The EU institutions’ approach to communicating with its citizenry has been not a story of success, claims Philippe Cayla, the former head of the Euronews TV channel. He elaborates on points needed to reverse this negative trend and the way how Brussels can re-connect with the media and with public opinion.
The problems of communication rather than of decision-making are the most striking feature of today’s European crisis. Whereas decision-making is at the heart of politics, it is communication, particularly through the media, that determines popular support in a democracy. To put it bluntly, Europe has failed in terms both of its communication methods and their content.
The European Commission has a yearly communications budget of some €500m at its disposal. Each commissioner, or to be more precise each Directorate-General (DG), is allocated a proportion of that budget irrespective of the Commission’s priorities. DG Communication, which is responsible for coordinating the overall communication budget, is allocated a higher proportion amounting to 20% of the total.
The Commission’s approach has four fundamental weaknesses: a lack of strategy, excessive centralisation, the predominant use of English, and its focus on print.
The Commission at times communicates on unimportant directives, a good example being the recent Directive on toilet flushing mechanisms. That casts doubts in the minds of media and political commentators that are quickly relayed to the general public.
The EU commissioners themselves rarely give press conferences in person, which suggests that they must be unaware of the political importance of communication. The reforms that followed the humiliating resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999 over allegations of corruption have resulted in a system under which Directorates-General sign contracts which are binding on the Commission, and thus hold the real power. The commissioners themselves sometimes appear to be relegated to the role of spokespersons for the DG they are responsible for.
The president of the Commission occasionally provides summary communications on the “State of the Union”, but these over-views are often hijacked by EU heads of government, whose perspective on the issues is purely national. At the same time, co-operation between the EU’s institutions leaves much to be desired. The faces of Europe – the presidents of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament – often express diverging and even contradictory views.
The Commission’s communication efforts in the member states are aimed at the general public, but are based on a double fallacy: first, that the EU’s member governments are best placed to explain European policy to their own citizens, and secondly that commissioners, who have been nominated by their own member state are also able to make a substantial contribution to promoting the EU at home.
On the first point, it’s clear that member states are generally unwilling to play the game; every meeting of the European Council sees EU national leaders giving their own versions of events; they put their own policies forward in a positive light and blame Brussels for whatever they failed to negotiate successfully or for outcomes that don’t suit their interests.
The second one is that on the whole commissioners simply cannot live up to a national communications role. Quite apart from having limited abilities in this area, they can’t be in Brussels and in their own country at the same time.
The Commission’s communications in the member states clearly leaves much to be desired. The Commission has information offices in the national capitals, but its delegates lack the resources they need, and are not given much air-time in national public debates. The result is that debate on European policy stays for the most part in Brussels.
The majority of European citizens are in no position to debate in a foreign language. Research suggests that only 5% of non-English speakers are capable of debating issues in English, and that’s particularly true when English native speakers are part of the discussion. In other words, English-only communication will fail to reach 95% of non-native English-speakers, and is likely to irritate the majority.
English has secured a place as the “lingua franca” in European business circles, in university studies and for research. But political communication should not be limited to a single language. Politics affects all of Europe’s citizens, not just the cosmopolitan elite that speaks English. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that English is the medium for a British political culture that is hostile to European integration. The use of English cannot fail to fuel the fires of euroscepticism, and the long-term rejection of European integration. Commentaries written in English tend to be coloured with the bias inherent in the Anglo-Saxon culture. In my view, the rise of euroscepticism is directly correlated to the increased use of English in communications from the Commission. There needs to be a return to multilingualism, and in the words of Umberto Eco, “translation is the language of Europe.”
Either European citizens don’t understand the issues, or they can’t understand why governments are unable to reach agreement. Instead of targeting the self-seeking and even mercenary attitudes of the member states, the Commission which is itself so often made a scapegoat, stands accused of incompetence and mismanagement
Visitors to one of the Commission’s “Europe Direct” centres in a national capital will note well-located, large and well-appointed offices, substantial numbers of staff with little to occupy them, tons of documents, and few if any visitors.
When it comes to TV, the Commission uses the EbS (Europe by Satellite) system launched almost 20 years ago to provide television networks with content, but has no television presence apart from Euronews, the only European news channel, and which it has to be said is funded in drips and drabs. The official websites of the Commission and the Parliament certainly lack vitality, and the Commission’s website lacks uniformity and leaves far too great an autonomy to each DG, which leads to widely varying levels of quality. The use of social networking sites is a recent development, but still occurs only sporadically.
Desirable as it is, a move to a less technocratic and more political EU communications strategy would be nothing short of a mini-revolution. First, the strategic nature of communication should be affirmed by centralising the communications budget under the authority of the president of the Commission. Only the president has the overview needed to determine the themes and timing of Commission communications. Spokespersons, currently reporting to both their own commissioner and to the president, should report to the president only. Such a change would show Brussels that communication policy should reflect the political priorities of the day, not the administrative concerns of the civil servants.
Second, the role of the Commission’s delegations in the member states should be reinforced. National delegates of the Commission should have greater power and more resources placed at their disposal, and they should report directly to the Commission president and the College of commissioners. They should set out for them the current state of public opinion in each country.
As much as €250m yearly, half of the total communications budget, should be allocated to the EU’s communication effort in each member state, adjusted to population, to give delegates the resources they need to make an impact on the local media. And the Commission should base its communications policies on statistics that measure the state of public opinion in each country to help ensure they get the most important messages out.
The principle of multilingualism should be fully respected. At present, the European Parliament is the only EU institution that offers fully multilingual debates and communications. It may well be acceptable for the Commission to use the three working languages of English, French and German for its day-to-day work, but all documents should be published simultaneously in all 24 official languages to ensure that the media in each country are on an equal footing. Commissioners should express themselves in their native language only, with simultaneous interpretation into all the other EU languages.
Another key point is that the EU’s communications should move away from printed media into radio, television and social networks. The EU institutions’ own publications, which tend to be cast aside and left in the dustbins, should be kept to a minimum and in many cases made available via download only.
As to the content of the EU’s communication materials, a revolutionary approach to the reform of EU communication policy is now needed. At present, the European Union’s communications are dominated by discussion of macroeconomic issues. And although these issues are important in terms of the health of the European economy, the Commission leaves itself open to two forms of criticism. First, only a fairly small minority of citizens have a real understanding of macroeconomic policy – the majority view the discussion as bureaucratic gibberish. Secondly, the real solutions to macroeconomic problems are mainly in the hands of EU member governments, either individually or collectively, so communication by the Commission tends either to reflect decisions taken by the Council, or to express its frustration with its own limitations.
The complex nature of EU-level problems, and the difficulties of finding solutions which often need the unanimity of member states, makes communication particularly problematic. Either European citizens don’t understand the issues, or they can’t understand why governments are unable to reach agreement. Instead of targeting the self-seeking and even mercenary attitudes of the member states, the Commission which is itself so often made a scapegoat, stands accused of incompetence and mismanagement.
The Commission therefore needs to go back to the drawing board on the content of its communication material, and focus on developing a feeling of belonging to the European community that gives people a greater sense of European citizenship. Twenty years on from the Maastricht treaty, European citizenship is still a vague and little-known concept for Europeans, and has instead come under fire from nationalist and populist politicians of every shade. Yet European citizenship is important, and Europe’s citizens benefit from a significant number of rights of growing importance. That is demonstrated in reports published regularly but which are nevertheless little-known.
The Commission’s policy is to strengthen the rights of all Europeans when travelling or living abroad in the EU. But its current approach is too focused on economic issues, with political rights falling by the wayside. Promoting awareness of the importance of European citizenship is an important way of ensuring popular commitment to the European ideal – something that’s lacking in so many ways today. Working on the political aspects of European citizenship is undoubtedly the best way Brussels can do justice to the EU’s communications and to its power to attract and get people involved.
In the days of the Roman Empire, all hoped to be granted the honour of becoming “civis romanus”. Today, we are all “civis europeus”, but we don’t have the same awareness or pride as did the Romans. The Commission must foster that same feeling of pride, and should encourage us to wear, if not purple and gold, then the blue of a great empire of peace.
(First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission.)
The Decay of Western Democracy
Centralization of power, judiciary politicization, freedom of speech, attack on many independent media, ignoring many classes, and representing some classes are now shining like a supernova in the Western World. Eastern European populism, high inequality, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and the recent reaction on immigration, the western world is experiencing a very challenging democratic setback since the rise of fascism in 1930. Nevertheless, all was not lost entirely; the 21st century is either the stand-in or the destructive century for liberal democracy.
In the new age, Western democracy is rigid and fragile; the west democratic leaders always turn blind eyes to the issues people care and ignoring people’s basic need thus democracy become a game or competition between political parties and campaigning for the vote. Like many other democratic countries, in Europe, once a political party becomes a ruling party, the party becomes unresponsive to the real needs of the people. Consequently, people are becoming less enthusiastic about politics and votes; the election becomes a small group, fighting for power and their interests.
The fundamental values of democracy are justice, liberty, and equality, which are barely exist in the Western world. The upsurge of populism (the claim to promote the interest of ordinary people against the elite or some other opponents) in the western world is a vibrant sign of racial discrimination, unjust, and inequality. Moreover, many institutions in the EU are now challenged by the political leaders, since democracy mostly relies on excellent and well-reputed institutions; such institutions are now under-attacked. The institution is the lengthened shadow of one person; institutions are just the collection of rules and norms agreed upon by the human being. If political leaders attack and abuse such institutions, they will be weakened in this, in turn, will undermine the quality of democracy. In the EU, most of the institutions are still robust but not immune to these evil forces of democracy decay.
Despite the acknowledged success in promoting political transformation in the candidate countries, the validity of democratic conditions has long been debated. Deep from Democracy Index 2018, Western democracy score declined uninterruptedly for three years – to 8.35 from 8.38 in 2017 and 8.42 in 2015 while the average rating remained 7.49 in 2017 and 7.54 in 2018. The list also indicates that among western states, 14 are full democratic, six are flawed democratic, and one is hybrid (Turkey). Among western states, only three states have shown an improvement in their rating, Malta, Germany, and Finland, while three countries show continues to declines, Turkey, Italy, and Austria.
One of the critical reasons behind such persistent deteriorating in the quality of democracy is the new anti-establishment parties; even these anti-parties are now in offices, in the interior of inside competition and representation such circumstance has dragged down the political structure and created insecurity as well as undermined the rules-based democratic institutions.
In the same vein, in Eastern EU democracy index to some extent improved to 5.42 from 5.40 in 2017, but the actual rating, which was 5.76 recorded in 2006, remained nothing more than a dream. Coalescing all, in the region of 28 countries, none of the state qualify for “full democracy” among 28 members states; 12 are listed as flawed democracy, of which 11 belongs to EU plus Serbia, nine is regarded as hybrid states other than, Serbia, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Kyrgyz Republic. The remainder is listed as authoritarian regimes.
The selection of political leaders is now based on popularity, never based on merit, no matter who a person is, but being famous means a preferred leader in different areas — the new Ukrainian Prime minster Oleksiy Honcharuk was elected by the people because of his popularity even with just three months of government experience. Later argued by most of the intellectuals that being a prime minister, he would not be an independent leader of not having proper experience about government. Thus, in democracy, most of the time, our choices are driven by emotions and intense feelings of famous individuals.
The profound cause was also described by Plato about twenty-five hundred years ago. He realized that democracy is failed. He said; “When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of the intense wine of freedom, then, unless her rulers are very agreeable and give a plentiful draught, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs[…] In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young” (Plato’s Republic, Book 8)
Plato never meant that democracy is the worse political system, sometimes when people lack the sense of understanding and driven by some emotional desires — choose the later-regret choice.
Even today, the EU is facing same comparable problems; in full-democratic countries, the people are suppressed of voicing which means all kind of freedom is restricted, people are denied their dignity and refused to their fundamental freedom. Many independent media are now under attack, and some of the chief presses at this time are in the hands of elite leaders. The populist leaders are now gaining supports from thousands of people because of the media they controlled. Nevertheless Most of the time, our emotions are also abused by populist politicians. When these populist leaders trying to simplify their political discourse raise our feeling of either anger or nostalgia, later, these populist leaders adopt their language into a new political discourse, which led to populism. The populist leaders seem happy across the world when they misrepresent the fact and reduce the complex issues of yes-no questions.
Even supposing the EU was forced to cope with the growing number of democratic regressions and backsliding in the region, at the same time, researchers worry that increasing external pressures may exacerbate countries’ current cynicism about the Euroscepticism and increase domestic support for authoritarian leaders. An analysis of the interaction between EU pressure and state actors and their sources of action can help expand the EU’s toolbox to adopt an effective democratic approach.
The modern democracy is becoming a Bandwagon Fallacy, the popularity and the authority of a person make things validate by getting the support of many people under the auspicious of fallacy. Still, we people are trapped by the Bandwagon Fallacy owing to some elites?
The geopolitical substance of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Currently the material break, rather than the real fall, of the Berlin Wall is at the core of many strategic and historical misrepresentations.
The naive rhetoric of “global democracy” that broke into Potsdam for the will of the conscious people – just to use an old definition of Communist propaganda – or the inevitable victory of the famous Western values over everything else.
Nonsense. The negotiation, which also led President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Thatcher to use the single EU currency, namely the Euro, as strategic blackmail against the unified German Mark, was geopolitical and military strategy.
Meanwhile, the shrewdest leaders in Western Europe struggled to say they did not want unification – but it was just so.
Giulio Andreotti’s witty remark is now well-known, “I love Germany so much that I want two of them”, but also Prime Minister Thatcher and President Mitterrand had many doubts, which were never dispelled.
The French Socialist President was clearly against German unification. Probably his aides were not fully against it. They imagined a united Germany, although without military protection, but President Mitterrand was certainly against it.
All what I heard from the agents of the French intelligence Services and the many friends I had in France agree on this point.
For a moment, President Mitterrand’s France even thought of its own geopolitical and military shield for the German Democratic Republic(GDR), and anyway invited Erich Honecker, the GDR leader for a State visit to France, in which he was treated as a Head of State.
At the time no one treated the GDR leaders like that.
The French idea was to stop reunification indefinitely and then negotiate . from a position of strength – the ways and timeline of a democratic “federation” between the two Germanies.
The role of the two Germanies in the EU remained unknown, but it was clear that the future French presence in the German Democratic Republic was France’s decision-making axis, also from an economic viewpoint.
The German Democratic Republic was by no means a collapsing State. Until July 1, 1990, the day of its dissolution, it had paid all its international debts.
Probably Krenz and Hohnecker’s heirs-politicians of the old world -thought that the USSR would continue to support them and the day before July 1, 1990, it was West Germany that decided a one-to-one exchange rate.
Beforehand, the exchange rate between the two Germanies was 1 to 4.44, and – as we can easily imagine – it was a real disaster for the German Democratic Republic.
It obviously lost all the Soviet COMECON markets and then – as an Italy ante litteram – it also lost Western markets.
Production in East Germany collapsed by 30% in a short lapse of time. After the elections in West Germany, East Germany was on its last legs and agreed to reform some laws: unemployment ceased to be unconstitutional, in a country that had the Compass and the Hammer, two Masonic symbols, in its national coat of arms. Later Potsdam’s Germany entered the West as a whole of regions, not as an autonomous State.
The West Treuhandanstalt privatized companies in a superficial way, but those that had been destroyed by the one-to-one exchange rate – decided overnight – were sold at budget-friendly prices.
With specific reference to private homes, 2.17 million lawsuits were initiated, but it was President Gorbachev himself, with a destroyed State budget, who accepted the economic and political destruction of the old East Germany to get credits from West Germany.
He also accepted reunification within NATO, again to plug the Soviet budget holes, but even gave Chancellor Kohl free rein on the treatment of the old GDR leaders.
This is how the story went.
However, the French President, who wanted above all a moderate approach to German reunification, was not – in principle – against reunification, but wanted it without destabilizing President Gorbachev, in particular, while Prime Minister Thatcher’s Great Britain was always explicitly opposed to reunification.
The Iron Lady, in fact, fully supported President Gorbachev’s project in the USSR. She did not want destabilisation in Eastern Europe and finally she did not want the US costly acquisition of the old Soviet Union, with possible unpredictable effects.
The “grocer’s daughter” – as Queen Elizabeth II snobbishly called her -thought that, in a different context, there would also be a fully British part in the sharing of the spoils of the collapsing USSR.
Acquisition estimated by Jeffrey Sachs at 10,000 billion US dollars in business terms, which then generated all the vouchers distributed to USSR citizens that later Yeltsin’s government probably produced in greater quantities than needed.
As foreseeable, during the economic and food crisis of 1992-1993 many vouchers got into the wrong hands- those of the future “oligarchs”.
By their very nature, however, the German events happened when someone (possibly the USA or the Soviet Union) strongly stepped up the pace of riots in the GDR streets so as to reach an immediate and irrational reunification.
What, in fact, could be the rationale of an USSR that, at the end of its Communist history, gave up the pearl of the Soviet Empire, namely East Germany?
I remember that when we talked about it, the former Italian President, Francesco Cossiga, was convinced that the Soviet Union had offered to the West that big poisoned chalice, namely reunited Germany, to block it and make it uncontrollable.
The German bite was too big to be swallowed and digested calmly and quietly.
Prime Minister Thatcher knew all too well that united Germany would decide the future of the Eurasian peninsula.
However, Chancellor Kohl, who was very clever, made President Gorbachev understand that Germany would easily bear the costs for the return back home of the Soviet troops stationed in East Germany, while Kohl himself easily won the 1990 German election he would probably lose without the prospect of reunification.
Despicable – and I say so without pretence – was instead Angela Merkel (who owes his political career to Chancellor Kohl that discovered and sponsored her) who, at the funeral of the great German leader, while Helmut Kohl’s wife tried to hug her, retracted by saying “keep your distance”.
Without Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel would have been just an ordinary immigrant from the GDR, with a Protestant theologian father inevitably compromised with the Communist regime, and she herself the youth leader of the Eastern Party, SED. No one has ever fully investigated Merkel’s role in the GDR intelligence services.
As a strategist born, Francesco Cossiga knew what the real stake with reunification was and endeavoured with Kohl to slow it down, but not to avoid it, by promoting a phase of integration between the two Germanies that would be decided – in an ad hoc Conference – by the other European nations, as well as by the USA.
Margaret Thatcher was firmly opposed to it.
The real turning point was the end by self-destruction of Gorbachev’s regime in the USSR, which allowed the fast and irrational reunification, seen above all – as Kohl wanted – as an “enlargement” of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).
The USA had no idea on which to work.
There were those who, in the State Department, thought of a more solid Europe, with the old GDR unified with the FRG, against everything was rising in the old USSR. There was also CIA, which rightly saw how useful was, for the United States, a new weak Europe to allow the non-competitive penetration of the US capital into Russia and Central Asia.
One of the most attentive U.S. analysts was John Mearsheimer, according to whom the end of the Cold War had put an end to the great powers that had dominated the Eurasian peninsula until that time, starting from the end of World War II.
This meant that, from then on, world instability would probably return to the heart of Europe – a strategic dream of which the USA had never ceased to dream.
The US decision-makers still recalled a classic piece by Walt Whitman, the author of Leaves of Grass, who wrote:
“I see the European headsman;
He stands masked, clothed in red, with huge legs, and strong naked arms, And leans on a ponderous axe.
Whom have you slaughtered lately, European headsman?
Whose is that blood upon you, so wet and sticky?”
Hence to interpret the current US global strategy for Europe, even Walt Whitman would be enough.
Let us analyze the geoeconomic and strategic determinants of German reunification.
Before committing suicide with his family, after having heard of the Morgenthau Plan, which provided for the forced ruralisation of Germany, Goebbels said: “They want to turn my country into a potato field”.
It was a plan that, inter alia, envisaged peaceful collaboration, not the future Cold War with the USSR.
The US directive JCS 1067, however, signed on May 10, 1945, provided exactly for the full entry into force of the Morgenthau Plan.
350 factories, still in perfect working order, which had to be moved to France or the Soviet Union, were dismantled ab ovo and many German patents were also transferred, including that of aspirin.
The fact underlying the nationalization of the German occupied allied areas was that the cost of maintaining a population impoverished of any factory, technology and productive income was too heavy to bear, precisely by the occupiers themselves.
The reconstruction business, the esoteric solve et coagula of the U.S. speculative post-conflict strategy, was in crisis, because the surviving Germans could not pay for the goods that the Americans wanted to sell them.
The speech delivered by General George C. Marshall at Harvard in 1947, before 15,000 students of the prestigious U.S. University, was in fact designed primarily for the USSR. It had been written by Chip Bohlen, an expert on Soviet affairs, and spoke of “millions of European citizens starving and even dying”.
The city-country relationship, designed by Marshall in his famous speech, was the design of a correlation with the Europe of cities, namely the European and Western one, which finally reached the eternal Eurasian granaries, since the Journey of the Argonauts on a quest for the “golden fleece”, i.e. the huge expanses of wheat fields of the East.
Another assessment made by the United States was that widespread anger among Germans, after World War II, would lead to the same political results of the First World War after the unfair Agreements of Versailles, opposed by Keynes in vain.
Moreover, the planned process of West Germany’s impoverishment would have brought wind also in the USSR sails and, considering its productive dimension, it would also have stopped the relaunch of the rest of Western Europe freed by the Allies.
It was precisely the fear of the “Communist contagion” that made it possible for the United States to fund the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) which,as from 1943 – four years before Marshall’s speech at Harvard – tied the German territories to itself in order to avoid them falling into the coils of the Communist regime, according to the certainly correct US plans.
To some extents, however, this triggered Stalin’s foreseeable reaction. It was exactly the United States that asked Great British and France to unify – under its own protection – all the Western Allies’ control zones in Germany. It should be recalled that the French occupation zone was a source of primary information for the Communist penetration into the rest of the West.
The deutschemark was in circulation at the time – a currency revalued as against the old mark and printed directly in the United States.
Hence the USSR-controlled zone was flooded by huge requests for goods to be bought with the deutschemark, considering that they were at capped and supervised prices.
At that juncture, Stalin ordered to stop the inflow of food into Germany and into the USSR-controlled area, but it was impossible and hence he tried to make the deutschemark not valid in the USSR-controlled areas.
The rest is recent history, including the German reunification.
Reverting to Mearsheimer, we can better understand – as the US analyst said – that since then the United States has been “the peacemaker of the European region”.
Going back to our previous considerations, the greatest coldness for German reunification was expressed precisely by Prime Minister Thatcher, who stopped in Moscow after her State visit to Tokyo in September 1989, where she spoke to Gorbachev in private, in the Hall of Saint Catherine at the Kremlin.
The Iron Lady clearly told Gorbachev that she did not want German unification at all, because she thought that “the post-war equilibria would be undermined by the new territorial changes”.
She was perfectly right.
Just because of its inevitably pluralistic and equal partnership logic, Europe could not contain a Great and New Germany that, alone, represented all the “European plain” that was the plain where – as Raymond Aron maintained – the final war of the Worlds between East and West would be waged – a war also planned as early as 1995, at least by the heirs of the former USSR.
Regimes disappear, but the objective laws of geopolitics do not.
Hence Prime Minister Thatcher told Gorbachev that “NATO would not endeavour for the end of the Warsaw Pact”.
We must also recall Operation Unthinkable, which envisaged the penetration – from the Balkans – of the Allies and, above all, of Great Britain, to block the direct passage of the Red Army to Germany and to directly control the whole European continent, after the end of the hostilities, with or without the US involvement.
The plan advocated by Churchill was not implemented.
Eastern Partnership Countries: Buffer Zone or Platform for Dialogue?
2019 marks the 10 th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, a political initiative the EU launched in 2009 for developing relations with six eastern countries of the former socialist bloc. The collaboration program with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine was primarily intended as a means for introducing these countries to the European experience and approaches to developing their economies, political institutions and civil society. Given current events, however, Russia has a highly negative perception of the EU’s policies concerning the Eastern Partnership, viewing them with an utmost mistrust, while this program’s results have so far fallen short of expectations.
The program’s 10 th anniversary allows Europe to draw some interim conclusions and attempt to modify the agenda. The experience has thus far proved that the development of each member state of the Partnership is unique, which makes collaboration based on identical standards and measures challenging.
On the other hand, as soon as Russia began to oppose the European discourse on the domination of European values in these countries, almost immediately, the EU started shaping the image of an “aggressive Russia” striving to expand its area of influence.
The Eastern Partnership countries face a difficult choice between the European and Russian development tracks. Such opposing policies have resulted in some countries joining the confrontation between the two poles, thus becoming a buffer zone between them, while some states prefer to be outside observers and strive to create a venue for potential collaboration between the opposing parties.
The power of values and discourse
Considering the situation in terms of the theory of discourse (M. Foucault), we see that broadcasting one’s values is far from a harmless practice. At some point, the gift of democratic and liberal values will transform into a carefully thought-through strategy for expanding power onto new territories. In the information dominated world of today, those who set the discourse framework determine the rules of the game and run the situation. So the objective of each centre is to spread their value models and practices as broadly as possible.
We should also take into account the overall tendency of European civilization to proselytize and promulgate its value models.
That has been its invariable behavioural strategy in the international arena since the time of the great European empires. Eurocentrism, otherwise known as the rejection of other cultures and perception of foreign practices as barbaric and uncivilized, still exists in Europe today in various forms.
Our European partners broadcast their values within the framework of the Eastern Partnership as part of aiding more institutionally backward countries. Essentially, in a crisis, more powerful actors introduce their rules of the game to draw new resources and territories into their area of influence. Simultaneously, an unattractive image of the opponent is created. Russian and European media have been doing this for the last five years.
The Eastern Partnership is a war of values and institutional systems
Robust European economic development throughout the 20th century is the basis of the appeal of European democratic institutions. Favourable living conditions, a free creative environment, and understandable, yet strict rules of life attract the best minds from developing countries. Cooperation with Europe opens the way to institutional innovation and knowledge but does not guarantee security and protection of national interests for, in particular, Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh) and several Balkan states.
At the same time, Russia perceives the Eastern Partnership as Europe’s geopolitical project aimed at expanding its influence. Yet several experts believe that Europe today is not in conflict with Russia, with the central conflict being between Russia and the US. Nonetheless, this underlines a legitimate question as to whether the EU is capable of developing its own geopolitical strategy.
When the project was planned in 2009, an entirely different picture of the world and outlook were constructed. Back then, the planning did not account for China’s growing role or the influence of the Islamic factor. These ascendant international forces do not see any distinct differences between Russia and Europe. China’s growing global power and the spread of Islam (particularly of its radical forms) can become common challenges that Europe and Russia will have to think about combating together.
In 2009, Russia’s view of the situation was not taken into account or only one-sidedly; today, Russia’s proactive position has come as a great surprise for many in Europe. Moscow demands that its opinion and interests be taken into account, and they do not fit well into the old model of the Eastern Partnership.
The experience of implementing the program has demonstrated that joining the Eastern Partnership in no way means that the journey will be wholly positive. Europeans blame integration failures on the intense pressure exerted by Moscow on some countries’ leaders. Despite that, the Partnership countries are now themselves, too, in the process of choosing a collaboration formula. Generalizing current experience, we can identify the Partnership states’ two basic strategies concerning the two opposing poles, Russia and the West: the buffer zone strategy or the dialogue platform strategy.
The buffer zone is a situation of confrontation between the poles of influence when they are engaged in conflict on their periphery, without involving their resources. We see this in the open conflict in the Donbass, when passionate radicals find no outlet for their energy at home and are willing to take part in military gambles in a neighbouring state. Take, for instance, Moldova, where the outcome of the people’s political choice depends on who supports the candidate, Russia or Europe. In Georgia, success in domestic politics also largely depends on the elite’s foreign political preferences. Buffer countries have chosen a zero-sum game strategy, betting on one player only and thus putting themselves in a more vulnerable position. If their chosen side loses, they also lose.
The bridge metaphor has not taken root, and experts lean somewhat toward the platform for dialogue metaphor. Belarus is active here, providing a venue for the peace talks on the Donbass; Armenia acts as a prototype testing range for EU–EAEU economic cooperation; Azerbaijan, which was, until recently, a closed state geared toward its prosperity, is another example. The position of a platform for dialogue is stronger and more stable in the long term, though it is costlier to implement this strategy. The transaction costs involved are rather high.
Non-zero sum game
Currently, EU–Russia relations concerning the Eastern Partnership countries are stuck in the zero-sum game mode: the “West or Russia” choice cuts off many additional opportunities for these countries. With the US actively intervening in European processes, no-one is insured against the negative-sum game scenario unfolding.
Armenia has taken realistic stock of the situation and is seeking options for cooperating with the two regional associations on mutually beneficial terms. Belarus is pursuing a similar policy. Such actions prompt frequent media attacks on the states concerning “cooperation with the West” or “cooperation with Russia.”
Europe’s expert community is gradually developing a concept of the importance of studying and understanding Russia’s position and Russian discourse. Since sanctions bring economic difficulties but do not influence Russia’s political and social climate, while confrontation results in nothing but mutual losses, the need to seek alternative ways to collaborate is becoming imminent.
Moving toward a non-zero sum game appears to be the most favourable outcome. Yet there can be no way out of confrontation without implementing a specific dedicated policy. I will outline several possible steps that are already being mentioned in expert discussions. First, one should focus on fact-based rather than stereotype-based knowledge of each other. In this respect, developing EU studies in Russia and Russian studies in Europe is the desired format for restoration and development. Second, expert knowledge should not be obstructed if it draws conclusions that do not fit perfectly into the general propaganda framework. Third, when making a specialist assessment, findings must be called into question, and non-standard solutions must be sought. It is useful to compare discourses used by Russians and Europeans to denote the same facts. Imposing one’s expert opinion will not bring positive results, even if this is initially successful.
Additionally, a separate important task is to seek common goals for Europe and Russia. The experience of cooperating in the Arctic demonstrates that Russia and Europe can interact effectively in the face of a common threat. Finally, in the future, it will benefit all parties to create venues for dialogue in the Eastern Partnership countries. In this situation, Eastern European countries will undoubtedly compete to be the best and most convenient such venue. Growing competition will result in improved quality and reduced transaction costs. Such venues may also become specialized. Negotiation hubs on various issues, with a developed infrastructure and expert support, constitute a somewhat favourable alternative to buffer zones in an armed and political confrontation. For the Eastern Partnership countries, it will mean developing education and further training programs in negotiating practices. As a result, instead of buffers, states can become regional and global confidence-growth points.
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