BRUSSELS – In a major development, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said it was time for the European Union (EU) to reconnect with Russia and stop “attacking” it, in striking contrast to the US which have placed increasing accusations and sanctions against Moscow. These statements are in concert with a swiftly developing trend that the Center for Syncretic Studies, Belgrade, has been forecasting since 2014, where the EU will carve an independent course from the Atlanticism of the US.
Surprising some, and reassuring others, Juncker spoke to an audience at an event on EU reform in Brussels, Belgium. Although his statement had some mixed messages meant to demonstrate a continuity with the EU’s formerly more pronounced Atlanticist line, the overall message was conciliatory.
Atlanticism, or transatlanticism, has been the working model of the US in its relations with post WWII western Europe. On the military front, it was represented by NATO, economically by the integration of European capital firms, mostly banks, into US banking firms. At the level of ‘development’, this took the form of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
From the erroneous point of view of Soviet leadership in the late 1990’s, ideology was the main obstacle separating east from west, and that an economic ‘integration of equals’ – of Europe with the Soviet bloc – would take place if the USSR let go of its nominally Marxist-Leninist ideology and related economic structures. This is not what happened, and instead the US transformed its list of nuclear strike targets – mostly industrial plants – into a list of economic sabotage and corruption sites.
“So we have to go back, I would not say normal relations with Russia, but there are so many areas, so many domains, where we can cooperate better with research and innovation and others, not forgetting our differences. Russia needs to be closer,” he said.
While Juncker’s speech was intended to be conciliatory, however, the EU is still straddling a delicate line.
As CSS analysts have long articulated, there are three main power groups in the EU – Atlanticists, Europeanists, and Eurasianists. Europeanists have always been the dominant group, followed closely by Atlanticists, but the assessment on how to go about a Europeanist developmental trajectory settled on the path as the Atlanticists. Eurasianists were mostly those representatives of European firms directly reliant on Russian energy sources. Eurasianism is an expanded version of Europeanism in one critical sense – creating mutual supply-line interdependence would help to greatly ensure that development on the Eurasian continent, which includes Europe, would be balanced.
It is also thought that this mutual interdependence would greatly decrease the chances of war. WWII was essentially a Eurasian civil war, which led to the deaths of as many as 80 million people. It marked a huge set-back in Eurasian economic development, and led to the rise of the unscathed US, safely located across the Atlantic, as one of two global superpowers.
Juncker’s remarks are therefore historic in nature. Reflecting this delicate line that the EU now straddles, he offered conciliatory words to ‘middle-European’ states whose ideological agenda has been set by Washington far more so than by Brussels or Berlin. To that end, he said that the EU would never accept “what Russia did” to Ukraine and the Crimea, referring to the crisis of 2014 in Kiev that led the current Ukrainian government to power, and the subsequent referendum held in Crimea, which resulted in more of 90% support for reunification with Russia.
One of the main arguments for better relations is the size of Russia. “We have to keep in mind that the whole territory of the EU has about 5.5 million square kilometers. Russia [has] 70.5 million square kilometers,” Juncker said.
However, the size of Russia did not prevent the EU and its allies from compromising diplomacy with a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats two months ago. A total of more than 100 were sent back to Russia from more than a dozen countries, accused of being undercover spies.
At the same time, it is important to separate such stunts as the diplomatic expulsions – acts of desperation – from actual policy changes and attitudes now increasingly taking place in the EU.
The evictions were initiated by the UK in its effort to blame Moscow for the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March this year. London paved the way with 23 deportations, but the United States outnumbered this by expelling 60. Most others limited the expulsions to one to four diplomats. Russia has mirrored the act with an equal number of evictions.
Reinforcing Juncker’s ‘new line’, which reflects the EU’s official position in a number of ways: Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz emphasized the need to build bridges and maintain a “mature and trust-based” relationship with Moscow amid a series of accusations.
Juncker had previously been criticized by the remaining and far from irrelevant Atlanticist power groups in the EU, for not being hostile enough to Russia. In March, he congratulated Vladimir Putin on his election to a fourth term as Russian President, provoking the ire of leading European officials and journalists.
Juncker’s words are indicative of a growing “discomfort” in the EU over the continuing demonization of Russia, believes international politics professor Tara McCormack of the University of Leicester, especially since the US started a trade war against its transatlantic partners with tariffs imports.
“I think Juncker is really reflecting a broader feeling in other EU states that whatever the differences, the relationship between the EU and Russia needs to be a little normalized … I do not think Russia will be replaced [by the US ], but I think this potential trade war reflects the kind of fissure in the relationship between the EU and America,” she said in a public statement to Russian media.