Is Europe at odds with Russia? // New shape of Europe after Georgia // Redefining EU policy in the Caucasus

ES 25 August 2008

The surprise calling of an EU Summit for next week (1 September. NDLR) suggests the EU is at last getting serious about Georgia, and by implication about policy in the Caucasus altogether. Does this debacle spell the end of the soft-language doctrine? Is the EU to become a real player in the region?

The EU declaration of August 13 was imperfect. But Georgia has not become another Iraq, and there is a common position. So at least two cheers for the French presidency and the back-up of Angela Merkel. Crucially, it is now clear that the US and Europe no longer agree about Russia. There is no common geo-strategic view of transatlantic security, of how it should work, and how far it should extend.

Nor is there consensus about how to reanimate the relationship between the US, the EU and Russia without turning it into a Bermuda Triangle. Russia and Europe share the same continent, are mutually dependent, and cannot afford lasting conflicts. This is far less true of Russia and the US.

The US and USSR were what drove European federation, the US in a positive sense, the USSR because it posed a threat. It is now up to Europe to redefine its relationship to both, ranscending the faultlines of the Cold War (a trap the US is currently falling into again) as well as the mistakes made since 1989, among them the illusion that there is nothing more to fear from Russia.
Post-mortems of the ugly little Georgian war tend to focus on whether the EU could have done more, and whether a clear commitment at the Bucharest Summit to Georgian NATO membership might have avoided the conflict. Especially France and Germany are blamed for their reluctance. But they were right.

Neither Georgia nor Ukraine complies with NATO's core values. If Art. 5, the cornerstone of 'Pax Atlantica' is to mean anything, its guarantee should be dispersed with greatest caution. NATO enlargement sets the course and the agenda for EU enlargement. But NATO and the EU are not the same thing, and one of the 'triangle's' main problems is that the US tries to channel its European policy through NATO, not the EU, which is increasingly the main player and pole of attraction to its European neighbours.

NATO can win wars. Only the EU can sustain peace and prosperity. The Balkans are the best example for this, and it is now up to the EU to set the agenda for the grey-zone to its east. That implies more EU engagement in the Caucasus, and a realistic, 'art of the possible', assessment of what is doable with respect to Russia. Bold statements about 'new' Europe sound sweeter to Georgian ears than more matter-of-fact Franco-German formulations, but the latter are grounded in realpolitik. 'Core'-Europe, as evidenced by Germany shifting its position on Georgian NATO membership, is waking up to its responsibilities. A profound reassessment of the EU-Russia relationship has become urgent and, at least on this side of the Atlantic, there is a clear understanding that this is better (and perhaps only) achieved through the 1994 Partnership and Co-operation Agreement than with a new isolation of Russia.

The more unified Europe is the better. More hawkish member states have to understand that, even if they block a European consensus, trusting in US protection, they cannot prevent larger EU countries from making their own arrangements with Russia. At the same time the larger countries, notably Germany, have to recognise that, on their own, they have little leverage against Russia.

Given respect for - especially - Polish and Baltic States' concerns, a moderating approach to the US, and more firmness towards Russia, the Franco-German tandem can and should seize the opportunity to make Europe the balance between the US and Russia.

Ulrike Guérot