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Josep Borrell – the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – thought he would go to Moscow and talk big to Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. It did not work.
The role of the High Representative was one of the innovations introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. It was then strongly reformed by the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 and should have corresponded, in the intentions of the European Commission, to that of the “Minister of Foreign Affairs” of the Union. The problem is that the European Union is not a State – at least not in the way we are used to understanding a ‘State’ – and, therefore, such a definition is useless, inconvenient, and even dangerous. The introduction of the “CFSP” – Common Foreign and Security Policy – is an ambitious attempt to give the EU a single voice on the international stage and a representative capability of expressing it and pursuing the Union’s interests abroad.
However, foreign policy, despite all efforts, remains a very ‘intergovernmental’ sphere within the European context, subject to the will and sometimes the whims of member states. It is perfectly understandable that states continue to be very jealous of their competences in foreign and security policy, preferring to deal with it themselves. The High Representative is therefore left with a less than representative role. He lacks the most basic tools he needs to do his job properly.
According to a famous phrase uttered by an unknown but great political personality of the last century, the European Union is “an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm“. We are the world’s leading economic power, but we lack political unity and military strength, which is unfortunately still indispensable if we are to be considered as equal partners with ‘other’ states in modern international relations.
But let us return to Borrell. Following the recent developments of the “Navalny case“, the European Union wanted to give more than just a signal to the Russian Federation, which – and this is undeniable now – is less and less a democratic country. Europe wanted to attack Russia, wanted to “wake the sleeping bear up”. But what happened in Moscow showed that the bear was far from being asleep. Borrell’s accusations against Lavrov regarding the arrest of the opposer Navalny and the repression of illegal demonstrations in dozens of Russian cities last week were met with a sharp retort from the Russian minister, who completely turned the tables. Lavrov clearly reminded his European counterpart of the harsh treatment of the Catalan independentists by the Spanish government and the lack of delicacy with which the recent anti-lockdown protests in the Netherlands were handled. He did not fail to make a thinly veiled attack on US ‘democracy’ concerning the events in Washington at the beginning of January and the subsequent wave of arrests.
The result? The relations between the EU and Russia are now very, very tense. The relationship between the two powers has been called ‘unhealthy’ by Minister Lavrov, with the EU seen as an ‘unreliable partner’ for Russia. Borrell had to return home to Brussels with his tail between his legs, where fire and brimstone awaited him. In a letter sent to the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, several MEPs demanded his immediate resignation. Maintaining a cooperative relationship with Russia is now indispensable for the European Union and especially for some of its member states, such as Germany. Despite what has been said, Chancellor Merkel cannot allow the Eurasian giant to move away, to “break off relations with the EU”, a possibility opened by Lavrov himself. The completion of Nord Stream 2 is too close, Sputnik V – now that everyone seems finally convinced of its effectiveness – is too tempting. Merkel wanted to postpone as much as possible the moment when a decision will have to be made on whether to impose new sanctions on Russia, in the hope that in the meantime the situation will resolve itself.