On the morning of June 16, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Kyiv by a special overnight train arranged by the Ukrainian government.
This trip to the frontline is belated, after over four months of Putin’s “Special Military Operation” on February 24. It is also the first time that the E.U. troika appeared together in Kyiv, which has naturally received tremendous attention from the international media.
In Irpin, the suburb of Kyiv, the three EU leaders looked grim as they walked through the battered apartment buildings, the rocketed car wreckage, and the ruined industrial park. Surrounded by top-notch security guards and curious ordinary Ukrainians, they listened carefully to the Ukrainian President's Special Envoy Oleksiy Chernyshov.
Before the trip, many observers worried that the three heads would persuade the Ukrainian leadership to stop the war and accept the peace talk with Moscow at the cost of ceding Ukraine’s land. Their concerns are not groundless.
Germany seems to be the most reluctant to follow NATO and the EU to counter Russia since the war begins. Italy doesn’t want to talk much and keeps a shallow profile. The French President has spent over 100 hours talking with Putin on the phone, which is even longer than the talk duration between Putin and his strongest friend Xi Jinping.
Meanwhile, outside of the EU, the Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg gave an unusual comment about Finlandization: “So you demonstrated a willingness to actually impose a high cost on a potential adversary trying to take your territory. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily the right historical analysis, but I’m saying that at least it demonstrated that Finland is willing to pay a price for independence and freedom.”
Without mentioning Ukraine, he continued to say: “Peace is possible, but the question is, how much are you willing to forsake to pay for getting that peace?”
The Ukrainian leadership’s worry did not happen. When Macron stepped out of the train, his surprise gift to Ukraine---six French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzers---had arrived in Kyiv.
In the joint press conference with Volodymyr Zelensky, the three EU leaders said they would support Ukraine to acquire the candidate membership of the EU, which, as many observers believe, is the biggest gift from the EU to Ukraine. Scholz also claimed that Ukraine would be invited to join the NATO summit that was going to be held in Germany in July.
The unprecedented generosity from the EU major powers reflects the EU’s long-term predicament that its member countries have too diverse historical and contemporary interests to be integrated as one.
The Baltics and many small countries in East Europe are so keen on cutting the relationship with Russia. They keep telling the EU and the United States to be tougher on Russia while emphasizing their EU or NATO membership when Russia threatens them.
A recent example is Lithuania’s decision to cut all traffic lines between Russia’s enclave land Kaliningrad and Russia’s main soil. This is a radical decision. If Russia wants, it can be defined as an invasion of Russia’s land, which means Russia could load its nukes and missiles for “self-defense.”
Although the Lithuanian government claimed they are fulfilling their mission as an EU member to accomplish the sanctions against Russia, the silence and reluctance from NATO and the EU prove that this may not be a collective decision but Lithuania’s only.
In terms of professional and academic experiences, the well-suit three EU leaders are supposed to be better than the former-comedian Ukrainian president, who always dressed jackets after the war outbreaks.
The 64-years-old Olaf Scholz is the former Secretary of Treasure, leading the German economy to pass through the economic earthquake caused by the COVID pandemic. Italian Mario Draghi has been the director of the EU Central Bank for eight years, being famous for handling the Greek financial crisis and defending Euros against British Pounds, US Dollar, and China’s RMB. The French President Emmanuel Marcon is the youngest French leader since Napoleon Bonaparte. He has already gotten a fantastic record while still the Minister of Economy, Industrialization, and Information.
Nonetheless, their reputations in European politics seem to be left behind by the “political rookie” Zelensky in a very short time. Zelensky has led an excellent media campaign and placed Ukraine on an extraordinarily moral high. Major International organizations, news outlets, and social media launched powerful public opinion campaigns calling for broader sanctions against Russia and more military and economic assistance for Ukraine.
Under domestic and international pressure, EU leaders who were initially cautious finally decide to visit Kyiv and give their promises about Ukraine’s “Europe Dream.”
But it is Ukraine’s “Europe Dream” makes the intermittent tension between the EU and Russia since 2004. It is also the most direct reason for this war. This war changed not only the two warring states but also the whole of Europe.
Twenty-five years after the Russia--West Europe pipeline opens, the EU Commission has decided to phase out fossil fuel imports from Russia within two years and completely abandon the Nord Stream 2, which cost more than 10 billion Euros.
The sudden and dramatic change of more than 1/3 of the annual energy imports of Central and Western Europe has not only caused the energy prices to soar on the international market but also plunged several large manufacturing companies that use Russia’s energy as raw materials into a supply chain crisis.
Moreover, Germany promulgated its historic “Zeitenwende” (Watershed) plan, which means the country may have wriggled out of the historical guilt and started to rebuild its military that had left behind the world for over 40 years. German scholars called it “the dawn of deterrence theory,” and the renowned German philosopher Jürgen Habermas said that WWIII was not impossible.
Historians and political scientists usually trace the origin of the European Union to the “Inner Six” of the European Coal and Steel Community and treat the EU as the reorganized product created by the post-WWII world order. But what pushes the EU to be an independent politics-economic complex and step on the international stage was the end of the Cold War.
Since the biggest threat to Europe—the Soviet Union—has dissolved, western European countries have started to curtail defense expenditure. The saved money is then repurposed for social welfare and upgrade economics. The mechanism is later called “New Europe Mode.” But of course, the premise of this mode is America’s security promise.
But things are different for the former East Bloc countries. They lose the Communist-style social welfare within a night but only have piles of Soviet weapons. The dramatic political and social changes in west Europe caused the former East Bloc countries’ envy and appreciation but not the fire of nationalism and ethnocentrism. And this is what the “New Europe Mode” proposes—spurning the perilous historical heritage of nationalism and ethnocentrism that have elicited two world wars.
Baltic states and east European countries are mimicking the “New Europe Mode,” and west Europe welcomes it. However, west European countries have never offered any financial support for these former Soviet vassal states.
West Germany has proposed a special tax called “Solidaritätszuschlag” (Solidarity Surcharge) to attract East Germany to unite. After the unification, the tax income from former West Germany is used to rebuild the society of former West Germany.
Historians and political scientists consider this tax a great invention. However, this mode is not introduced to the former East Bloc states that also needed to consider unification issues, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
The EU sets the Copenhagen Criteria for the former Soviet vassal states to join the EU and requires their governments to bear the costs of meeting the criteria.
This is also become the fundamental motivation for Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Poland, and Hungary to establish the so-called Visegrad Group. The group originally aims to help each member countries raise their living standards to the EU’s standards.
Even during the "lost good times" of the first decade of the 21st century, the paradoxical attributes of the European Union were evident. In Central and Western Europe, where the aging trend is increasing, young immigrants from the "Eastern countries" and the Mediterranean coast (including illegal immigrants) supplement the depleted labor market. At the same time, it is the native population that enjoys more social benefits.
The spirit of the Nation-State, which the “New Europe Mode” hopes to spurn, does not dissolve as more European countries join the EU. The new member countries must follow and endure the financial policies of the UK, Italy, France, and Germany.
This is especially true when Angeles Merkel used an almost paranoid fiscal austerity program to save Greece and Euros. She succeeded, and Germany won a tremendous reputation on the international stage. However, the cost is the social welfare system in the EU was significantly impaired.
This is not what the former East Bloc states want to see. Their most prominent and probably the only motivation to join the EU, is the social welfare system. Hence, when the Visegrad Group openly confronted Berlin on the issue of refugees of the Middle East, it was not only a challenge to the EU’s order but an act of revenge on history.
As the most successful attempt to integrate Europe, the EU’s accomplishments are primarily hinged on its unique geographical position and historical opportunities. Russia used to be a loyal fossil fuels provider due to its simple economic structure; cheap labor from North Africa and the Middle East could arrive in Europe quickly. Fast-growing East Asia has become the most important consumer of EU products.
Nonetheless, wealthy Europe does not need to worry about war because of America’s security promise. As long as Russia has a large military, Europe can always get the attention of the United States.
The backlash against Europe’s privileges in the Eurasian continent begins with a series of revolutions in the Arabic world at the end of 2010. For a decade, Europe has experienced the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS, Brexit, and the COVID pandemic.
The non-Europe world is taking back Europe’s “debt” in many unexpected ways. And the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War is the strongest maelstrom for Europe. This is the first time after the Cold War that Europe needs to consider its lifeline.
The concept of "European values" has been discussed with great fanfare more than once in the last decade. During the Greek and Cypriot debt crises, in the face of the threat of global terrorism, and against the backdrop of burgeoning nativism, isolationism, and Euroskepticism, politicians in Brussels, Berlin, Rome, and Paris have repeatedly reaffirmed this noble but ambiguous ideology. Yet so far, nobody knows how it will be put into practice.
During Trump's five years in the White House, the EU was once seen as the number one champion of free trade and multilateralism. However, not much has been done in the UN except to passively accept the new trade agreements proposed by the US and import more of Russia’s energy.
Even worse, the EU is poking China, its world's largest customer, on the issues of trade, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and human rights. As a result, awkward and dangerous diplomatic crises happen in Lithuania, Estonia, Czech, France, and Germany.
Perhaps Olaf Scholz is right. The Russia-Ukraine War is indeed a watershed for the EU and Europe. Over the past few decades, the EU has not grown to a position where it can check and balance the clouts of the U.S. and China as people hope it should.
When the media talk about the future world order, China and the U.S. always get the most attention; when the media talk about how to end the Russia-Ukraine War, they always think first about how the U.S. will stop Ukraine or how China will stop Russia.
To some degree, the EU in the Russia-Ukraine War today is like what Winston Churchill said when he met Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Yalta: “a poor little donkey.” While Winston Churchill was doing self-effacement, 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the EU is now standing at a crossing. It needs a new way to place its role among Russia, China, the United States, and the Middle East.
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