Wednesday, January 19

Budgets, vetoes, values, defense… division and vacillating shame EU | European Union

IEverything is happening at the same time for the EU. Fundamental problems and disputes, manipulated, postponed or ignored for a long time, are simultaneously reaching a critical point. Is it a union of shared values ​​or economic interests? Who pays the bills? How does Europe best defend itself when the United States cannot be trusted? And Turkey? And then there is the “damn Brexit”. It’s no wonder some are predicting a nervous breakdown.

These tense and more issues will converge at this week’s “doomsday” EU summit, heralding more rebellion than usual. But if it is as unfinished as many previous meetings, the European project faces serious problems. The € 1.1 trillion rollout, the seven-year EU budget and the € 750 billion Covid recovery fund cannot be delayed much longer. However, two states, Poland and Hungary, are blocking the way.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s right-wing populist leader, and Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, jointly declared last week that they would veto the budget if it preserved the “rule of law” criteria that require compliance with defined standards of judicial independence. by the EU. The two governments are in long-standing disputes over what Brussels views as its illiberal and “non-European” policies on judges, freedom of the press, and women’s and gender rights. They reject what they call meddling “for political reasons.”

The fact that the dispute is blocking timely relief from the pandemic embarrasses the EU. If you can’t come together to fight this unprecedented human emergency, voters will wonder, what can you do? Even the seasoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the EU presidency, is agitated as the French and others insist that they will not bow to authoritarian dictates.

This dispute, plus ongoing tensions over the cost of an expanded budget now that UK contributions are ending, sparked an intriguing intervention last week from António Costa, the Portuguese prime minister. Portugal takes over the EU presidency next month and is staring in horror at the can of worms it is inheriting. Costa’s proposal was suitably radical: effectively dividing the EU in two, and thus saving it, recognizing irreconcilable internal differences.

This variation on the old idea of ​​a two-speed or two-tier Europe would not be based on geography but on values, Costa suggested. I would separate the the so-called “frugal” states – the Netherlands, Austria and the Nordic countries concerned about high spending and fiscal transfers, in addition to the Eastern European states that oppose rule of law mechanisms and migrant quotas (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) from the rest.

“Basically, it is a question of whether the EU is a union of values ​​or if, on the contrary, it is mainly an economic instrument,” argued Costa. Countries opposed to further integration would benefit from “variable geometries”, while others such as France and southern states such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, could pursue their version of an ever closer union.

It’s a brave idea that Costa, supposedly French-backed, will pursue at a special spring summit in Lisbon. However, it has a major flaw. Germany, the EU’s main payer with a current net budget contribution of € 12.8 billion, speaks lip service to EU integration and solidarity. But he has a deep-seated horror of subscribing to waste and chimeras of the indebted members of the eurozone.

This same German reluctance stands in the way of Emmanuel Macron’s ambitions for a unified “global Europe” on a par with the United States and China: Berlin fears it will end up paying the bill, financially and politically. When the president of France called again last month for a European sovereign defense strategy, Germany’s defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, slapped him.

“The idea of ​​strategic autonomy for Europe goes too far if it fuels the illusion that we could guarantee the security, stability and prosperity of Europe without NATO and the United States … Germany and Europe cannot protect themselves without nuclear power. and conventional from the United States. This is simply a fact, ”he said. Macron was furious.

America’s future relationship is also on the busy summit agenda. Donald Trump mocked the EU, imposed trade sanctions and undermined NATO. Only the Poles and maybe some others will miss it. But how much more powerful will Joe Biden be in practice? Nobody knows. In a world that has changed greatly, there is one certainty: An American security umbrella can no longer be taken for granted.

EU diplomats list five transatlantic priorities: ending the pandemic, boosting economic recovery, fighting the climate crisis, promoting peace and security and upholding shared values.

All of that sounds nice and elegant. But right now, closer and more substantive coordination between the United States and the EU is urgently required on Iran, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Islamic extremism, Russia and an aggressive China.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Paris. The EU appears in two minds in its dealings with Turkey. Photograph: Ludovic Marin / AFP / Getty Images

To achieve this, Europe must know its collective mind. Yet he is beset by chronic indecision and division. A test case is the eternal Turkish enigma. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has challenged the EU in disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean. He made a provocative visit to northern Cyprus. It uses Syrian migrants as political weapons. Insult European leaders.

Greece, Cyprus and France want the summit to consider sanctions. But Germany, with arms sales at stake, is on two minds after the recent, Erdogan’s friendliest gestures. This is exactly the kind of hesitation that makes friends of the EU despair.

And speaking of hesitation and division, what about Brexit? The idea has become disgustingly familiar since 2016. But step back a moment and consider. Deal or no deal, history will surely judge it as an economic and diplomatic disaster for the EU and Britain. They are both very weakened in the eyes of the world.

To speak feverishly of a European implosion is not entirely out of place at this gloomy and symbolic conjuncture. As John Donne wrote in 1624, “each man is a part of the continent, a part of the continent; if a clod is washed away, Europe is less ”. Boris Johnson is the lump. And Brexit is like death. It diminishes us all.

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