Russia’s war and the final chance for European emancipation
The European Union has shed its anti-war mindset, much to the concern of Ulrike Guérot and Hauke Ritz. According to both German political thinkers the EU seems to embrace warlike policies, apparently oblivious of its own history and mission. In this opinion piece, based on their new book Endspiel Europa1 , Guérot and Ritz warn that the EU should not disconnect from Russia and China, nor increase its dependence on the United States.
Europe is at war! Who could have imagined that just a short while ago? Even if no EU Member State is formally a warring party, the Russian-Ukrainian war dominates the news, political scene and social developments throughout Europe. European states are even discussing an intervention in the war within the framework of NATO.
What a betrayal of the essence of Europe. After all, for seventy years, ‘Europe’ meant no more war. The EU ought to be convening a European peace conference, doing its utmost to find a solution to the current war using the tried-and-tested designs of cooperative security and peace including the whole European continent. Instead, we see people daring to raise the idea of peace or calls for negotiations being vilified as apologists for Russia.
Once the war got started, Brussels should have called for a peace conference
Blaming Vladimir Putin as the catalyst, or indeed as the direct cause for the current apparent madness afflicting European politics, is a gross oversimplification. It conveniently overlooks the long and complex history of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and the chances the EU has missed to facilitate a solution. The EU can’t deny a certain co-responsibility for the failure of Minsk I & II agreements. Once the war got started, Brussels should have called for a peace conference, engaged the UN or OSCE and set up a mediation process2 , rather than immediately siding with Ukraine.
Blaming ‘Putin’ alone is a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is that the two grand European projects that were launched in 1989 at the end of the Cold War – part of the supposed ‘end of history’, as Francis Fukuyama put it; the two great hopes for the reshaping of the European continent – have both failed.
No Ever Closer Union
The first grand European project was launched during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: the Ever Closer (European) Union, sealed by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Europe was to become a political union; there was even talk of a European federal state.
Today, some thirty years later, the Ever Closer Union has yet to materialise, which is becoming ever less likely. A politically disunited and institutionally fragile EU got caught up in the maelstrom of the 2008 banking crisis, forming the catalyst for a decade of European crises from which the Union has yet to recover. Since 2008, the EU has suffered from austerity policies, the division of Europe into South and North (left-wing populism in the South, right-wing populism in the North), a refugee crisis, followed by Brexit, along with rising regionalism in Scotland and Catalonia, unprecedented social inequality throughout Europe, then a semi-authoritarian EU COVID-19 policy, and now the return of hot war.
The EU is at best a phantom of this united Europe. The current war in Ukraine is not just another bloody war. It is above all the destruction of the very idea of a political Europe, making it ever more dependent. A political Europe would be an autonomous and sovereign actor; a Europe able and ready to stand alone and defend its own security interests.
Yet, Europe as a political project is unravelling like a knitted pullover, as if someone were pulling manically on a thread. European dependence on the US is growing, not diminishing, as was once envisaged back in the 1990s. Anyone who still wants to defend the European Union as a strategic or political entity in public debates is considered a fool. Politicians of all stripes, in all EU countries, stopped doing that long ago. And whereas the US dollar and the Russian ruble are both gaining in value, the euro is the only currency whose value is on the decline since the war has started. In short: the EU is engaging in self-destructive policies, just because it cannot act autonomously and put its act together.
To use the war, or more precisely an enemy, as an argument for today’s European unification, sounds almost cynical, and is a betrayal of Europe's founding mission: peace, unity in diversity, international cooperation and a federal peace order.
No pan-continental peace order
The second great European plan was the construction of a cooperative, pan-continental peace order, the European House from Lisbon to Vladivostok, backed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The notion of ‘one European House’ envisaged the integration of Russia as well as post-Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries into a single community with Western Europe.
Nevertheless, this plan was never really taken seriously by the West, and rejected for being too vague. The continued enlargement of the EU and NATO intentionally blocked such a cooperative peace order, which would include Russia, from ever becoming reality.
The EU’s key mistake is that it has allowed the United States to determine Europe’s strategic interests. Today, the US still behaves as if ‘the West’ reigns supreme, as if the unipolar moment after the fall of the Berlin Wall still persists. German, French and British foreign policies have meekly aligned themselves with this misguided American world view; a view which disregards classical diplomacy and divides the world in friend and foe, democracy and dictatorship, Good and Evil.
By doing so, the European Union has de facto lost its independence – first intellectually and culturally, then politically, geo-strategically and economically. Today, the EU cannot even secure its most fundamental interests (like food and energy), despite the single market and the euro.
The war is destroying the dream of a united and peaceful Europe that might have overcome the dividing lines of two World Wars and a Cold War. Instead, Ukraine has become the launchpad for the American plans for Eurasia and NATO's spearhead in Europe. Inevitably, this will result in the division of the European continent and will de facto end the dream of a continental, federal security architecture.
Do not disconnect Europe from Russia and China
With the US as a ruling power, Europe cannot become a stable political entity under a confederal peace across the continent. And without Siberian raw materials or the Chinese market, there can be no lasting prosperity for Europe either. The point of this is not to demonise the United States, but to enable European emancipation, which means to build a strategic capacity of Europe to act alone, also and above all in strategic terms, independently from the US.
Current European policy must urgently be redirected so that Europe can recover from the colossal harm it has inflicted on itself
And, in addition, to determine its own contractual engagements to establish a continental peace order together with and not excluding Russia, precisely what Entspannungspolitik was envisaging since the 1970s. In that sense, European emancipation would mean for Europe to emerge as a political, economic and strategic entity in-between America and China; as ‘second world’, relying, in the post-war future, on a consensual and economically prosperous relationship with Russia.
This is why current European policy must urgently be redirected so that Europe can recover from the colossal harm it has inflicted on itself. Ultimately, lasting peace in Europe can only be achieved with, not against Russia.
The atrocities of the war must be ended immediately. Here, Europe should tilt the balance within the Alliance, put all its political weight into peace talks and establish itself as a peace-power, corresponding to its own, decade-long narrative. The strategic goal must remain to achieve a post-war continental peace plan that does not disconnect Europe from Russia and China. At the same time, Europe must not increase its dependence on the United States. Only when both strategic objectives are reached can Europe’s real goal – a political union and a continental peace order – be realistically achieved.
This is the final chance for European emancipation. There is no reason why Europe in the 21st century should make the same kind of mistakes it has made in the previous one.
This opinion piece is based on the recently published book 'Endspiel Europa', edited for publication by the Clingendael Spectator
Ulrike Guérot & Hauke Ritz
- 1Ulrike Guérot and Hauke Ritz, Endspiel Europa, Westend Verlag: Frankfurt am Main, October 2022.
- 2The example of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s so-called ‘shuttle diplomacy’ between Israel and Hamas in 2012 comes to mind, where the US successfully offered itself as a neutral mediator between two warring factions.