The leaders of France, Germany and Italy have jointly visited Ukraine in an attempt to present a unified European front regarding the Russia-Ukraine war. The one-day visit was long on rhetoric but short on substance: European unity remains elusive.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the European Union responded the following day with a package of unprecedented economic sanctions aimed at isolating Russia.
The EU, which was praised for displaying “determination, unity and speed” in its response to Putin, was said to be facing a “transformative moment” that would allow the bloc to become a “geostrategic actor” on the global stage. An observer claimed that the EU had become “a top geopolitical protagonist” and that Europe “discovered that it’s a superpower.”
On March 21, less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, European officials announced an ambitious plan for the EU to achieve “strategic autonomy” aimed at placing the 27-member bloc on equal footing with China and the United States. The implicit objective was to enable a “sovereign” EU to act independently of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in matters of defense and security. That plan is now in shambles.
As the war has dragged on, European unity has collapsed and efforts to transform the European Union into a European superstate — a United States of Europe — have been exposed for what they are: delusions of grandeur.
Subscribe to GreatGameIndia
The EU’s largest member states — France and Germany — have sought to appease Putin at the expense of Ukrainian sovereignty. French President Emmanuel Macron, the strongest backer of European strategic autonomy, insists that Putin should not be “humiliated” and has even called on Ukraine to make territorial concessions to help the Russian dictator save face.
Meanwhile, German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz, for reasons that remain unclear, has stubbornly refused to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russian aggression.
The Franco-German appeasement has infuriated most Central and Eastern European members of the EU and NATO. They rightly fear that if Putin’s imperial pretensions are not stopped in Ukraine, he will set his sights next on them.
Russian revanchism, and the EU’s divided response, has produced a clear shift in the bloc’s balance of power on security matters. France and Germany have long arrogated to themselves de facto leadership of the EU — and have expected other member states to fall into line. The failure of Paris and Berlin to confront Putin’s aggression has created an EU leadership vacuum that Poland, the Baltic states and other former communist countries have filled. A return to the pre-war status quo seems unlikely.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has underscored the indispensability of the United States and NATO for European defense and security. France and Germany, by failing to defend the most basic Western values, have undermined their own trustworthiness and dependability. Other EU member states can be expected to strongly oppose any efforts to develop an independent European military capacity that undermines the transatlantic alliance.
Macron and Scholz in particular have repeatedly sought to accommodate Putin. Both, for instance, have held numerous one-on-one telephone calls with the Russian leader — calls that other EU member states have criticized as counterproductive because such conversations may convince Putin that he can end the war on his terms. After one such phone call on May 13, Scholz called for a ceasefire in Ukraine but did not demand that Russia immediately withdraw all its troops from Ukrainian territory.
Germany, despite repeated promises, still has not transferred a single heavy weapon to Ukraine, according to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Some say Scholz is playing for time. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel recently reported that Scholz refuses to utter the words “Ukraine must win” because he believes that Ukraine cannot achieve victory.
Others think the German chancellor is waiting for the war to end so that German industry can resume doing business with Russia. Whatever his motivation, Scholz’s dithering has seriously damaged Germany’s credibility, according to policy experts from across the political spectrum. Scholz seems unable or unwilling to consider, after the lessons of Britain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, that if Putin wins in Ukraine, he might turn his sights next on Europe.
Meanwhile, Macron has clung to his pretense of turning the EU into a sovereign superstate. During a speech to the European Parliament on May 9, the French president called for building a “stronger and more sovereign Europe” that can become “the master of its own destiny.” He added that the war in Ukraine “must not distract us from our agenda.”
Macron, who has provided military support to Ukraine, also warned against humiliating Putin and called for reaching an agreement with Russia “to build new security balances” in Europe. That was widely interpreted as a call for Ukraine to make territorial concessions to Putin.
On June 3, Macron repeated his warning about humiliating Putin. Speaking to French media, he said:
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded:
Polish President Andrzej Duda, in an interview with the German newspaper Bild, said that the phone calls with Putin were akin to talking to Adolf Hitler:
John Chipman, head of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, tweeted:
Some observers have speculated that Macron’s obsession with Putin’s humiliation stems from a faulty understanding of the June 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I. Long-standing orthodoxy has held that the terms imposed on Germany were humiliating and fueled the nationalist sentiment that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II, but contemporary scholars have challenged that narrative: the Treaty of Versailles, they say, was not tough enough on Germany.
Others suspect that Macron and Scholz are seeking a new 19th century-style Concert of Europe in which France, Germany and Russia agree to divide Europe into spheres of influence. Such an agreement would, presumably, turn Ukraine into a vassal state of Russia.
Still others believe that France and Germany are primarily concerned with protecting national business and financial interests in Russia.
German Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Bütikofer noted:
Bütikofer’s comment goes to the heart of the issue: national interests still matter. One of the EU’s founding myths has been that national sovereignty is an outmoded concept and that the national interests of the EU’s 27 member states can be subsumed under a new “European interest.” The war in Ukraine and the differing responses to it have proven that national interests still matter and will continue to do so.
Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, in an interview with Politico, argued that the only way to achieve lasting peace and security in Europe is for Russia to lose the war in Ukraine:
Meanwhile, transatlanticism is enjoying a surge in popularity. A new survey by Globsec, a think tank based in Bratislava, found broad support (79%) across nine countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) for NATO’s role as security guarantor.
The survey also found significant growth in the CEE countries’ perception of the United States as a strategic partner. In Poland, for instance, such perceptions increased from 54% in 2021 to 73% in 2022. By contrast, Polish perceptions of Germany as a strategic partner plummeted from 48% in 2021 to 27% in 2022.
“The perception that the US is a strategic partner has soared by 10 percentage points since 2021,” according to the report. “Washington is now viewed as a key ally in NATO by 3/4 of respondents in the CEE region.”
American foreign policy expert Elliot Cohen concluded:
Rhetoric versus Substance
On June 16, Macron, Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, arrived in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for the first time since the beginning of the war. The visit was designed, apparently, to dispel criticism of European disunity and inconsistent support for Ukraine.
The leaders pledged that the EU would not force Ukraine to surrender or give up territory to end the war. “Ukraine will choose the peace it wants,” Draghi said. “Any diplomatic solution cannot be separated from the will of Kyiv, from what it deems acceptable to her people. Only in this way can we build a peace that is just and lasting.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was also invited to attend the G7 Summit to be held in Germany on June 26-28, and the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
The three leaders expressed support for Ukraine to be given candidate status for EU membership, but Macron stressed that such status would be accompanied by a “roadmap” that would include “conditions.” Previously, Macron, Scholz and Draghi all said that Ukraine’s EU bid could take decades.
German MP Norbert Röttgen criticized Scholz’s trip to Ukraine as political showmanship:
Europe analyst David Herszenhorn, writing for Politico, noted:
Correspondents Guy Chazan, Roman Olearchyk and Amy Kazmin, writing for the Financial Times, concluded:
Irish analyst Judy Dempsey, in an article — “German Ambiguity Is Deciding Ukraine’s Future” — published by the Brussels-based think tank Carnegie Europe, wrote that Scholz’s delay in sending heavy weapons to Ukraine was hurting Kyiv’s chances of preserving its sovereignty, and that it was damaging Germany’s standing across Europe:
Former MI6 head John Sawers, in an article — “Macron is Playing a Risky Game on Ukraine” — published by the Financial Times, warned that the French president’s insistence that Putin should not be humiliated could lead to a premature ceasefire that locks in Russian gains:
Austrian political scientist Ralph Gert Schöllhammer, in an article — “Why Europe Hedges Its Support for Ukraine” — published by The Wall Street Journal, argued that Paris and Berlin worry that an EU with Ukraine could lead to a competing Warsaw-Kyiv axis:
German analyst Ulrich Speck, in an essay — “The Ukraine War and the Rebirth of NATO” — published by the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, concluded that the actions of Macron and Scholz has cemented NATO, not the EU, as the cornerstone of European security:
Soeren Kern is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Gatestone Institute, and the Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. This article was originally published on Gatestone Institute.
GreatGameIndia is being actively targeted by powerful forces who do not wish us to survive. Your contribution, however small help us keep afloat. We accept voluntary payment for the content available for free on this website via UPI, PayPal and Bitcoin.