Stephen Holmes, is a Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law, New York and co-author, together with Ivan Krastev, of The Light That Failed. A Reckoning published in October by Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin Books). In a work of startlingly original political psychology, two pre-eminent intellectuals propose that the post-1989 world order has been characterised by 30 years of what they call The Age of Imitation – a period of Western democratisation in which Eastern European values would be bent to the liberal fiscal, cultural and moral politics of “integration”.
Motto: Europe’s elites have not forgotten their history, they are just ignorant of it.
We sat down with Professor Julian Lindley-French, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Statecraft, London.
Q: Two years ago, in Norway, NATO organised one of the most important exercises since the Cold War, and especially since the security environment shifted dramatically in 2014. What does Trident Juncture 20181 tell us about NATO’s readiness and ability to reinforce an exposed ally?
A: We have a dangerous asymmetry between General Gerasimov’s “30 days crash force” and NATO. The issue is that in 30 days the Russians can cause chaos. Beyond the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), the Tailored Forward Presence in South-Eastern Europe, the Very High Readiness Joint Taskforce (VJTF) and even in the case of the NATO Response Force (NRF), we are looking at 30 days’ notice to move. The NATO dilemma is that the bulk of its forces could not move in any strength prior to “D plus 30”. The problem with the Kremlin is that there is a direct link between its sense of domestic vulnerability and this huge Russian force of arms.
It is a mixture of political weakness and local military superiority. My great fear is a worst-case scenario in which Russia would present Europe with a territorial fait accompli. It would achieve a limited political and military victory [editor’s note: e.g. crossing the border into one of the Baltic states and seizing a piece of territory] before NATO would mobilise and would ask: do you want to go to war over the Baltic states?
My sense is that European politicians, faced with such a scenario, would not act. It is important to demonstrate that we can again undertake Article 5 operations, but you’ve got to look at how long it takes to get everything in place. That is the weakness. We should never underestimate General Gerasimov and his staff.
Military power still has a major role to play in influence. We’ve got to understand that Realpolitik and Machtpolitik is back.Professor Julian Lindley-French
They’ve looked systematically at our weaknesses, at our seams, and worked how to exploit them if the President gives the “go ahead” order. Vostok 182 was testing aspects of this. The problem is that our forward-deployed forces are simply not backed up with anything to get there in time. If you can’t move the heavy forces quickly, to wherever you need them in an emergency to back up your forward-deployed forces, you lose deterrence value.
That is why the latest NATO initiative – the so-called Four Thirties3 (developing 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels ready to use within 30 days or less) – will plug a dangerous gap between the spearhead forces, the immediate follow-on forces (the NATO Response Force), and the bulk of NATO forces, which would take up to 120 days to mobilise in an emergency.
Q: “Fort Trump” in Poland or “Fort NATO” on the broader eastern flank? What should be prioritised – political cohesion in NATO or, for the sake of a credible bilateral deterrent message, a Fort Trump in Poland? In a way Warsaw is tired of waiting for Old Europe to provide credible security guarantees. Another solution is the proposal of Gen. Ben Hodges to fix the mobility problem in Europe.
A: It will take years to fix the mobility problem. Let me be really radical. Do you really think that the Americans and the British will use NATO in an emergency? The Americans plus the three major European powers (Britain, France, Germany) wouldn’t wait for a committee meeting in NATO to act. The bilateral US-Polish thing makes sense in terms of dealing with the issue. It doesn’t make sense in keeping NATO together.
But if NATO is not actually delivering deterrent value, what’s the purpose? If it is all about being nice to each other when being nice makes us more insecure, there comes a point when that is simply too dangerous. I would strongly argue that the Polish have a point.
But the key issue here is Americans not being overstretched. The Chinese and the Russians are coordinating, and they will make life for America as difficult as possible. The problem with this equation is a weak Europe. If Europe would be stronger that wouldn’t be an option, but it is. It all comes back to Europeans not doing enough. The only option is to make the trans-Atlantic relationship work.
Q: The collapse of MENA and the massive influx of immigrants into Europe massively changed the political climate; to some extent it has produced a tribalisation of Europe. On the one hand we have this need to prepare for the return of great-power competition, while at the same time Europe should have the operational ability to wage post-9/11 campaigns to stabilise fragile and failed states.
A: This is NATO’s “360 degrees” dilemma. It is not only geographical (east, south, north and west); it is also across the conflict spectrum. If you are not prepared to invest in high-end power projection capabilities, then at least invest in mass. The UK is investing in highend assets.
What you need for stabilisation is a lot of mass. The Italians, the Spanish, even the Germans should be investing in mass. If you cannot be the top of the spear force, then you provide the bulk behind it. This cannot go on. It is a Groundhog Day.
We have this range of threats – from mass movement of people, terrorism, instability, to high-end strategic peer competitors. We have to cover both. Britain is investing in essentially a high-end small force built around a maritime amphibious Navy to go with the Americans. But we are not investing in a continental army. In a sense we are going back to a very British, 19th-century army – a small professional expeditionary force.
It’s like a SWAT team for high-end operations. But the real bulk is in the Navy. The Queen Elizabeth4 is a good way of buying influence with the Americans, but not a very efficient way of defending Central and Eastern Europe. What this means for continental Europe is that you need France and Germany to lead the defence of the continent. Europe is too dependent on over-stretched American combat forces.
Q: The conclusion of the bi-partisan Congressional Commission on the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy is that “deterrence is weakening and war is becoming more likely” as the perception that the US can decisively defeat military challenges is fading. The background is the return of great-power competition, as well as the erosion of the US’ military edge. Why this crisis? What are its implications for Europe?
A: It’s classic IR (international relations) theory. Robert Gilpin talks about cycles of systemic change. What happened is that the cycle of systemic change has accelerated because of the nature of globalisation.
The reality is a hegemon at the end of its time. For about 20 years after the end of the Cold War we thought about America as the hegemon and us like the hegemonites, and we’ve become complacent. Revisionist powers with anti-status quo agendas have emerged.
The trouble is that we in Europe are living in a community fantasy. Everyone outside Europe understands spheres of influence, balances of powers, zero sum-game geopolitics. That is the stuff of statecraft. Europe is the exception.
Military power still has a major role to play in influence. We’ve got to get our heads around that because of what happened in history, and understand that Realpolitik and Machtpolitik is back. I would love the world to operate in the community logic so central to the idea of the European Union. But the essential struggle in South-East Europe is a struggle between zero-sum Machtpolitik and the community concept of international relations.
Q: How would you describe the changing character of war and conflict today? What is driving it? How should we describe the Russian and Chinese ways of war? The British Chief of Defence Staff usually quotes Chris Donnelly (at the Institute for Statecraft) who said that Russia aims at creating “new strategic conditions. Their current influence and disinformation campaign is a form of “system” warfare that seeks to de-legitimise the political and social system on which our military strength is based. And this undermines our centre of gravity, which they rightly assess as our political cohesion.”
A: The revisionist powers are practising what I call a systematic fight of 5D warfare – the use of force to underpin a strategy of Disinformation, Destabilisation, Disruption, Destruction, and all leveraged together by Deception.
The unfree world is engaged in a continuous war at the seams and margins of the Alliance, employing all the above for comparative strategic advantage. They combine to form a new method of warfare that spans the hybrid, cyber, hyper warfare spectrum.
Future war will be a complex matrix of coercive actions, all of which will form part of a new escalation of conflict designed to blackmail the target into accepting what could be perceived as unacceptable actions. China and Russia are studying our societies; they are looking at our alliances and working on our vulnerabilities to apply pressure, in pursuit of revisionist ends, using a myriad of coercive means.
The Russian objective is a sphere of influence, an implicit rebuilding of a Warsaw Pact, in forcing countries in Central and Eastern Europe to look back at Moscow, instead of Brussels or Washington. Russia’s strategic goal is to conduct a continuous low-level war at the seams of democratic societies, and on the margins of both the EU and NATO, to create implicit spheres of influence.
China’s objective is the domination of its near abroad and keeping the Americans out. For both Russia and China this is a strategic competition and military power is the key ingredient. In many ways it is an arms race similar to the pre-WWI world where we have these autocratic regimes determined to change the international system.
Q: Are you worried about the imbalance on the Eastern Flank, especially in the Black Sea region?
A: What we need to carry out is a series of mega-exercises where we develop the capacity to move large amounts of forces quickly. The primary weakness of the Alliance’s deterrence posture is the lack of a heavy conventional reserve force able to support front-line states in strength, quickly, and across a broad conflict spectrum, if the threat comes from several directions at once.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is revolutionising warfare to such an extent that future war will be conducted simultaneously from the low end of the conflict spectrum to the high end.Professor Julian Lindley-French
We need a big exercise in Central Europe that will move in different directions, able to support the national forces under pressure. We need a rapid-reaction heavy force. That is the plug that is still missing between our forward deployed forces and the whole NATO command structure; that could take between 90 and 120 days. The American presence in Europe is not big enough (around 3 BCTs – Brigade Combat Team5). The Europeans are going to be effective first responders in a crisis. But such an answer should be built around mass.
If we can demonstrate to an adversary that the threshold is too high to act – that is what deterrence is all about. It is not Russia that worries me now. Russia is being aggressive in its near abroad because of the nature of the regime. Russia is not systemically threatened. It is because Russia is so vulnerable domestically that it becomes more dangerous and its actions become really threatening. The simple fact is that the Russian military is too big for an economy half the size of the UK. This is dangerous.
Q: In your writings you talk about “coercive escalation” as a way for Russia to intimidate its victims and prey [upon them]. What role do these very specific investments in A2/ AD capabilities play in this broad, coercive escalation ladder? What is their implication for deterrence calculus, and for the ability to defend the most exposed US allies?
A: The anti-access/area-denial bubbles in Kaliningrad and Crimea are the basis of coercive operations. Let’s take the Suwałki Gap. Imagine the Russians gradually putting more pressure.
We have the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) in the Baltics, an information campaign started, a destabilisation operation started; we see the wrapping-up of the forces in Kaliningrad and Belarus, and you got this increased pressure that basically says to NATO, “pull your troops out, we are going to close the Suwałki Gap, take the Baltic states back and there is nothing you can do about it.”
What we could do about it is start holding exercises which give the impression of neutralising Kaliningrad or even Crimea. The problem for the Russians and Gerasimov is that they don’t have sufficient mass themselves to cover the huge Russian borders. What we are not doing is being systematic in our analysis of how we would make life uncomfortable for President Putin and General Gerasimov.
Q: How would the Fourth Industrial Revolution (with AI and big data) change war?
A: A revolution in military technology is underway that will be applied in future on the twenty-first century’s battle space by enemies armed with AI, big data, machine-learning and quantum-computing. The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on changing war is incredible.
It is revolutionising warfare to such an extent that future war will be conducted simultaneously from the low end of the conflict spectrum to the high end. The new technologies and the interactions between them are changing the character and conduct of war. They accelerate the pace of warfare, accelerate the speed of conflict and shorten the decision action cycles.
When you’ve got machine learning so fast that when humans intervene, it actually makes the whole process less efficient; when you have swarms of drones actually talking to each other about how to exploit vulnerabilities in defence systems – this is going to completely change warfare. Quantum computing will be essential if we are going to be able to defend against hyper-war.
It is about understanding and seeing the patterns. One of the big problems in 5D warfare is understanding when an attack is actually an attack. That will need high-level computing power. Add the hypersonic weapons and we will have the perfect storm.
I made this film about the sinking of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. It was about swarms of intelligent drones launched by an unmanned underwater Russian vehicle backed up by Iskander anti-ship missiles, and it showed how vulnerable a contemporary deployed NATO maritime task-force can be because they haven’t invested in proper defence systems.
This is the message I come back to. Europeans need to demonstrate firepower, but it should be 21st-century fighting power. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the nature of fighting power. The Americans, the Russians and Chinese are driving this forward. The Americans are offsetting the future and the Europeans are not, and this could create a massive interoperability gap. The true test of solidarity is that we need to invest in the right capabilities.
This interview is published in conjunction with Small Wars Journal.
Q:In his recent article in the Washington Quarterly, Thomas Bagger (a former Head of Policy Planning at the German Federal Foreign Office) pointed out that the post-1989 German foreign policy consensus no longer exists. The world has changed. The assumptions and premises of the 1990s are being contested. Is Germany ready for a world where the return of great-power competition is becoming the new normal?
A: Germany is not well prepared for the new realities. The new developments, especially the great-power competition and the changing role of the US, where nobody knows where Donald Trump is heading in the future, are threatening Europe’s and Germany’s foreign policy identity. After 1945, German foreign policy was built on two pillars: on one side, European integration and the idea of an ever-closer union; and on the other side, the trans-Atlantic relationship and the close link with the United States. Now we see these two pillars under threat simultaneously.
In the EU this idea of further, deeper integration is now being questioned – not least by the Germans. In this environment, Germany is struggling to find a position. We want to uphold both principles – a strong focus on the EU and a strong focus on trans-Atlantic relations. Merkel won’t throw transatlantic relations out of the window just because of Donald Trump. So the idea is to develop some strategic patience while at the same time the German government tries to build bridges to other American players or institutions – like Congress, or governors.
Thomas Bagger is right in saying that after 1989 the idea of transformation was something that the Germans really embraced. The problem is that we believed this was a one-way road, and we did not expect the pushback that later followed both inside and outside the EU. It is really difficult for Germany to adjust and understand these trends because Germany itself has really been transformed since 1945. It is part of the German national identity that we have changed for good. At the core of German foreign policy identity remains the fact that institutions are the linchpin of global diplomacy and multilateralism. In the end, the whole EU is not suited for great-power competition.
The EU as a construct was built as the opposite to great-power competition, the opposite to the zero-sum game. The founding idea was that overall everyone would benefit and be better off. The whole concept of the EU is avoiding nineteenth-century power politics. We must not be too quick to throw everything we have achieved out of the window.
The EU today, even if its export model has been damaged, is still a beacon for many other regions around us, even if this transformative approach has failed to some extent in Turkey and Russia. It would be wrong to adjust too much and become another great power. The EU would not be capable of this, and for Germany this is not an option. This whole idea of great-power competition is very alien to Germany since 1945. It is more French and British, but not German. In a way Germany is a post-modern country, a post nineteenth-century country. This new reality really calls into question the whole German political model and the way we thought about the world.
Q: How is this whole issue of European strategic autonomy understood in Berlin?
A:If you look at German documents from before the publication of the EU Global Strategy, the concept of strategic autonomy is not mentioned. Strategic autonomy is also not a very German concept, as after 1989 two lessons were learned: never again and never alone. But this ‘never alone’ excludes strategic autonomy if you reduce it to German foreign policy. It can only be about the EU’s strategic autonomy. If you define it in a European way, for Germans it is more about the ability to act and decide your own actions. It is about not becoming a plaything in the hands of China and the United States: to be a driver, not to be driven. In this context, the Germans’ aim is to establish a European Defence Union, that is not intended to duplicate NATO, but should be an add-on to NATO, and which should take over when the Alliance is unwilling to take action. Overall you also see different interpretations of the concept of strategic autonomy all over Europe. Germans are not really ready to face a situation when there would be no NATO, and they only think very timidly about a plan B option. The French are somewhat disappointed that Berlin hasn’t embraced this more. For the Germans, NATO remains the first line of defence. At the same time, what we do at the EU level on defence and security is more of an integration project, to find an additional glue that binds Europeans together in addition to the single market, another project that has as many members as possible.
Q:China is projecting its power and influence in Europe through companies, strategic assets and regional formats. During this time, both the US and the EU have learned to fear China. It is increasingly being approached, at least rhetorically, as a competitor. China is even being spoken of as a systemic rival. Do you see any potential strategic convergence between the EU and the US in counterbalancing Chinese influence on the European continent? How is China perceived in Germany?
A: The debate in Germany has changed a lot. It started a couple of years ago. For a very long time Germany primarily considered China as an economic opportunity. There are deep trade relationships. Now, it is increasingly being acknowledged that it is a competitor and we have to be cautious. The Defence Minister recently spoke about a united European strategy on China.
There is greater awareness and readiness to do something. China is one of the topics that has the potential to split the EU further. In Germany, most people in the streets see Trump as the greater threat; China is not really seen as an adversary. At the same time the readiness to join the American approach towards China is not there.
We see this reluctance on the 5G issue. Some other European member states are more open to embracing the American approach. Berlin doesn’t like this growing competition, the rhetoric coming from the White House. The idea is to strengthen the European Union, but not as a counter-weight to the US, because a lot of people in Berlin are arguing that this is a chance for the trans-Atlantic relationship to implement a joint strategy. But this should not mean that we are vassals to the US.
Q: The idea of Fort Trump in Poland is being contested in Old Europe.
A: I think in NATO we have found a carefully crafted balance between deterrence and dialogue. A Fort Trump would destroy this, and it is not in Germany’s interest. It is not that we are appeasing Russia, but I don’t think there is any need to provoke them unnecessary. I think the existing measures NATO has taken have been very good and are – for the moment – sufficient.
Q: Will the idea of a future European Security Council prepare Europe better for a changed global ecosystem?
A: The problem with the European Foreign and Security Policy has not been a lack of institutions that prevents us from acting. It is a lack of unity and of political will from the member states. Done in the right way, a EU Security Council could help the EU to move forward. The other idea is to have a European Security Council that also includes the UK, but then you have to find a good balance for the small countries, between regions and a rotating element. Such a mechanism would help to keep the UK close to the EU, something that is absolutely necessary. That is why I think the European Intervention Initiative does not undermine PESCO and the EU structures, but it can also help by bringing in the UK and Denmark. When I think about European security, I think more of a toolbox with different instruments – we shouldn’t think in boxes, but rather in a combined approach. We have to put more effort into thinking how to make them inclusive, flexible and mutually reinforcing.
1. Radosław Sikorski, Polish MEP, EPP Group: “Josep Borrell needs to establish the credibility of the office of High Representative”
2. Tomáš Valášek, director of Carnegie Europe: “Central Europe has acquired a reputation in Brussels for being unconstructive, for always saying no.”
3. Clotilde Armand, Romanian MEP, Renew Group: “Europe cannot be strong if the East is left behind.”
4. Gustav Gressel, Acting Director, Wider Europe Programme European Council on Foreign Relations: “We are in the very early stages of a long-term ideological battle. The anti-Western revolt has solidified.”
The outcome of the latest round of Euro-elections (May 2019) was instrumental in the reconfiguration of the European leadership. For the first time in 40 years the European People’s Party (EPP) and the group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) did not win enough seats to form a comfortable majority. The new political circumstances made the election of the Spitzenkandidat impossible.
Q:Has the populist anti-EU revolt failed or consolidated its momentum after the latest European Parliament elections?
A:I am slightly sceptical that we can take the European Parliament elections as a benchmark for measuring the satisfaction and dissatisfaction that existed before this event. In the past, elections to the EP were ‘trial or revenge’ elections in which the electorate could punish their governments but also vote for parties that they would not necessarily vote for in national elections. That is not the case any longer. The EP vote now actually reflects the real thinking of the voters and not just the potential for protest. Regarding the big battle against the populists and anti-Westernists, this is a very long-term battle. There is a new ideological division within Europe and between European states, between different stages of identity, culture, lifestyles, cleavages between different societies in Europe.
I don’t believe that we have won just because the populists don’t have a clear majority. This is a long-term struggle, just like the one againts the communist ideology. From the beginning of Marxism as an ideology and the formation of Marxist parties (either radical socialists or communists) to actually winning the battle in 1989, almost 150 years passed. We are again in the very early stages of a long-term ideological battle.
The core ideological profile of the current anti-Westernists started to form and blossom in the 2000s. And if you look at the mainstream parties, Fidesz probably is the most prominent example. It was a normal conservative party in the 1990s.
It was not this pro-Russian, hysterical party spinning anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that it is today. I don’t think that Fidesz will be the only one. This kind of revolution in identity politics that we are witnessing on both left and right will push other parties onto this path. The leftright distinction is no longer applicable in the twenty-first century. An important ideological battle is happening today with the Social Democrats in Germany. They used to be a serious mainstream government party. They are not doing well in the polls, they are nervous, and now you have all sorts of radical positions within the party. At a time of enormous nervousness and decline, we don’t know the course of the Social Democrats over the long term.
You have people that would champion a return to the extreme left or to the anti-Western camp within the party. It is feasible that they could be for the Social Democrats what Fidesz is to the conservative camp. In Austria the general consensus is anti-Western. In Italy the societal and political consensus among the elite is heavily inclined towards anti-Westernism. Salvini’s success in the elections is not something that should take anyone by surprise. He is putting ideological, societal, political things on the table that have been talked about previously by the more mainstream parties with a different vocabulary, in a less confrontational way, in a less blunt way, but ideologically the society was pre-prepared. Salvini is using the effect of the political discussion that others have prepared for them.
The anti-Western revolt and the divisions have solidified. On top of that, we also have East-West, North-South splits and divisions. We live in a time of identity politics. And people on both the left and the right want to politicise everything – lifestyle, traffic, nutrition. This wasn’t the case in the 1990s or the early 2000s. The whole climate debate is being conducted in a way like prescribing lifestyle. Soon you will have an enormous clash of pacts on lifestyle. You emphasise and bring these differences to a much more prominent level of attention and you will start to rally people around them. Ultimately, I think that the East- West, North-South divisions will get stronger and more political over the next few years.
Q:As you pointed out in your 2015 report, “there is an overlap of ideology and interests between many European political parties and the Russian government”. Bearing in mind the latest Salvini scandal (alleged financial support from Russia), how do you assess Russia’s ability today to harness, cultivate and channel the anti-Western revolt, the identity politics revolution, as well as the nationalist/sovereignist energies of some of the European parties?
A: Very early on, the Russians made their bet that identitarian politics on the right will be a growing sector, will be accessible to them, and that they will position themselves towards that sector, marketing-wise. That doesn’t mean that in reality Russia fits that ideology. If the Russians talked to Europeans they would appear Islamophobic, but Russia is actually the only European country where sharia law is part of the constitutional system (at least in the North Caucasus).
This is almost a contradiction, but they market themselves and they immerse themselves in a way that pleases the identitarians in such a way that they perceive Russia as an alternative hegemon, an alternative empire. If you look at the simplistic messaging of the right-wing in Germany or Austria it could be summed up in the Pegida slogan – ‘Merkel to Siberia, Putin to Berlin’. They think that only Russia can provide protection, the example and expertise for hardcore identitarian governments needed to solve the West’s internal crisis. The Russians don’t need to do much, just to do good PR and watch the Europeans fight among themselves
Q: The traditional image of Germany was that of being reluctant to exert its power. By leading and shaping the future Commission, is Germany ready to embrace a different historical paradigm?
A: Germany can’t exert leadership in the usual way because it’s Germany. It needs to find other ways to exert it. The problem is that the way Germany did this in the past was to create institutions that would increase predictability for all the other European states, and give them the opportunity to include themselves into the consensus. This model – the Helmut Kohl kind of leadership in Europe – has eroded. Since Schroeder and Merkel, Germany has become more unilateralist.
On top of the feeling that Helmut Kohl went too far with the euro, with Maastricht and Amsterdam, the institutional setup does not benefit Germany the way the single European market and EEC benefited Germany during the Cold War. The cost-benefit balance between the costs borne for integration and the benefit of influencing common European decisions is not in Germany’s favour anymore. This kind of feeling is the reason for this increased unilateralist behaviour. The problem is that the unilateralist approach has a huge impact in terms of insecurity in the rest of Europe (both in the East and the West).
The other problem is that the Germans haven’t really come to terms with the fact that we have a state of rule of law in Hungary and Poland that would have prevented them joining the EU if this had been the state of Hungarian and Polish democracy in 2004. We actually need to accept that the institutional setup is a failure or has serious existential flaws, and we need to reform it.
This reform has to encompass an increase of centralised oversight over member states, not only in the financial sector but also on many domestic issues (starting from Schengen, to democratic standards). Having said that, the Germans would be very much in line with the Poles and Hungarians, they would resist such a temptation, because they think that the Commission’s meddling in German domestic affairs has already gone too far. Germany didn’t prepare the population for such a shift. Hence they are stuck in a system that doesn’t work, and they don’t know how to fix it.
Q: Bearing Ursula von der Leyen’s controversial record in leading/managing German defence in mind, is she the right person to lead the EU?
A: Von der Leyen is a compromise because she is personal. She was accepted because she is not a typical German. She is a very passionate European, but on the other hand she had a very good relationship with Mattis when she was a defence minister. In all the NATO summits, they really managed to bypass Trump for the benefit of Europe. That was recognised in Eastern Europe and in Poland, and hence they know that she will not go for this kind of unilateralist, anti-American posture. She is acceptable to the Eastern Europeans and she is also acceptable for the Western Europeans. She is from the liberal progressive part of the conservative party.
1. Radosław Sikorski, Polish MEP, EPP Group: “Josep Borrell needs to establish the credibility of the office of High Representative”
2. Tomáš Valášek, director of Carnegie Europe: “Central Europe has acquired a reputation in Brussels for being unconstructive, for always saying no.”
3. Clotilde Armand, Romanian MEP, Renew Group: “Europe cannot be strong if the East is left behind.”
4. Jana Puglierin, Head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations: “The whole German political model is called into question.”
Q: The CEE countries were completely by-passed in the most influential jobs – the leadership of the Commission, European Central Bank, the European Council, or the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The political & geographical symbolism cannot be ignored. Is the balance of influence shifting towards the Eurozone core? Will this emerging reality alienate and create frictions with New Europe?
A: It could – and left to its own devices the absence of Eastern Europeans from top jobs will fuel criticism of the EU in Central Europe and Euroscepticism among the ranks of the supporters of Lech Kaczyński or Viktor Orbán. At the same time, it also depends on how we, Eastern Europeans respond. There is a number of reasons why we have been left out from the top jobs. Part of it is still this tendency to look down on Eastern Europe, to consider it unequal, somewhat lesser. But there are also some good reasons to have been left out.
We have acquired a reputation in Brussels and certain capitals for being unconstructive, for always saying no, for not coming up with new policy ideas. It is a reputation that isn’t completely undeserved. You will find too few constructive policy proposals co-sponsored by Slovak and Danish economy or defence ministers. There is also a sense in Eastern Europe that the EU is still something that we need to respond to and to react to, rather than to try to shape it ourselves. My hope is that this move will be seen also as a healthy, constructive kick in the butt, one in which the response in CEE will be to up our game and start doing a better job of playing the European game – meaning building alliances across the geographical divides, not always spending time with each other, and starting to come up with ideas about how to modernise the EU budget, how to achieve carbon neutrality.
All of these are things that we have tremendous interest in the success of, we have ideas about, but actually we have failed to weigh in constructively at the top levels.
Q:In the past Germany was reluctant to exert its power. By leading and shaping the future Commission, has Germany become ready to lead?
A:Traditionally, Germany has been criticised both for its lack of leadership within Europe and for its lack of leadership globally. It is usually pointed out that Germany spends too little on defence, that it didn’t take part in the Libya mission, that it opposed the Iraq operation, and that its armed forces are far too poorly equipped and unprepared for a country of its size. This is the debate that Donald Trump likes to have.
This debate is partly true, but in many ways unfair, in the sense that Germany has come a long way from 10-15 years ago. Until the Balkan wars, Germany had a policy of never using its forces abroad. It actually went from no interventions abroad, to intervening in a non-combat way, to actually fighting in Afghanistan. In terms of its external role, Germany has been unfairly criticised.
It has come a long way from the Germany of the early or mid-1990s. In terms of its leadership within the EU, the story is somewhat different. The criticism here is a bit more on the mark. One is the unwillingness to invest domestically. There is a strong economic argument that Germany should be spending a lot more money on its infrastructure, on its own development, on promoting consumption at home and abroad.
This is a very important part of Europe’s recovery from the crisis in 2010-11. At the same time, Germany is obsessed with the idea of surpluses, and therefore it keeps a really tight lid on spending. In addition, there is the argument that Germany has been too shy in supporting the institutional reforms of the EU, which is partly right but partly wrong. I tend to sympathise with those who say that a Eurozone budget, for example, is a solution that bears little relationship to the 2010/11 eurozone crisis. I just don’t see how the member states would ever surrender their right to control the exact form of a bailout in the case of a future economic meltdown like Greece.
Q:Does the nomination of Josep Borrell tell us anything about the direction of the EU’s Foreign Affairs & Security Policy and its forthcoming (geographical) priorities? Will they be comprehensive enough to focus substantially also on the East? Or will this be another potential friction point with the CEE countries?
A:The first point to make is that the appointment had nothing to do with Mr. Borrell’s views. This is the classic institutional game of musical chairs, in which someone was needed from the South and the Socialist camp. He was not made High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy because of his views on foreign policy. He was made High Representative because he is Spanish and Socialist.
That is the answer to many in Europe who tend to look for continuity, another Socialist in the job, and see a pro- Russian conspiracy. But it isn’t. There is a classic bureaucratic explanation. Having said that, coming from the South, a Socialist is not very likely to be very supportive of the Baltic line on Russia. The Spanish foreign policy has always been far more focused on Latin America, far more friendly towards Cuba than the Czech Republic. The big unknown is to what extent he will define his role as setting the EU agenda, putting his personal issues onto the EU agenda – or to what extent he will try to be a foreign minister for all the EU countries.
Mrs. Mogherini was competent in many regards, but I do think that when it came to Latin America, to Cuba, to Russian disinformation, her leftist, Southern roots, have shown through. She spoke more as a southerner and a leftist rather than as a foreign minister for all Europeans.
Q: Is Europe/EU ready to embrace the reality of the return of great-power competition?
A: I don’t think we should accept the premise that the world is doomed to unrestrained great-power competition. It should remain the case that we continue to fight for a multilateral system in which the big powers voluntarily restrain their actions and behaviour, not always throwing around their weight. In the end, who knows who the next US president might be. China has shown itself to be flexible, even though there is nothing inherently multilateral and cooperative in its behaviour.
In that sense China is not like the EU, which by definition – being itself an entity where 28 member states have agreed to pool their power and to limit their sovereignty – has no other choice but to be a multilateral global power. If we start playing only by the rules of power, of unrestrained competition, I strongly believe the EU itself might fall apart very quickly. We are fated to be a multilateral, cooperative power.
China isn’t. It can play either way, cooperative or competitive. But under the right conditions, they have shown themselves to be open to collaboration, to sharing power, even to leadership on some environmental issues. I don’t think we should accept the idea that we are doomed to unrestrained great-power competition and we should start behaving like China or the United States. I still think that our preference has to be for maintaining the multilateral nature of global collaboration.
Q:Arguably, a symptom of the return of the power competition is also the JCPOA issue. How deep can the trans-Atlantic rift go on the Iranian deal?
A: I said from the very beginning when the US withdrew from the JCPOA that it would be a terrible blow for Euro-Atlantic relations. We in Europe tend to view the Iran deal as intrinsically important, not just in the sense of curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but also as being important for the EU’s foreign policy identity. It is one of the first and biggest real successes of our foreign policy where we led the way.
We failed to do so in the Balkans. The Americans had to come in, provide the leadership, and we followed up. But in the case of Iran, the Europeans have led the negotiations and the Americans came late. In the story that we tell about ourselves in Europe, it was the deal where we finally came to a point where we became a real foreign policy power and a real actor. For this deal to be symbolically destroyed by President Trump was taken very personally here in Europe.
But overall, there is very little we can do as Europeans to stop the deal from collapsing if the Americans put their minds to it. The business that Iran is able to conduct with the wider world is diminishing rapidly, and European companies themselves are withdrawing from doing business with Iran for fear of secondary sanctions by the US. At the end of the day it is far more likely that the deal will collapse. The mood in Europe has changed from one of outrage and indignation towards resignation that the deal will collapse, and there is very little we can do about it other than waiting for the next US president.