Stability and security in Europe: back to power games

Europe: values instead of power

The European Union wanted to decrease the influence of mere power and increase the role of values internally and in international relations. Not everybody was happy about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and its inclusion into the Lisbon Treaty. But the majority view was, that these rights were the basis of the EU's internal development and of extending the EU or of integrating our neighbours into the EU. And as the European rights and values were also taken for universal rights and values - they were in fact based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- it was obvious to have them as foundation for the Common Foreign and Security Policy including the neighbourhood policy.

The EU as a community of values should gain strength out of its new orientation internally and externally. Post-modern international politics should overcome power and nationalism as the main determinants of bilateral and international relations. And the EU would be the first community to lead us into a post-modern, non-nationalist world.

Perhaps this was just a dream, a dream I dreamt as well in the hope of a new world, which would overcome not only past wars and conflicts but also authoritarian governance and governments. As I said before, the dual strategy for transforming the domestic and international structures were the big promises of the European Union. Today we are confronted with challenges inside the EU, but also outside especially by Russia but also by Turkey.

Challenges for the European dream

Inside the EU we see rising political forces who want to bring nationalism back and want to reduce European commitments to a minimum. These forces are in general on the right side of the political spectrum. They are partly in opposition to the traditional forces of the centre, like Front National in France.  But they are also - like in Hungary - in government. It is not by chance, that these forces are either in alliance with Putin's Russia or at least soft in criticizing his policies. The exception to this alliance is the nationalist right wing in Poland and the Baltic countries, which are extremely anti-Russian and for whom Putin comes close to Stalin.

Parallel to these internal challenges the EU is confronted with external challenges all around its borders by anti-European ideologies and forces. The biggest threat is Putin's Russia which is regaining determination and strength. But we have to confess, that this is predominantly a reaction to a growing western influence by Europe and the United States of America. Seen from an EU perspective, with its values interpreted as universally binding, the enlargement of NATO and the EU it was just a reaction to the "unnatural" domination by Russia in the disguise of the former Soviet Union.

But Russian conservative forces from Putin to the Orthodox Church see things differently. For them the destruction of the Soviet Union irrespective of the Communist regime - was the biggest mistake of modern times. And they want at least to stop further enlargements of EU and specifically NATO and recreate a zone of uncontested influence. Russia sees the development of the continent as a zero - sum game: what the West gains, Russia loses and vice - versa.

Putin's dream versus European logic

The main forces in Russia have another dream, contrary to the one of the main forces inside the European Union. We like to look into a new kind of future. For the Russia of President Putin the future must be built on some ideologies and aspirations of the past. The times of Russia as the defender and protector of the Orthodox community is not over. It is still - or again - a prime mover of Russia's foreign and domestic policy.

Perhaps the EU has missed a chance to involve Russia in its own political reconstruction of the European continent. But the European strategy was based on the aim of transforming not only its member countries, but also of its neighbours. Who wanted to join the EU would have to stick to the EU's rules including the respect for the basic human rights and values. And in some respect this is also true for NATO.

But even the neighbourhood policies in a wider sense were pushed in the same direction. The logic of that policy was that a democratic transformation will be followed by a policy of peace and cooperation. It was definitely not guided by logic of enhancing cooperating and common security in order to foster democracy and respect for human rights. This limited the effectiveness of all offers to Russia and of its chances to come to an agreement with Russia.

In a way it was the inverse logic of the Helsinki process. The - finally successful - idea of the Helsinki process and agreement was that with a closer relationship and some basic principles of co-existence, one could support the domestic transformation inside the communist countries. Of course the situation of 1975 cannot be compared to the situation after the breakdown of the communist regimes and the Soviet Union. The question is, if today we can and should go back to the strategy of 1975 which in some way would mean anew the recognition of power and national interests as basis of international, all - European politics.

The case of Turkey

Before I will come back to the question of an all European security policy, I want to have a brief look to Turkey. Many national and international observers compare Erdogan to Putin. A rising nationalism connected with a nostalgia concerning the former - Ottoman- Empire and the rising role of the dominant religion - Sunni Islam - are definitely showing some similarities between Putin's Russia and Erdogan's Turkey. And the authoritarian media policy of Putin and Erdogan show also some similarities. Erdogan's dream of being a leader of the Sunni world at least in the region failed and as president of a basically democratic NATO country he has a limited room of manoeuvre in sending troops into one of its neighbouring country.

Although there are some similarities in the strategies and philosophies of Putin and Erdogan, there are also stronger limits for Erdogan to effectively play a dominant role in the region of the Black Sea. In this connection, the EU should think how Turkey could be a strong partner - beyond some differences - in bringing peace and stability into our common neighbourhood. Especially as Turkey is a link and joint between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. But that would mean we have to look to Turkey not only from a perspective of accession negotiations based on community laws and values.

Opposite value orientation

De facto the system of values have been developing in different and often opposite directions between the EU on one side and Russia, but also Turkey on the other side. While the EU has trying to overcome nationalism a new nationalism was enhanced by the leadership in Russia and Turkey. While traditional - family values and religion play a decreasing role in the EU, Russian and Turkish leadership enhance these values and the role of their respective religion - Orthodoxies for Russia and Sunni Islam for Turkey. And this is also the basis for the demagogy of Putin and Erdogan against the secular, immoral EU which is trying to impose homosexuality on their neighbouring countries. But in-spite of this clash of values, we have to find a pragmatic way to avoid conflicts and wars.

And we always make exceptions to our value based foreign and security policy, if we find it necessary. For example, we negotiated with Iran on the nuclear file irrespective of values and democratic principles. And even more contradictory is the energy relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia. We like to have their oil and do not normally criticize them too much on their miserable human rights record. And concerning Israel, because of our disastrous history towards Jews in Europe and especially due to the Holocaust, we disregard many human rights violations against the Palestinians.

Universal values and Realpolitik

The big and decisive question we have to answer is, how we want to handle our determination to defend human rights and universal values internally, promote them externally and have a strategy of Realpolitik and pragmatism in our international relations. It would be wise not to give up our aspiration to build a new Europe based on democratic values and to start with a European Union which adheres to these values. Otherwise our European project is doomed to fail. In addition we should also use our possibilities and instruments to support forces in our neighbourhood, which are interested and able to promote democracy and respect for human rights.

But at the same time we should construct an all-European security system which can work also between the EU and some of its neighbours, especially Russia and Turkey, which have due to their present leaders, different core values as their political base. What we need are some common interests from energy and to market access.  

It would be important to find a way where we do not forget and deny neither our values nor our basic economic and political interests. The world around us did not follow our examples. Even we ourselves did not follow always our principles. Some military interventions like in Iraq, our migration and development policies and several other policies are not based on respect for international law or value oriented.

But in any case, in an interest driven world we cannot refrain from articulating and presenting our own interests, like peace and stability. In following these interests, it could be necessary sometimes to refrain from enhancing the transformations in our neighbour countries towards our values. In addition, in the long run, peace and stability may be more instrumental for the spread of our values, than starting with the promotion of our values and putting them as conditions for closer cooperation and establishing a common security structure for Europe.

Conditionality and More for More principle have limits

The highly overestimated "conditionality" does not always work. The same is true for the principle: "more for more", which should work as an incentive for reforms which would be honoured by additional financial support and market access. Also Russia uses the principle "more for more" but in a different way. They promise financial support not for reforms and respect for human rights but for orientation to Moscow. And that is often easier and less dangerous for the different elites, than democratic reforms, which could endanger them.

It was a mistake to see the development of peace and stability in Europe in a straight line parallel to the development of democracy and respect for human rights. In our conception both democracy and human rights on the one hand and peace and stability on the other hand would be realized and implemented at the same time with democracy and human rights having always the priority and taking a step in advance.

The Helsinki process with the KSCE in 1975 and the following creation of the OSCE has taken the inverse turn. It started with peace and stability and took Europe towards more democracy and respect for human rights and gave an enormous push for change. This cannot be repeated in the same way, but we should learn from it and give an upgraded OSCE a new chance.

Pragmatism is possible

In fact, as I mentioned before, we can also be pragmatic if necessary. When the EU wants an agreement with Russia concerning the Ukraine situation, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande are going to Minsk to meet one of the "outcasts" of EU neighbourhood policy. Belarus is under sanctions and contacts with officials from Belarus were anathema and "forbidden". But if higher interests are at stake we overcome these policies of sanctions and shake hands with horrible dictators.

Yes many of our neighbours, which are also neighbours of Russia have no or a very limited democratic legitimacy - from Belarus via Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan.  From this point of view they are rather inclined to ally themselves with Putin's Russia. But they are not always interested to be dominated by their big neighbour. They know too well - from the communist past of the Soviet Union - how often Moscow lacks respect for these mall neighbours.

Therefore all of Russia's neighbours have an interest in balancing the Russian dominance. And Europe has the chance to play that role and support them in having fair relations with them. With such a policy the EU has also at least some influence on human rights and basic democratic behaviour in these countries. It does not work the other way round, we should recognize that.

Such a pragmatic strategy is still possible to achieve, although Russia has already done some steps towards Putin's pet project of the Eurasian Economic Union. We did not take this project serious, now we have to do it. We cannot deny other countries to do, what we did in forming an economic and finally of a political community. But the EU is consisting of countries of different size and has a balance of some bigger countries and not one dominant force, even as for the moment Germany has the biggest weight.

Inside the Eurasian Union, Russia is by far the biggest member country and there is always the danger of strong dominance by Moscow. This gives a chance for the EU to have a double track strategy, to negotiate and to find agreements with this new Union and to strengthen the ties with the different member countries of that Union at the same time. Of course we should also strengthen the ties with the countries, which want to stay outsized this new Russian led organization.

Multiple Strategy needed

The EU therefore must design and develop a multiple and pragmatic strategy for the wider European security and stability. This strategy must address Russia, the Eurasian Union, and the different countries inside that Union and in addition the countries outside the Union and here predominantly Turkey. It must not be a either - or strategy, no it must be a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy in promoting our interests and respecting the interests of our partners.

Again I do not suggest that the EU should forget about human rights and universal values. But sometimes the indirect and slow way produces more results than the direct confrontation. In this respect we must also strengthen the people to people contacts with the help of a more flexible visa policy. Visa liberalization should not be regarded as a gift to responsible leaders, but as an instrument to spread knowledge about the EU and its values to visiting students, business people and tourists.

From Helsinki I to Helsinki II

Such a comprehensive strategy should be done with the traditional instruments of the EU, but we should also use the only existing viable forum of dialogue between all sides - besides the Council of Europe - the OSCE. This organization, which is the result of the Helsinki process, should be renewed, uplifted and strengthened. With the present crisis in the Ukraine, it is the only body, where daily contacts can soften the harsh confrontation between the opponents.

The OSCE cannot prevent crises and conflicts. But it can contribute to keep them in limits and finally also to solving them. We only can hope, that the existing Panel of Eminent Persons, who should come forward with proposals for a reform of the OSCE can produce some widely accepted document for creating a strong organization for a reset of European security and stability.

Such a document should not - as sometimes Russia wants - do away with promoting human rights and free and fair elections - but should strengthen some security elements and cooperation in relevant fields. To the existing "baskets" an "energy basket" could be added. All member countries of the OSCE have a big interest in supplying, receiving or transporting without disturbances oil and gas.

The free and uninterrupted flow of energy inside the OSCE area, at least in the wider European part of it, could be a common denominator for Europe's security. To develop such an agreement with some efficient mechanism of control and arbitration could be done outside a formal organization. But also inside a strengthened and deepened OSCE. And as we failed and missed to have direct supply from Central Asian countries for example via the originally planned Nabucco pipeline we have no alternative than to look for a multilateral agreement including Russia. But it could also be a chance to start a new and better European energy system.

Military security and the future of NATO

All the efforts for a comprehensive and multilateral "soft" security system are no substitute for the military solutions we need in Europe. And here NATO is indispensable and should not and must not be discarded. And with NATO the US is part of the European military security system and even with the US more and more engaged in Asia, this will not change principally. But NATO has two choices for its future development.

NATO could try to enlarge itself by new memberships from within the EU or from outside. This would definitely create new tensions, unless Russia is given an offer as well. For many this may be the solution for the present stalemate in Europe, but it will not be easy either to convince the Russia of today or even more to convince some of the new NATO members like Poland or the Baltic countries.

The other alternative is to refrain from any enlargement, at least in the near future and to embed NATO into a wider European or even global security system. And of course Russia would be on board of such a system. Agreements on armament and disarmament would be easier found inside such a framework and new trust and confidence could be built up. With such a system the peace dividend which has been very small could be decisive and to the benefit of the citizens, alas not to the benefit of the armament industry in East and West. 

 A Free Trade Zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok

Trade could and should be another instrument to bring countries across Europe together. Of course it is easier said than done. You would have to deal with standards and subsidies and many other issues. Europe has done already a lot of work on that, in order to create equal conditions in the different member countries. Nevertheless one could start a longer process, which could offer an economic rapprochement going beyond the rules of the World Trade Organization.

A free trade zone could be even an instrument of fighting corruption, unacceptable state intervention like subsidies etc. Important is not only to enhance trade but a – slow – closing of the different economic and economic policy gaps inside wider Europe.

Stability and security is not appeasement

The European Union is definitely in doubt how to develop its neighbourhood and foreign policy. It looks to different alternatives. What is needed is a new additive of realism and pragmatism, without giving up the value oriented principle for its own development. But foreign and neighbourhood relations cannot be built with the same bricks. Here we need a greater flexibility. EU's policy has to be built on two complementary tracks.

The citizens of Europe need a new all -European security system. This could be born out of an updated and deepened OSCE. Especially energy in a new "basket" could play a binding instead of a separating role. And we need to look for an enlarged military structure with NATO playing its role but without trying to enlarge NATO in opposition to Russia's strategic interest, at least as it sees it.  And even if Russia (and Turkey) are going into a different value direction, it is still time to come to some basic agreements for a new peace and security structure in Europe. Stability is not everything, but it is much better than war. And to try to preserve stability and step by step change is not appeasement. Transformation if it should sustainable needs often longer time than foreseen.  We should look to complement our strict rejection of border changes by three long term elements of European security policy:

1) EU should study and design an offer of a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok, an economic area, which could close many economic gaps between the EU and the rest of Europe including Russia

2) EU should reenergize the OSCE especially with an energy basket or chapter to guarantee the free and unimpeded flow of oil and gas to the benefit of suppliers, consumers and transit countries.

3) New forms of military cooperation between NATO and CSDP of EU and Russia should be found to manage military security in wide Europe and our common neighbourhood.

All these proposals and their implementation must not hinder us from carefully observing and accompanying Russia's activity in our neighbourhood, at our borders and inside the EU. We should not be naive in relation the present efforts by Russia to interfere in our internal affairs by influencing media and public opinion in general. That means, that one of our main battles has to be fought at the domestic "front", where the value foundations of the EU has to be not only defended but also strengthened. The really dangerous appeasement would be with those internal forces which are ready to forget the founding values and human rights of the EU.