EU dialogue with Russia and China

Merkel leaves the European scene after two diplomatic failures

Sylvie Kauffmann – Le Monde (France)

It seems that Merkel will leave the European scene after being part of two diplomatic failures.

It used to be easy. In the early 1990s, when Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand were promoting their idea of ​​Europe. The leaders of the two countries had only to agree between themselves and then send a proposal to the head of the Council with a request to “convey a message to other members”. And that’s it, it’s done. This was the case, for example, on October 27, 1993. On the eve of an extraordinary European summit on the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty.

It was that simple! There were only 12 Member States since then their number has more than doubled. Nevertheless, the main blow to the habits of the Franco-German tandem was their heterogeneity. Angela Merkel had to state this following the results of several hours of discussion on Hungary and Russia in the framework of the commemorative meeting of the European Council on June 24 and 25.

The German Chancellor suffered a crushing failure with a proposal to hold a European summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She was “saddened” by the experience. According to her, this means that the member states “do not have enough trust in each other.” An extremely perspicacious and significant comment.

Unusual haste

This European summit is the last for the Chancellor before the parliamentary elections in Germany scheduled for September 26. That will mark her departure from politics after 16 years in power. Her disappointment is understandable. She is leaving the European scene amid two diplomatic failures. Significantly, these setbacks are related to China and Russia. And in both cases, she showed an uncharacteristic haste.

As for China, Angela Merkel has used the influence of Germany’s EU presidency until December 31, 2020 to push for a global investment agreement between Europe and China. The agreement was reached on December 30 following the results of the summit held by video link with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Be that as it may, this document faced sharp opposition from the European Parliament. It today looks stillborn due to the aggravation of relations with Beijing.

The episode with Russia was no doubt even more painful, as it struck the heart of post-Cold War Europe and Angela Merkel’s picture of the world.

To understand the situation, one should consider the June chain of diplomatic events. US President Joe Biden came to Europe to rally the Atlantic family after “Hurricane Trump”, expressed his special favor to the Chancellor. Only she received an invitation to Washington on July 15. He then left his European friends and went to Geneva to meet with Vladimir Putin on June 16.

Biden did not expect anything from this summit, to which he did not involve the Europeans. The main goal for him was to neutralize the Russian problem with the help of a communication channel with Moscow. Just in order to direct all his efforts towards solving the much more pressing Chinese issue.

Enduring dislike

On June 18, Angela Merkel received Emmanuel Macron in Berlin. They talked about Russia for a long time. The Chancellor presented her plan to the French president: to propose to the European Council a restart of the dialogue between Europe and Russia, which was frozen after the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. 

The key event was to be a summit of the heads of state and government of the EU with the President of Russia. In Paris, they considered the option of the 27 + 1 meeting too generous a gift for Putin, who had not changed his position in the least since 2014, and thought to get by with the participation of the heads of European departments. Be that as it may, Macron could not but approve of the idea of ​​resuming dialogue with Moscow. He himself has tried unsuccessfully to achieve this since 2019, earning enduring hostility from a number of European partners. And the fact that these same partners greeted the summit of Putin and Biden with applause.

Meanwhile, Merkel called Putin and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy. On June 22. Putin published a rather mild article in Die Zeit calling for the restoration of a full-fledged partnership with Europe. But Merkel forgot to discuss this Franco-German project with other Europeans. They were beside themselves when they learned about it on the eve of the European summit. The discussion that took place in the evening of the first day turned out to be tense. The Baltic states, Poland and Sweden rejected the proposal.

“She is no longer considered trustworthy representative of European interests”

Why did Merkel begin to actively promote this initiative, without making the slightest effort for preliminary preparation? She advocated European sovereignty. Since there is now a Russian-American dialogue, Europe should also discuss with Russia issues of interest to both sides. Macron, in turn, made a good face and stressed that the discussion had moved forward.

Did the chancellor dream of forming a historical geopolitical triptych before leaving? Would it be nice to end the September summit with Putin after the December meeting with Xi Jinping and the July talks with Biden? In any case, due to the protection of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, “she is no longer considered a trustworthy representative of European interests before Putin,” said German MP Franziska Brantner.

The incident sheds light on the profound impact of the post-communist countries on the development of the EU. Whether it’s Hungary’s rejection of Viktor Orban’s open society or the Baltic states’s refusal to resume dialogue with Putin, the historical and geographical legacy of these countries is fully manifesting itself. Kohl and Mitterrand probably believed that with the help of the unification of Europe, the accounts of the Cold War were closed. Merkel and Macron have just seen that this is still a long way off.

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