In the age of a raging pandemic, the last reminder we need is that of the US-EU relations. Especially, after the year the world has had and will continue to have, it is the last conversation anyone is willing to ponder. Yet, just as we did in 2008, we’re wondering what’s to come next. The two are very different though. 1. Truthfully, we never fully came out of the recession. 2. The past year brought the world to a complete stop at some point. If it wasn’t a stop, it was a pause. If it was neither, it was full-on conflicts, or a continuation of existing conflicts. Destruction is happening. However, rising against the destruction is also happening, following a series of movements begun in 2019.
US-EU relations in all that? Hardly consequential.
However, the question remains: has it been for the good? Or has it been more destructive than its worth? Before these, other questions arise: US-EU relations are at their lowest. Are they worth salvaging?
The European Union Studies Center (Graduate Center at City University of New York) interviewed Federica Mogherini, the former EU foreign policy chief, with this in mind. It was clear throughout the entire discussion that the EU is still searching for its own strong ground if it ever will. The relationship with the US, rocky at times because of diverging historical interests, seems important still. However, the EU is not the UK. There is no “family relationship” or “friendship” (term used for France) so what is to salvage is simply that of courtesy. According to Mogherini, the “partnership” is crucial for certain global issues, including regional. That is the most realistic declaration and there are certain problems with that. One is that most US interests are destructive forces globally and are responsible for many regional conflicts. Two is that the same can be said for the European countries. Mogherini at the end of the interview mentions the African conflicts when pointing out security issues but these do not date from 2020 alone. In relation, conflicts like Mali’s seem to drag on in part because of the external military intervention, this particular one by the French (also an ongoing EU military and civilian mission). Throughout the interview, she is invited to make a point on the EU’s relations with each part of the world and key “partners”. It comes out as more of a cumulative report, a defense of the Jean-Claude Juncker legacy (the former president of European Commission), and speculations on Europe’s future.
On the third point, she couldn’t be clearer. There are problems. In the past, too much emphasis was placed in the partnerships with the US. The aftermath of the US sanctions on Iran proved this: the EU has been greatly incapable of standing on its own two feet. That little episode was during Mogherini’s days. As Iran reminded Europe at the time, the world does not need the US that much. The nuclear deal became a skeleton as France insisted on pulling the US back into it. All this went on as both the US and the EU were confronted by China, Daech, crises in the Gulf’s Arab countries, the Brexit, Russia, and problems on the home front, amongst others.
Today, no issue has been erased. No crisis has been solved. A trade deal between China and Europe was recently signed to the outcry of many human rights activists, EU members of parliament, and countries such as Australia. “Europe is predictable”, Mogherini said, and China likes predictable. With its ambitious BRI project leading the way, China is hell bent on conquering the world. It is slightly reminiscent of the oil rich Arab countries during the 1970s… conflict is rarely fought without high stakes interests or genocide.
Many conflicts have occurred since WWII in that pattern. That is problematic, given the ideals both Europe and the US want to project. If democracy and human rights are so important, why is it that one has not been able to step up fully to the mark and the other has sown more conflict and division around the world than anything else? Why?
That, in particular, is skirted, in the interview as well as on the international stage today. Federica Mogherini mentioned security issues, which need full cooperation : geopolitical, territorial, socio-economic, political, migration, and climate. The question we should address is how much attention are we giving to certain matters rather than others? The question of diverging perspectives on how to approach Russia is a delicate one without doubt but there was a lot more said on that than was said on Turkey or the Silk Road project. An aggressive Russia is a threat, even the Iranian government saw that recently with dealings in the Caucasus. However, is it the only one worth discussing for hours? A point the EU Studies Center subtly puts forward by forcing the conversation towards Turkey. Discussing Turkey is also discussing the endless warfare in Iraq (2003) and Syria (2011), activity, which not only the US pursues but also Erdogan’s government. Discussing Turkey is also discussing Cyprus, who only wants peace and reunification but continues to be ignored even within the EU’s ranks. To that, Mogherini answered that US-EU joint cooperation can help solve Cyprus. Not only is it bluntly worded but it is also naïve. Naive, because again, an EU official believes only the US is capable of solving the crisis. Naive, because the EU is more than capable of supporting Cyprus, as it should do. One well placed harsh word here, a threat of sanctions there, and another action, place the EU at odds with its “good” neighbor. However, in any cast of action, actively defending Cyprus is defending state sovereignty.
Good US-EU relations or not, the US should not get involved in Cyprus. Demilitarizing and countering Turkey? By all means, do it. However, doing it by taking part in a conflict, already in a dead end as no one in Europe wants to solve except Cyprus and Greece, would only put more oil to flames. Such is the US’s track record since its modern founding. Given Biden’s recent decision to bomb Syria, that is not about to change unfortunately.
Mogherini seems to understand this. The EU is capable of making decisions without the US. The problem is the mentality. The European mentality has to change. The alt-right is not Europe’s only enemy. Indifference is also the enemy. It is the most predominant action for Cyprus and Greece. It is also the reaction for Turkey’s actions in Syria, the Caucasus, and the East Mediterranean. It can also be seen in the official reaction to the outcry for help to stop the Uighur genocide in China. Astonishment comes in when dealing with Hungary. Both are in play when reacting to seemingly the smallest event happening in the world. Yet, Mogherini joins the countless other European officials praising every and any trade agreement or economic partnership with a certain country or a certain group. Whereas the US, China, Russia, and Turkey play a game of odds to see who controls the UN (or NATO), the UN, according to Mogherini, is relying more and more on the EU “to foot the bill”. A paradox. For two “complex structures”, one bigger than the other, there is irony because the mere idea that one institution can support the world is outdated. It is a mere relic from one region’s former era.
If the world must change, which its people all over the world are demanding, then it will have to do so with a fair efficient effective and inclusive order. If they ever did, the old ways are no longer working. That is a fact. Not even Mogherini can deny it. On the contrary, she fully admits it, something not many world leaders are capable of. “Institutional and economic reform” is the term used. Rather, it is too generic for the mandatory task. A generic word has neither structure nor filling. Just like with “global governance”, the terms do no justice to the necessary acts implied by the use of these terms. A lot of damage happened over the past few centuries. Whatever “right” was “built” since the end of WWII pales in comparison to the damage, which continues today. The necessary reforms count for considerably much more than the word gives credit for. Not only each and every country worldwide has to agree to them, they apply to all the international organizations themselves. For those to happen, everyone has to agree.
The problem is that every elite seems to think they are the only ones capable of carrying it out. China’s actions concerning the Silk Road, Israel’s stance on Palestine or Iran, the US’s insistence that everything is “back to normal”, Russia’s and Turkey’s regional aggressiveness seeping into other regions, and even Europe’s insistence that they know best in the defense of human rights, all show the extremes each is willing to take in order to keep control. The result is more damage done than good. A conversation on honesty is long overdue, even before the Covid-19 pandemic reached its first headlines. Indeed, how can anyone believe that the UN is there for them or that NATO fights for peace? How can anyone believe if a huge trade agreement will bring more advantages to them and not just to the EU? Yes, Mogherini is right but only to an extent: countries should be able to choose what and who they can be, provided they’re not blindly choosing. Not many feel that way: trade and investments are very different worlds, intertwined but one has no conscience. Europe seems to think the two are one and the same, with either an appetite to grow its trade or either to adopt the US’ “savior” image.
That said, despite Mogherini and every other European’s assurances that the EU is breaking away from the US, it is not any different. With luck, hopefully, the relations will never be the same again. (If they are, then the EU will not learned its lesson same as in 2009.) Also, whereas the EU is effectively at a time in which it should assert itself more, it also needs to work internally on itself. Given the manner, which its current leaders (in particular, Mogherini’s successor) are adopting, it will take much longer than anyone has right now. With that in mind throughout the entire interview, it also clear that Mogherini, along with everyone else, is defending legacy as well as Juncker’s, a legacy, which can still be seen and heard in the silence or hesitations of the EU concerning certain events, for example conflicts or crimes against humanity.
And that is a whole other problem of itself..
As you can see, the photo has nothing to do with the analysis. The analysis took a long time to write and is nowhere near perfect. However, it is up.
For the full EU Studies Center interview with Federica Mogherini, you can watch it here.