More than five months after the crisis in Ukraine escalated, French President Emmanuel Macron is losing “friends”. On August 5, local time, Russian Presidential Press Secretary Peskov responded to the outside world’s concerns that Macron and Putin had not spoken to each other for more than two months, accusing France of “not a friendly country” and that it was “not the right time” for the leaders of the two sides to talk. Meanwhile, two diametrically opposed forces within the EU are trying to sway Macron’s decision-making. After his “close friend” Draghi left Italy’s prime minister sadly, the Italian right-wing, the most hopeful to rule, slammed Macron’s policy toward Russia as being too “hostile”; on the other hand, Polish, Lithuanian and Estonian leaders continued to criticize Macron for seeking Talking to Putin is “pointless”.
In Berlin, a thousand kilometers from Paris, German Chancellor Scholz faces similar but different troubles: Russian gas supplies to Germany have been cut by the end of July to 20% of what they were at the same time last year for “technical reasons”. Scholz had to consider extending the life of three nuclear power plants that had been scheduled to close during the year in response to the inevitable energy crisis. Affected by this, nearly half of the German people want the government to compromise with Russia. But on August 6, the top Ukrainian government again accused Scholz of delaying aid to Ukraine and asked Berlin to send more military supplies… More
than five months ago, Macron, Scholz and EU leaders stood together and followed The United States launched sanctions against Russia in response to the “special military operation” launched by Russian forces in Ukraine on February 24. At that time, few people from the policy circles to the people saw the outcome today. Moises Naim, a well-known columnist and former director of the World Bank, believed at the time that Europe had finally “discovered itself as a superpower,” while EU officials claimed to have found a “European solution” to intervene in geopolitics. Polls also showed that, More than 70% of EU citizens support a policy of solidarity.
But in the second half of the year, the “secondary disaster” brought about by the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict gradually spread to all levels of European society. Although the 19 countries in the euro area maintained a growth rate of 0.7% in the second quarter, the industrial confidence index, which shows the expectations of the business community in various countries for the future economy, has fallen continuously since February, and by the end of July had fallen to the lowest point in a year and a half. . More than two-thirds of manufacturing respondents complained that fears of a “full-blown recession” pervaded the continent. The European Commission predicts that a complete cut off of gas supplies from Russia will reduce EU economic growth by 2.5 percentage points this year.
Against this background, Macron first lost in the French parliamentary elections, followed by Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigning due to internal crises, one after another “political earthquake” followed. Pierre Vermont, a former senior EU official, believes that European countries have been divided into three camps due to their different positions on the Russian-Ukrainian issue, and each camp faces a different crisis of tear and mistrust. Today, there are no consensus builders and bridge figures across Europe. The role has been played by the last German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for more than a decade. In 2012, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for transforming Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace”.
Ten years later, when the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict broke the myth of the “Peace Continent”, what is the future of Europe? Neither Macron nor Scholz are seen as strong successors to Merkel as leaders of Europe’s two biggest powers, but they must work together to find a way out for Europe.
break of bridge
The Battle Hall Gallery of the Palace of Versailles displays oil paintings reflecting the historical turning points of Europe over the past 1,500 years. In these paintings, Moscow is sometimes seen as an ally of Paris and sometimes as an enemy.
On March 10, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Michel and European Commission President von der Leyen held a meeting at the Palace of Versailles, deliberately choosing this gallery as the venue for the press conference, and for the first time announcing that after the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in Europe A “turning point” has been reached. However, the Versailles summit did not give a direct answer to Russia’s “enemy or friend”.
Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin have had six conversations since the escalation of the situation in Russia and Ukraine at the end of February. In the last call on May 28, Macron and Scholz jointly accused the Russian army of committing “war crimes” in Ukraine, and the Kremlin later listed Germany and France as “undesirable countries”. It wasn’t until June 16, when Macron, Scholz and Draghi visited Kyiv together that it was finally established that European leaders had chosen to view Moscow as an “enemy”.
Transformation is not easy to make. Macron has seen Russia as a partner in building the future European order since he first mentioned “European sovereignty” in a speech five years ago. In 2019, he restarted negotiations with Moscow on a new security order in Europe, declaring that the US-led NATO system, which represents the “old military alliance” system, was “brain dead”. German Chancellor Scholz is a staunch supporter of the idea. On February 14 this year, Scholz visited Moscow for the last time before the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, still stressing that “Europe is incomplete without Russia”.
The outside world believes that Scholz and Macron frequently travel between Western Europe and Moscow to strive to take over the special role left by Merkel after her retirement in 2021, that is, to become a “bridge” between Russia and the Western world. “However, they gave up this option at the moment when the ‘bridge’ was most needed, and Erdogan, who could not be trusted by the Western world, played an impossible role between Russia and Ukraine.” York University, Canada Le Dick, an emeritus professor of comparative politics, said with emotion.
Why did Macron and Scholz “give up halfway”? It is worth noting that Macron’s break with Moscow coincided with his internal political turn. On June 19, Macron’s Kadima party lost its absolute majority in parliamentary elections. Since then, he has continued to negotiate with the largest opposition camp composed of left-wing parties, and finally “returned a city” at the end of July, persuading the majority of the parliament to support the “inflation response plan” allocated 20 billion euros to increase pensions and improve social welfare, As a result, the revised 2022 government budget was successfully approved.
Considering Macron’s “pro-business” policy orientation of relaxing labor protections and cutting public benefits in his last term, the word “frog” has been frequently mentioned by the media. Former French President Francois Hollande once described Macron as a wobbly man, “jumping from faith to faith like a frog on a water lily”.
Levy, a professor at the Center for European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out that to analyze Macron’s change, we must start with his personal governing style. Macron has always hoped to become a reformer and redeemer who will go down in history, “thinking of himself as the smartest person in the room, believing that France needs itself and reluctant to listen to opinions”.
Therefore, Macron dared to cut unemployment benefits and reform the pension system at the beginning of his first term, which eventually led to the “yellow vest crisis”. But he has since proposed a “whatever it takes” policy, enforced vaccinations and social distancing, massively funded French companies on the brink of bankruptcy, and allowed France to recover from the new crown epidemic earlier in European countries. In terms of foreign policy, Macron has always wanted to be “Merkel Second”. The US “Politico” magazine pointed out that he was “overconfident” in his ability to persuade and “naively believed that he could exert influence over the Russian leader”.
Levy pointed out that Macron’s response to the new crown epidemic has shown that in order to achieve the ultimate goal, he is willing to abandon his liberal positions and adopt hard-line pragmatic policies. “The realist side overtook that of the liberal politician, which saved his governance in a big way.” Thus, when he lost confidence in his original route, he was able to change direction quickly and firmly.
A documentary broadcast on French television in June clearly documented Macron’s loss of confidence in being a “bridge”. The journalists who filmed for five months at the Elysee Palace presented a number of factors: Macron could not speak to Putin in Russian or German, so their conversations were in fact not “closed doors”, and the president’s aides were always listening on hands-free Call content and pass a note to Macron at any time. In addition, the “liberal wing” of Macron’s government doesn’t seem to be interested in talking to Putin.
Obviously, when Putin said he and Macron “trusted each other”, he was not referring to the kind of conversation he had with Merkel: Merkel speaks Russian, Putin, who worked for the KGB in Germany, speaks German, and the two are meeting used each other’s language. Merkel and her team grew up in socialist East Germany and are familiar with the delicate relationship between Germany and Russia over history, immigration and energy issues.
Now, with French inflation exceeding 4.5% and wholesale energy prices rising by 100% in a year, Macron has used a series of freezes on natural gas prices, limits on electricity price increases, and subsidies on oil prices “unusual for liberalism” policy”. Some analysts believe that Macron will lead France and Europe out of the current crisis in a more flexible way. But as a last resort, he will not choose to restart contact with Moscow.
Since February, German Chancellor Scholz has received a similar taunt as Macron.
On February 27, Scholz made an emergency speech in the Bundestag three days after the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, confirming that Germany would increase investment in the security field. Binder Nagel, a professor at the University of Bonn and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, pointed out that Scholz cleverly seized the initial panic in German society and “launched a revolution” to overturn Germany’s decades of “non-intervention in geopolitics”. “The established policy of “not leading European security affairs” and “not participating in European strategic decision-making”. But since then, Scholz has been careful about aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, “every degree of military intervention is carefully weighed”, and it was not until May that it was officially confirmed that Germany’s foreign and security policy had entered a “new era.”
Scholz and Macron, known for their prudence, faced a different situation. Rudiger, a veteran diplomat who served as Germany’s ambassador to Russia, pointed out that the German government has been avoiding “strategic discussions” since the end of World War II because of its “unbearable war history.” During Merkel’s administration, Berlin was therefore unable to formally respond to Macron’s “European strategic autonomy” olive branch, but was in a distorted posture of “supporting the deepening of European integration and relying on US security guarantees”. The ruling coalition of Merkel and Scholz has repeatedly tried to push for partial policy adjustments involving security cooperation, but they have all but vanished due to internal differences.
However, Jackson Jones of the Institute of Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University pointed out that Germany under Merkel has become the de facto leader of Europe, and Germany can no longer refuse leadership responsibility. Former German President Gauck’s chief of staff Brockhof pointed out that the “comprehensive confrontation” triggered by the Ukraine crisis reflects the penetration of geopolitical struggles into every field of modern life such as security, economy, supply chain, and big data. Germany has already It is a new period in which we must intervene in this strategic competition.
A month after the Russian-Ukrainian conflict escalated, lawmakers in Germany’s ruling coalition offered a broad strategic vision: a “capable defensive coalition.” Analysts in Washington scoffed at this, seeing it as a revamp of Macron’s “European sovereignty”. But Kollhonen, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, believes that the “capable defensive alliance” shows the invaluable calmness of Europeans after the loss of peace and “inability to defend themselves”. This concept is not simply to blame Moscow, but to find the root cause of the inability to build two basic security guarantees, external and internal.
After the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Borrell, the European Union’s top representative, was the first to publicly say that Europe was not “really engaged” in dealing with the crisis. The European Commission on International Affairs report also pointed out that although the “Western world” has a unified position on Russia, in fact “it is the US dollar and the US control of the international financial system that make sanctions so ‘effective'”; in the military field, the US military And humanitarian aid exceeds the sum of all EU member states; on the agenda of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, it is Washington’s sale of advanced fighter jets in exchange for support for Turkey, a NATO member that is “full of doubts” in northern Europe.
However, instead of bringing Europe back to peace, the US forced the EU to closely follow the direction of US sanctions, falling into a “harvested” situation where the euro fell to and may fall below parity against the dollar. On the other hand, Germany’s newly added 100 billion euros of military spending to enhance its own security, the first item is to purchase F-35 fighter jets from the United States to replace the Eurofighters originally installed by the German army, which further weakens the possibility of building an independent military force in Europe.
Why is there a situation where US unilateralism has intensified? Veteran U.S. diplomat Jeremy Shapiro attributed it to an “out of balance” between the U.S. and Europe.
At the start of the global financial crisis in 2008, the EU economy was slightly larger than the US at $16.2 trillion. But now, while the US economy is over $20 trillion, the EU has dropped to $15 trillion. U.S. military spending rose to nearly $800 billion, while total military spending by the EU-27 and the U.K. fell below $300 billion over the same period. The United States thus spends more than seven times as much on new defense technologies as all EU member states combined, leaving Europe with no choice when it needs to expand its arms and buy advanced technologies.
The widening disparity in the size of the economy has also contributed to an imbalance in the euro-dollar relationship. In the past 20 years, the share of the dollar in global foreign exchange transactions has remained around 88%, while the share of the euro has fallen from a peak of 39% a decade ago to 32%. Shapiro noted that the U.S. profited from continued currency dominance, thereby gaining the ability to impose and expand financial sanctions on its own, “without cooperating with anyone,” thereby ignoring the damage to the euro and the euro zone economy.
Excessive imbalances between the US and Europe have also contributed to a climate of mistrust on both sides of the Atlantic. Korhonen told that the Iraq War in 2003 caused profound differences between the United States and Europe, after which the Obama administration began to shift its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region. Since 2010, the EU-US summit has not even been held annually. The populism of American politics has intensified. Obama’s successor, Trump, regards the EU as an “unfair competitor”, leading to 60% of Republicans now holding a negative view of the EU.
The Biden administration, emphasizing the “return of the United States,” did not really repair the relationship, but continued to take unilateral actions and then pressured Europe to “obey.” Markus Keim, a senior researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, pointed out that in the past year or so, Washington has held bilateral meetings with Moscow on the European order and the issue of Ukraine several times, and unilaterally issued a warning to Moscow, and then passed The NATO and EU summits “formalized and multilateralized” these unilateral decisions, which eventually became one of the reasons for the out-of-control conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Since the EU High Representative Borrell, European Commission President von der Leyen has also repeatedly said since March that Europe should actively participate in geopolitics. At the Elysee Palace, Macron realized that this had brought his own “European strategic autonomy” back to life. Le Dick, an emeritus professor of comparative politics at York University in Canada, pointed out that one of the most intuitive changes is that Le Pen, the far-right leader who challenged Macron twice in the presidential election, has always been associated with nationalism, anti-government The EU agenda is linked. But in April’s election, Le Pen deliberately dropped those issues. “She has realised that this is politically impossible”.
The French government quickly repackaged “European strategic autonomy”: on the one hand, it emphasized that the future “strategic autonomy” is not a substitute for NATO, but is fully compatible to avoid Washington’s opposition; on the other hand, it uses more “European sovereignty” and “defensive Alliance” replaces “strategic autonomy” to emphasize that the “French solution” is for common European goals, not for strengthening Parisian leadership. However, to advance the strategic vision, Macron needs to join forces with Scholz, who is still waiting for his time.
“The Language of Power”
”If it really can stop the war, I’d be willing to wear a three-layer sweater and take a cold shower in winter. But it’s just the opposite,” an ordinary citizen said in a July 2022 program on German state radio. The British “Financial Times” said that these remarks are worth thinking about by European policymakers.
Ivan Krasteff, a permanent researcher at the Vienna Institute for Humanities, believes that after the end of the Cold War, European political circles generally believed that economic cooperation would be enough to build a new order of permanent peace with Russia and the United States. Therefore, unlike the “powerful” intervention of the United States, the coordination and response mechanisms within Europe to the crisis were very weak in the Russian-Ukrainian war. A European scholar who studies sanctions issues pointed out that although the six currently implemented sanctions programs have been in the “policy basket” for many years, the “anti-coercion mechanism” in response to Russia’s countermeasures has never been. established at the EU level.
The academic, who did not want to be named, also revealed that the European policy community had thought that issues such as rising energy prices caused by sanctions against Russia “will only see a short-term economic contraction, and the European Central Bank’s fiscal and monetary policies are sufficient to deal with such short-term difficulties.” But when factors such as the energy crisis have pushed inflation in Europe to near-US levels, the EU lacks a central bank with as much leverage as the Fed to forcefully control the situation. The lack of coordination and synchronization in the energy transition of countries further affects the policy coherence of Europe in responding to the crisis.
He further pointed out that the unified position on sanctions is to show that despite the uneven economic level of European countries, Europe as a whole can take unified action on issues of major strategic interests. Today, Germany, Italy and other countries have begun to waver in their energy sanctions against Russia, and countries such as Poland, which are firmly promoting energy decoupling, may deviate from the original decarbonization and denuclearization process of the EU. Deep divisions and contradictions in action.
On March 7, Dortmund, Germany, volunteers packed relief supplies to be shipped to Ukraine. Figure / People’s Vision
It is this dilemma that made Scholz wait for the transformation of German society. According to Marcel Dirsus, a researcher at the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel in Germany, at the beginning, many Germans had a hard time accepting the idea that “weapons provided by Germany could be used to kill Russians” and believed that “counterfeiting aids The threat of serious economic consequences will impress Russia more than tank weapons.” The Russian ruble slumped 50 percent in the two weeks after the crisis escalated, adding to this perception.
But with six rounds of sanctions failing to affect Russian military operations in Ukraine, the change in public opinion finally pushed Germany to announce on April 26 that it approved an escalation of military aid. Subsequently, Scholz formally proposed the concept of a “new era”, echoing Macron’s “turning point” and agreeing to adjust the “entire post-war order”.
As Russia and Ukraine enter a war of attrition, in the view of Nicholas Boucher, a researcher at the Marshall Foundation, the Ukraine crisis is difficult to completely end before 2024, while the US Republican Party has a high probability of winning the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential election. The general election, the unilateralism of the United States and the “Asia-Pacific turn” may be further strengthened, and Europe is likely to become “a war continent that has completely lost its external guarantees.” “Brussels has to realize that the future will be very similar to the past.”
Lopez Aranda, a senior Spanish diplomat, believes that in this context, the re-introduction of “European sovereignty” has a new connotation. The so-called “capable defensive alliance” actually means “Europe can Fully mobilized in defense, trade, industry and other fields.” The fundamental goal of the new idea is to send a signal to the world that the EU is not just a huge economy, but a geopolitical player that knows how to use its advantages to defend its interests, said Brantner, a lawmaker in Germany’s ruling coalition. EU High Representative Borrell said more bluntly that the EU should start speaking the “language of power”.
divergence of routes
On July 20, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi lost a vote of confidence in him in the Senate. As the leader of the EU’s third largest country, Draghi supported European integration during his tenure, and has always been consistent with Paris and Berlin after the escalation of the Ukraine crisis. His departure means that even if Germany and France are ready to redefine “European sovereignty”, the rest of Europe may not necessarily think so. In fact, within Europe, such rifts and divisions have always existed.
In the new strategic vision of Germany and France, the realization of a “capable defense alliance” requires three aspects: first, from seeking a partnership with Russia to building Ukraine as a “new Europe” between Russia and Russia The second is to coordinate the strengthening of defense capabilities, rather than separate arms races or rely on unreliable US “security guarantees”; the third is to build fiscal capacity and economic and trade policies at the European level. In general, it is to strengthen overall European capacity-building in the areas of security and the economy.
In the field of security, however, Germany and France face almost unanimous opposition from the rest of Europe. In March, the Versailles summit did not reach a consensus on this. One of the keys to reaching a consensus is to standardize and integrate the defense and military capabilities of European countries, that is, to achieve the “Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)” proposed as early as 2017. In order to promote cooperation, the European Commission even proposed to coordinate the replenishment of the armament depots of various countries “by means of vaccine distribution”, and exempt countries participating in the “Defense Capability Alliance” for the entire process of purchasing, operating, and maintaining weapons. The European Investment Bank will also increase Financial support for joint procurement within the region. But so far, Europe has made no real progress on this crucial defense cooperation. During the EU’s 2021-2027 budget negotiations, funding for the project was even slashed at one point.
Why are these programs in an awkward position? The reason can be found in the polls. Although the overall support of the European people for the concept of “Europe” has increased after the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, when it comes to military spending, only Poland, Germany, Sweden and Finland have more than half of their support for increasing military spending. And even in Poland and Romania, the “frontline countries” most threatened by the war, more than 50% of voters believe that the government is now too focused on the war to ignore other more pressing funding needs.
This actually represents the general perception of European society before the escalation of the crisis. In January this year, a poll of 12 EU member states conducted by the European Council on International Relations showed that, with the exception of Poland, which is close to Ukraine, most respondents from countries including Germany, France, and Italy believed that their countries did not need to use military forces. means to “defend Ukraine”, and if you risk a recession, a full-scale confrontation with Russia is not worth it.
Now, the latest poll data shows that 49% of Germans support an end to the war as soon as possible, even at the cost of Ukrainian concessions, second only to Italy, and voters who hold this view are in the center-right and center-left mainstream parties. majority of supporters. Nick Whitney, the former director of the European Defense Agency, pointed out that the issue of European security is not money, but “countering national inertia”. Most EU countries that are NATO members are not willing to jump out of the “security guarantee” of the United States, so that in the Invest in coordinating European defense cooperation.
”Until now, most Europeans still believe that war is an accidental and special event, so ‘enhanced defense’ is a short-term goal that can fall apart at any time, not a long-term effective common goal.” University of Jyväskylä, Finland Kerhonen, professor emeritus of political science. He worries that new ideas for European military and security cooperation will eventually, as they have been for the past 30 years, form into a variety of “cooperation frameworks” for member states to join voluntarily, and then fall by the wayside because of a lack of general support.
In the economic field, European parties are discussing the establishment of an EU solidarity fund with reference to the COVID-19 Recovery Fund to deal with the economic “sequelae” of the war, especially the energy crisis and economic and trade shocks in Europe. As far as the medium-term plan is concerned, the EU intends to establish a response mechanism for sudden changes in the international and regional situation. This could include an independent Office of Economic Security, not only stockpiling sanctions and “anti-coercion” policy tools, but also conducting regular “games” in volatile situations to identify and optimize weak links in the Common Market supply chain and plan ahead.
Finally, in the long run, the EU wants to build a permanent “EU fiscal capacity” that can set fiscal priorities based on European interests, rather than “aggregation of national interests”, and strengthen the “Brussels effect”, whereby European rules become global rule. Mark Leonard, chairman of the European Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that in recent years, Europe has pursued the idea of building local rules with “like-minded people”, but the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the comprehensive sanctions against Russia have shown that the economic, trade, and technological fields Global rules are in a period of change. If the EU continues to be content to act in a “small circle”, it will be squeezed by the competition of rules between major powers.
However, these specific agendas are hardly supported by the Frugal Alliance and the hardest-hit countries in Central and Eastern Europe. After the United Kingdom left the European Union, some middle-sized developed countries in Western Europe led by the Netherlands formed alliances such as the “New Hanseatic League” and “Frugal Four Countries” to defend the low national debt policy, compete with the huge funds and common debts envisaged by Germany and France, and protect their own countries. Benefit. It is because of these countries’ obstruction that the previous COVID-19 recovery fund and mutual debt sharing were characterized as “one-off” policies. If the EU quickly re-uses this policy tool, it will provoke a protracted debate.
The positions of Central and Eastern European and Southern European countries are just the opposite. Voices from Poland and Hungary believe that for regions close to Russia such as Central and Eastern Europe, the impact of the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is far greater than that of other European countries. For example, Poland is the most coal-dependent country in the EU, and more than 70% of its energy comes from coal; sanctions against Russia have made Poland lose access to Russian oil and natural gas, but it also means closing coal mines and coal-fired power plants. risk. In addition, in terms of social costs such as hosting Ukrainian refugees, Poland is also the country that Central and Eastern European countries bear the most.
On August 3, in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany, the turbines of the “Nord Stream 1” natural gas pipeline were stored at the Siemens Energy plant in Germany after repairs were completed in Canada.
Moreover, in Central and Eastern Europe, after the Russian-Ukrainian war, a new round of “Euroscepticism” has spread in the relevant regions. To date, living standards in Hungary are still half that of neighbouring Austria, while it took Romania 14 years to recover its gross domestic product (GDP) to 1989 levels and remain at the bottom of the EU. Korhonen pointed out that the huge economic gap has led right-wing parties in the Central and Eastern European countries to regard Brussels as “Moscow Second”, arguing that the EU, Germany and France ignore the actual economic conditions of the peripheral countries. “Even if a policy from Brussels is economically sound, it will be seen as a sovereign encroachment by a large European power on a small one.”
According to Lopez Aranda, a senior Spanish diplomat, it is important for each specific European to come Saying that “European” and “national” are two alternatives: if the “European solution” doesn’t solve the problem, people will naturally turn back to the “national solution”. The Ukrainian crisis is a problem that cannot be solved at the national level, which has caused Europe to focus on “Europe” for a while. But the longer and inconclusive the war lasts, the more divergent the lines within Europe will become, and the less attractive the “European solution” will be.