU member states notably Germany to make meaningful military commitment to European security. Accession state Turkey should be very much included in this campaign.

EU-Nato relations come centre stage. President Sarkozy’s decision to reintegrate France’s military with Nato, the end of the Bush presidency in the US, and Nato’s 60th anniversary summit next spring is the best opportunity and possibly the last for Nato to review its fundamental mission and organisation. Review is not only necessary because Nato risks failure in Afghanistan, but also because of the emergence, for the first time, of the EU’s complementary efforts to build a security and defence dimension of its own.

Whatever other conclusions are to be drawn from the Georgian war, Nato has to come to terms with the fact that its automatic further expansion eastwards will not be taken for granted by European public opinion. The EU badly needs to distinguish itself from Nato by counselling a halt to both Georgian and Ukrainian pretensions to Nato membership. If Nato is worth saving, it is worth keeping strong: membership of Georgia and the Ukraine would not contribute to its strength, at least for the foreseeable future. Both countries would be better off engaging more directly and deeply with the EU as its own neighbourhood policy and security strategy are fine-tuned in 2008-09.

The third division of opinion among EU partners remains, inevitably, the Treaty of Lisbon. The Georgian crisis puts into sharp relief the refusal of Ireland, in its 12 June referendum, to ratify the new treaty among whose principal features is the foundation of a security and defence dimension to the European Union. Another prize of Lisbon is the extension of the Union’s legal competence into the supply side of energy, which even by itself requires a more sophisticated EU policy about the Caucasus than we have seen hitherto.

Faced with Europe’s dramatic security crisis, the Irish position looks increasingly preposterous. Viewed from the perspective of Gori or Tskhinvali, Irish misgivings about neutrality rather pale into insignificance. Lisbon gives the European Union the wherewithal to do good in world affairs. If Ireland really wants to play no part in that effort, it should say so and depart.

And Poland’s President Kaczynski, so keen to sign up to the missile defence treaty with the Americans, should immediately keep faith with his European colleagues and complete his country’s ratification process of the Treaty of Lisbon.

Nicolas Sarkozy has had one notable success during his term as president of the EU in the balanced way he has dealt with the Georgian crisis. Doha is one notable failure. His biggest test of all is Lisbon and that is still to come.

Andrew Duff leads the UK Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament. He is also member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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