Jean-Claude Juncker’s sycophantic letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday is nothing short of embarrassing but also deeply revealing. “Excellency” Juncker began, before congratulating the Russian President for his recent re-election. “I have always argued that positive relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation are crucial to the security of our continent,” he wrote.
The painstaking letter then goes on to nauseating effect about his desire for a “pan-European security order” with Russia. Let’s not forget here that Russia to many appears as a country whose government menaces its neighbours, seeks to swallow the Baltic states and kills its opponents abroad.
Congratulations on your re-election, President #Putin. I have always argued that positive relations between the #EU and #Russia are crucial to the #security of our continent. Our objective should be to re-establish a cooperative pan-European security order. pic.twitter.com/PiEGg56DBN
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) 20 March 2018
Juncker’s grovelling to the Kremlin has served to show the deep divisions that lie even within the establishment of the European Union. As a Pole, Donald Tusk, president of the council, has a proper understanding of Russian aggression. Tusk has declined to congratulate Putin. Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European parliament’s Brexit negotiator, tweeted: “This is no time for congratulations.”
This is no time for congratulations. We will always need dialogue with Russia, but closer ties must be conditional on respect for the rules based international order & fundamental values https://t.co/iVfhLB6TrL
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) 20 March 2018
What is becoming clear is that Brussels lacks any consistency when it comes to Russia. The EU nations themselves are divided north and south, as countries such as Italy taking a pro-Russian line, meaning they would never consider defending eastern Europe against Russian incursion. The Poles are in a very different place, literally squashed between a rock and a hard place with a militarily castrated Germany and Putin always on the expansionist lookout.
Whilst the EU can feign unity all it likes, it’s undeniable that when it comes to its own security both the establishment and the countries themselves are deeply divided.
But security isn’t the only divisive issue in the EU at the moment. The UK is the second largest contributor to the EU and is now poised to extract itself from this disastrous political experiment. Italy has just had an election that produced the worst possible outcome, thanks to a surge of populism leaving no prospect that the country will get the sensible pro-market reforms it requires. Italy has deep financial problems and it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of the end of quantitative easing, the European Central Bank‘s post-crisis emergency programme of “money printing” which props up banks and the financial system. There are those in Brussels worry deeply about what happens if there is a change in market sentiment towards Italy.
That concern makes any attempt by Brussels to play games with the City of London on Brexit, shutting down access, an extremely ridiculous idea. The City powers the debt machine that the EU, and Italy, relies on. The eurozone needs access to London and there is always the potential that should one country in the eurozone fall, the rest will follow.
The EU show a severe naivety when it comes to financial access to London however. They seemingly forget that London is one of only two global financial centres, the other of course being New York. European financial centres cannot possibly match the infrastructure and regulation that is already in place in London. The Bank of England themselves have said it makes no sense for it to be bossed about by email from the continent. There can be co-operation and equivalence but not oversight by Brussels and Frankfurt. Although there are financial countries that understand this, such the Netherlands or Germany, there are those within the EU27 who cannot comprehend that their financial prowess doesn’t match that of London’s.
Then there is of course the French President Emmanuel Macron, who is feverishly trying to reform the eurozone. Yet there is still little agreement among the others on how it might be done, or agreement from German voters about the nation that’s the engine of the eurozone transferring resources to other members.
All these sentiments on unity that we hear from the EU appear to just be smoke and mirrors.
So what does this mean for the UK?
The UK should have no reason to cower to the figures in the European establishment; the EU is just as divided as the UK but its divisions are even greater as they spread over a multitude of countries and policies. The EU needs a deal, especially on finance, and the UK needs to re-gain clarity, confidence and communication in the next round of negotiations.
However, the British should resist any temptation to be arrogant in the Brexit talks. Despite all of the issues in the EU, it’s economy is still performing well and Britain will need to remain a key player in trade and security in the area. The deal must be constructive but at the end of the day, the UK should remember that there is a lot of smoke in the EU. Any organisation that boasts about its unity is probably insecure.