The old spontaneous saying “You don’t have a chance, so use it” also applies in Europe these days.
The continent’s political class seems strangely excited, even though Europe is under military attack on its eastern flank, challenged by an influx of refugees on its southern border and tormented at home by currency devaluation.
As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, three false friends come along and put pressure on Europe:
The number 1 false friend is Viktor Orbán, who has found a comrade-in-arms in the new Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. He is playing with Putin and against the EU. He is refusing Western sanctions and is being rewarded for this opportunism in Moscow with cheap energy contracts. Viktor Orbán is the brutal figure of the European community of values.
America has also become a questionable friend
False friend number 2 sits in Ankara. Erdoğan’s Turkey is not a member of the EU, but is a NATO state, which does not prevent the ruler from making pacts with Putin. In 2022 alone, Russians opened 1,363 new companies in Turkey – also with the aim of circumventing Western sanctions.
At the same time, Turkey increased its oil imports from Russia from an average of 98,000 barrels per day in 2021 to 200,000 barrels in 2022. Foreign Policy magazine speaks of Erdoğan’s “deal with the devil”.
And thirdly: America has also become a questionable friend of the Europeans. Under pressure from Republicans, US President Joe Biden bought his budget compromise with the US not providing any further support for Ukraine for the time being. This means that the largest financier of the anti-Putin pact is no longer there for the time being.
But the story – unlike the dime novel – always has several storylines that are often virtuously interwoven. “History is a constant dialogue between fact and interpretation,” is how historian Eric Hobsbawm described the eternal series of paradoxes.
Compression in core Europe
It is precisely this pressure from a hostile environment that is causing compression in core Europe. The convergence of Russian militarism, American isolationism and Eastern European opportunism is forcing the core Europeans – Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – into political intimacy.
In the midst of the European steel storm – if the contractions continue to go well – great things will be born.
Only in the last few days have there been five serious indications that we are by no means experiencing a meek retreat to the Europe of the Fatherlands, but that in the midst of this historical storm the Europe of the Europeans is maturing – even if only as an embryo. We glimpse a new, defensive Europe.
1. Ukraine will not be sacrificed.
The representatives of all 27 EU states met outside the EU for the first time at the weekend – in Kiev. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock played a central and centrally positive role here, as she is not prepared to sacrifice Ukraine, despite fluctuating public sentiment.
She called for a “winter protection shield” that would protect the civilian population and energy suppliers from Russian missiles so that millions do not freeze and starve again. Last winter, Putin targeted power plants.
Especially against the background of her pacifist origins, Baerbock’s commitment to a robust foreign policy has a style-defining effect. Their stability also makes it difficult for wobbly candidates across Europe.
2. EU enlargement is being prepared.
The last time Croatia joined the EU was ten years ago. But when the heads of state and government meet in Granada, Spain, at the end of the week, the expansion of the European Union, from today’s 27 to possibly 35 member states, will be back on the agenda.
The Russian war of aggression has given new impetus to the idea of a European consolidation along the Russian border. Under the new crisis light, the accession of Albania, Moldova and one day Ukraine no longer represents a fringe activity, but would be a symbol of a new democratic resilience. Preparations must be made for this in Grenada, because an EU of 35 cannot function with the unanimity principle. So Europe must not only become bigger, but also have to become more effective.
3. Financial seriousness is not achieved, but is aimed for.
Favored by the ECB’s money-flooding policy for years, the spark of rising energy prices was enough to ignite inflation. But the ECB has now realized that currency devaluation is not only undermining national budgets, but also the European idea.
The whip of interest rate policy is working: Italy will have to pay around 100 billion in interest to its debtors in 2023. With an increase in interest payments from 15.3 billion euros in 2022 to almost 40 billion euros in 2023, Germany will also have to pay a kind of penalty for the debt policy of the past few years. This – hopefully – has a disciplining effect.
4. Energy autonomy will not be achieved, but will be advanced.
Thanks to government aid from the REPowerEU program, the transformation of the energy supply appears to be successful. The EU reduced the share of Russian pipeline gas from 50 percent of total gas imports in 2021 to less than 10 percent in the current year.
Oil imports from Russia have fallen from 27 percent to six percent, while coal imports are now at zero – coming from 46 percent in 2021. The share of renewable energies in electricity generation across Europe is now almost 40 percent.
5. The leading media polarize and polemicize – but not against Europe.
Across countries there is no fixed consensus in the media that the future does not belong to small states. From the German Bild to France’s Le Monde to the British Financial Times, the European idea is defended, often against the overreach of Brussels bureaucrats.
The idea that what belongs together grows together has become established in the leading media. The Economist demands this week: “Devastating as the circumstances of war are, they are creating the impetus for an EU that will be bigger and better.”
Conclusion: Even if the Pied Pipers have positioned themselves on the right and left of the path, the majority of Europeans clearly do not want to go back to their history. Friedrich Hegel’s sentence – “History teaches us that history teaches us nothing” – is being stamped invalid before everyone’s eyes. We should not regret his error but rather enjoy it.