The abolition of vetoes does not make the EU more geopolitical

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This week, Merkel, Macron, Rutte and their colleagues will meet about the conditions at Europe’s external borders. Two months after the fake elections in Belarus, the EU is unable to impose sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. One Member State is blocking the decision: Cyprus. The island of more than 1 million inhabitants only wants to agree to the punitive measure for Belarus if the Union also imposes sanctions on its large neighbor Turkey, which violated Greek and Cypriot territorial waters with a lot of power this summer. This brutal linking of subjects is met with little understanding.

Ten days ago, the foreign ministers passed the matter on to the leaders. Merkel and Macron had to push the obstructive Cypriot president Anastasiades into his cage, was the thought. Only the summit planned for last week was postponed at the last because of a Covid case in the entourage of summit chairman Michel, who wanted to comply with the quarantine obligation. Video meetings on sensitive topics such as Russia and Turkey are pointless, so everyone will come to Brussels on Thursday – in the hope of restoring unity and capacity to act.

In EU circles, the Cypriot blockade is a textbook example of what is wrong with Europe’s foreign policy. How can Europe ever become a ‘player’ between the great powers America, Russia and China if one member state can take the whole club hostage?

The seemingly simple solution: abolish the vetoes. This is how Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reasoned in her recent State of the Union, the opening speech of the political season. And damn, for few proposals the European Parliament gave her more applause than when she advocated voting by majority on sanctions from now on.

Yet that is too bluntly. Take the Cypriot veto. This is a cry for attention, in a vital cause for the country itself. The unanimity rule is emergency life insurance. You can’t pull that card for every trifle in the EU, you will lose all credit. Cyprus is also only holding out because it is quietly receiving support from France, which also believes that Turkey should be tackled more harshly. The demand for unanimity forces all to reach agreement with 27. Open debate, substantive confrontation and insight into each other’s motives form, if successful, the basis for a lasting agreement. If the power of arguments is not enough, then behind the scenes other means of pressure against sleepers are conceivable than just the sword of the majority vote – a sword that can also leave deep wounds, as was shown in a vote on asylum quotas in 2015.

In essence, the debate about veto versus majority is a Brussels reflex, a flight into policy instruments and procedures. More is needed to make Europe a player that defends its own interests robustly: a fundamental change in mentality, in strategic reflexes, in self and world view. Political philosopher and former Kremlin adviser Hans Kribbe writes that in his recent publication The Strongmen. European Encounters with Sovereign Power. It is a painstakingly written, masterful analysis of the logic and rationality of power politics. Faced with the claims and pranks of the strongmen surrounding us – Putin in Ukraine, Xi in the Balkans, Erdogan in the Mediterranean, Trump with sanctions – Europe must free itself from the role of the referee who, high above the game, proclaims universal truths. A player takes to the field and accepts, says Kribbe, to be in a battle over land, technology, influence, prestige – knowing that the opponents understand only the language of power. This metamorphosis is radical. You lose grip: the nice feeling of the referee’s whistle. But you also gain something: the freedom to determine interests, develop strategies, stand up for yourself.

Just about all responsibilities say that Europe must go the way of the player – Rutte last year in Zurich (“less naive”), Von der Leyen when she took office (“Geopolitical Commission”), Macron when he can (“sovereignty”). But the referee’s role continues to draw. See how Germany got into the mediating role in the summer near-war between Greece and Cyprus with Turkey.

I am not saying that it is necessarily a good idea to punish Turkey harshly. Erdogan could hit back hard. But who as a player wants to be able to deal a blow, must be strong himself. And accept the inevitable tension between being true to our highest values ​​and the ability to survive.

Luuk van Medelaar is a political philosopher, historian and professor of EU law (Leiden).





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