Denis MacShane / Oct 2022
Josep Borrell. Photo: Shutterstock
Josep Borrell, the feisty Catalan-Spanish 75-year-old EU Foreign Policy supremo, has laid out some home truths about diplomacy that apply to more than his own EU External Action Service, as Europe diplomats are collectively called.
He complains that he gets better information from newspapers than from the network of 140 EU embassies around the world. He asks why none of them told him Russia was about to invade Ukraine.
I understand his lament. When I was an UK Foreign minister I read Le Monde, Die Welt, and El Pais every morning. The latter being more than useful when I was in charge of UK embassies in Latin America which gets next to no coverage in the UK media.
When visiting south America I also made a point of asking UK ambassadors for a meeting with local Papal nuncios. The Vatican has a diplomatic network second to none especially in majority Catholic nations.
EU, like UK diplomats, are rarely good at getting domestic politics. Most famously, 10 Downing Street was sending MI5 reports on Bill Clinton frolics as Rhodes Scholar at Oxford to George HW Bush in 1992 even when it was clear to anyone who spent five minutes with the 1968 generation that had taken over the Democratic Party that Clinton was going to win.
Similarly, Tony Blair was love-bombing the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl right up to the moment he lost power in 1998 and New Labour’s contemptuous disparagement of the French socialists who won in 1997 did not help London-Paris relations in the years that followed.
So while Borrell’s demand that EU diplomats sharpen their reporting act is correct, the problem he faces is that the Europe’s national governments all think their policy wisdom is far superior to anything produced in Brussels.
After his invasion of Georgia in 2008, his annexation of Crimea in 2014, and his murder of Russians on British soil it might have dawned on policy-makers that Putin was not a nice chap.
But for 15 years Angela Merkel blocked all efforts to contain, let alone confront Putin. There were what Germans call Putinversteher in other European nations notably France and Italy. The ruling party in Britain both before and after Brexit rolled out red carpets for Putin oligarchs and ex-KGB agents, renamed parts of the British capital “Londongrad” and even took money from Putin oligarchs and cronies to finance UK politics.
Putin has always hated the existence of the European Union. He would love to see the EU breakdown into a myriad of rival national states as before 1939 which Russia can lord over. Powerful forces in the UK press, the City, and above all the Conservative Party were Putin’s useful idiots in delivering the major blow to European unity represented by Brexit, in which Russia also had a modest hand.
The paradox of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is that it has unleashed a surge of European unity and new thinking from common policies on energy, reducing dependence on Russian gas, helping poorer countries with EU member states Sweden and Finland ditching decades of neutrality to join Nato.
But Josep Borrell knows better than most that the driving force of EU foreign policy is the nation state. The most grievous foreign policy error that impacted Europe this century was the decisions of Britain to seek regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan and then the decision of Nicolas Sarkosy and David Cameron to unleash regime change in Libya and Syria.
Saddam and Gadaffi have gone and Syria is now in its second decade of civil war. But the failed states London and Paris brought into being have destabilised all of Europe.
The resulting civil wars and internal conflicts have sent millions of refugees and migrants to seek sanctuary and a new life in the EU. The politics of mass migration have led to ugly new nationalist identity politics across Europe from Poland and Hungary in the east to Sweden and France in the west or Italy and Spain in the south.
The famous Brexit ‘Breaking Point’ poster showed a snaking queue of refugees from the Middle East crossing through the Balkans.
Europe intervened at the beginning of the century to end the decades of Milosevic wars and Serb massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo. But when Milosvic was defeated key national governments of Europe, including Borrell’s Spain, sided with Putin’s man in the West Balkans – Milosevic’s aide, Alexander Vucic, who rules in Serbia and who refuses to make peace in Bosnia or recognise the existence of Kosovo.
The decisions of Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus to follow the Kremlin line on the West Balkans have left the region without hope with many of its citizens like in Albania scrambling to get to faraway UK to have a better future as their own country is left outside the EU.
It is not the fault of EU diplomats in the EU’s many embassies – called delegation missions – around the world that the nation states of Europe are not prepared to adopt a common line or take action against a rogue state leader like Putin before it’s too late.
The EU remains as did the European Community under different titles, a partnership of nation states, content to share some decisions mainly on technical regulatory matters, or adopt liberal policies on trade, movement of citizens, protection of data. But Europe is not yet willing to shape and agree a real foreign policy to stand up to tyranny and terror emanating from the Kremlin or promote democracy in much of the world especially in emerging powers of China and India or the religious identity dictatorships of the Arab world.