It has been 22 days since Europe was severely shaken to its foundations by the brutal reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Since that very moment, European leaders continue to play with words rather than swords. The Ukrainians will have to wait as the chances of bold and forceful action are put on hold. Sanctions may work one day, but at a snail’s pace when time is running out.
Putin must be having a good time in the Kremlin. He must be rolling on the floor laughing as he watches the seizure of yachts and jets as the most powerful European weapon against him. But frankly, is the demonstrated European sterility a surprise and is it really the bottom of the European impotence? Let’s share some doubts about this. Since its creation, the European Union has been nothing more than a huge market. No common defense policy or diplomacy, no serious planning of common responses to potential conflicts on its territory.
Total naivety combined with criminal nonchalance – that’s what Europe’s leaders have been over the past 20 days. Over time, Europe has gone from being a region of fearful and respected warriors to an open-air museum for wealthy tourists who visit the continent to see castles, monuments and historical sites in grand style. Sinking in colossal national debts, excluding Germany, the European states have gradually lost their industries. Yet there can be no claim to superpower without a solid industrial and military complex, and Europe has none.
Champions in the competition for compassion and outrage, the Europeans for once speak with one voice in condemning the actions of Russia. There should be no place for such cynical invasion, they say, in a 21st century world order. Some people are gasping at the hypocrisy of the Europeans and the Democrats in Washington, who lecture Russia on the evils of invading small countries, recalling their respective atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan, in Serbia, Kosovo or Libya. And yet the crimes in the past can never be an excuse for those in the present. The level of intolerance must therefore remain the same.
In 2014, the annexation of Crimea was a walk in the park compared to the shock and awe over Baghdad or Belgrade. As Western powers ramp up their criticism, they must surely avoid the temptation of monumental hypocrisy swirling in their crocodile tears, since the West decided not to react at that moment, refused to fight for Crimea and thus let Putin serenely plan the invasion of the rest of Ukraine last February.
The naked truth is that Western diplomacy has no viable language for its own impotence. It used to get what it wanted by “drawing red lines” and threatening violence. Post-Cold War politicians deployed this threat so ineptly, and its cost was presented as so exorbitant, that enemies came to see it as a sham.
After a number of major failures, the world has become a theater on whose stage the fidgeting warmongers of Europe and Washington are afraid to venture. Europeans can huff and puff, but dare not fight for Ukraine. In a moral trance they say that something must be done, but cannot think of anything else but economic sanctions.
Democratic leaders generally find foreign affairs easy. Ukraine has changed that. It is proving fiendishly difficult for compulsive interveners. Nothing seems to fit the bill. Every threat seems empty. But at least pragmatism is beginning to break through, even if it will take years to achieve the ambitious agenda set at the informal meeting of the Heads of State or Government in Versailles on March 10-11, 2022. (Declaration available at https://presidence-francaise.consilium.europa.eu/media/qphpn2e3/20220311-versailles-declaration-en.pdf).
The declaration is in fact an acknowledgement that Europe has lost the momentum to build a strong continent and is now running after the clock. This awakening is symptomatically paradoxical. In the past, the European Commission has spent most of its time implementing intense legislative activity that has poisoned the lives of citizens and entrepreneurs rather than strengthening the federated nations. Gathered in huge bodies with improbable names (“habitats directive”, “hygiene package”, “Reach regulation”…), the main effect of these innumerable regulations was to drive companies crazy and to waste everyone’s time. Here is a selective sample:
– Russia breaks the balance born of the Cold War, but the Old Continent can sleep easy because the European Commission successfully tackled the threat of the almighty vacuum cleaners! Indeed, vacuum cleaner models with a power of more than 1,600 watts are no longer for sale in Europe. And, since 2017, by Regulation 666/2013 even models exceeding 900 watts were banned.
– Gravel: Few people know this, but the gravel used in the European Union must meet strict Brussels standards. The builders of the runway at Cayenne airport in French Guiana had to bring in their gravel from mainland France.
– The Pizza of Discord: To claim to be a “pizza restaurant”, according to Commission Regulation No. 97/2010 of February 4, 2010, the “Pizza Napoletana” must be rounded, have raised edges, not exceed 35 cm and have its central part topped. The European texts also specify the type of flour, yeast, tomato and oil to be used, with special attention to the cooking: “The pizza as a whole is tender, elastic, easily folded into four”.
– Banana: The Brussels regulation n°2257/94 stipulates that, in order to be sold in the EU, these fruits must not present “abnormal curvature”. This is one of the directives that has most irritated the EU’s critics.
The unpleasant truth once again is that European leaders have let this senseless paradox pass. While Putin was building tanks and missiles, the Europeans were regulating the size and curvature of bananas. That says it all.
Today, the agitation of French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholz is only proof of their inability to counter Russian military expansion otherwise but with words. There is a high price to pay for having wasted so many years doing nothing for military reinforcement and Europe will have to pay it. The 27 EU member states collectively have more than twice the military spending of Russia, but far less military capacity. The costs of a non-existent Europe in the field of defense are enormous in terms of economy, interoperability, security, ability to play a stabilizing role in the region and to be a global player.
Eight years after their revolution, when Ukrainians demanded to join the European Union and many died with the European flag in their hands, Europeans are still at the mercy of Russia. EU member states have not reduced their energy dependence on Russia and have not created the Defense and Energy Unions, preferring fictitious and impotent national defense and energy strategies.
A week ago, in Versailles, European leaders declared that this would change and that they will take all the necessary corrective measures. But it is too little too late. Russia is only a few hundred kilometers away from the NATO countries. World War III is looming and while Ukraine is burning, Europeans are turning their ugly helpless faces towards it.