A ‘geopolitical EU’ remains little more than a consolatory fantasy predicated on its power of attraction — the queue to join.
At the end of October, the president of the EU parliament Roberta Metsola was asked by a journalist whether the EU would formally open Ukraine and Moldova’s accession talks after granting candidate status to these countries in 2022.
“If a country looks to Europe, then Europe should fling its doors wide open. Enlargement has always been the European Union’s strongest geopolitical tool.”
Though Metsola simply rephrased statements made by the head of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen and by the president of the European Council Charles Michel, her word choice offers an excellent insight into the ideological underpinnings of EU expansionism.
Metsola conflates Europe and the European Union, but this is not simply a slip of the tongue, Brussels has a long tradition of assuming that the EU equals Europe and countries lying outside its borders are not truly European otherwise they wouldn’t be ‘looking to Europe’. To become European is to become ‘civilized’ since outside the ‘garden of Europe’ people live in a ‘jungle’, at least according to EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
The EU, posited as the embodiment of superior values, has a moral duty to open its doors and admit those unfortunate countries that are currently locked out of this garden of delights, and by doing so, rescue them from some unspecified danger. Basically, a variation on the colonial theme of the white saviour. Then Metsola offers the decisive argument in support of enlargement: well, duh, it’s a geopolitical tool to make the EU stronger.
Whether enlargement would make the bloc stronger as its proponents claim or, on the contrary, accelerate its implosion, has divided opinions for two decades. Metsola conveniently forgets to mention that without unanimous agreement accession talks can’t even be started, but of course Eurocrats can’t let facts get in the way of a good narrative.
The metaphors used by Metsola (the door) and Borrell (garden/jungle) reinforce the spatial dichotomy inside/outside that culturally reflects the opposition between positive and negative values, civilization and barbarism. Without a ‘chaotic’ external sphere, actual or imagined, the internal structure wouldn’t appear orderly, actually it wouldn’t appear at all: figure and background would blend in a continuum.
Positing the existence of a dangerous jungle inhabited by barbarians is essential to maintain the illusion of order and civility inside. Problem is, at each round of enlargement the entropy of the system increases. History has shown that when imperial expansion is attempted without the necessary preconditions — a sufficiently strong military and an economy capable of sustaining it, an effective leadership, an ideology that spurs the desire for empire, and healthy institutional ties between the core and the periphery — the result is inevitably overreach, failure and defeat.
But don’t ask our eunuchs about empires, especially the overstretched one they serve. They believe their own propaganda and are committed to “protecting, promoting and projecting European values, defending democracy and human rights in the interest of the common, public good. Fostering stability and prosperity in the world, protecting a rules-based world order, is a basic precondition for protection of the Union’s values.” When it comes to EU statements parody is unncessary, the original achieves the same comedic effect.
Whether further expansion is good or bad for the EU has become the modern equivalent of the old Byzantine discussion over the sex of angels, and while no agreement can be reached, the process has largely stalled after the biggest wave of new members joined in 2004 and Croatia in 2013.
So why has it topped the agenda of so many Eurocrats in the last two years? Mainly because supporters of expansion hoped that they could leverage on the unity that the EU mustered vis-à-vis the conflict in Ukraine to push through a a proxy imperialist project fuelled by Washington’s magical thinking.
The cornerstone of this project was the full capture of Ukraine whose NATO-trained army should have dealt a decisive blow to Russia. As we know, things aren’t exactly going to plan and that unity of purpose now seems as precarious as Ukraine’s future.
Ukraine had been promised EU candidate status for years and finally received it in return for a blood sacrifice. Obviously, it doesn’t qualify for membership, and the prospect of sitting in a crowded waiting room with other candidates for the foreseeable future isn’t exactly worth dying for. Brussels has to first find and then dangle a more appealing carrot at a time when opinion polls show that support for Ukraine is waning.
After coming to the defence of the U.S. ‘rules-based-order’ the EU has a bag full of IOUs, a weakened economy, and Borrell’s garden of earthly delights increasingly resembles the dark panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych.
One may think that discussing EU enlargement while the bloc faces major crises that are stress-testing it to break-point is the epitome of insanity. Actually, some commentators have already drawn parallels between the EU’s leadership and Nero fiddling as Rome burned. But allegedly Nero did something else besides fiddling, he blamed Christians for the fire. Offering an enemy within or an enemy without, is a tried and tested tactic to crush dissent and consolidate power.
And that is exactly what Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock tried at a recent conference in Berlin dedicated to EU enlargement. She told 17 foreign ministers from EU and candidate countries, including Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba, that the EU must expand to avoid making everyone vulnerable.
“Putin’s Moscow will continue to try to divide not only Ukraine from us, but also Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans. If these countries can be permanently destabilised by Russia, then that also makes us vulnerable. We can no longer afford grey areas in Europe”. Whatever happened to promises of economic growth, investments and access to a wealthy market?
As they all sound pretty hollow in 2023, Baerbock invokes the bogeyman. Gone is all pretence that the EU and NATO pursue different strategies.
With the door to NATO closed to Ukraine and Washington shifting its focus to the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific, the burden of supporting Ukraine “to defend Europe” has been dumped on the EU.
If painting Russia as a threat has long been used by the U.S. to keep NATO alive, in more recent years it has been exploited to unify the foreign and defense policy of EU member states. Washington promoted and facilitated a vertical consolidation of power in the EU in order to outsource to Brussels some of the policing and punitive functions that enable its global capital accumulation and underpin its hegemony.
According to its calculus, dealing with one collective vassal, the EU, would be easier than managing several squabbling and competing European vassals. This strategy reflects Washington’s poor grasp of Europe’s history and complexity and that’s why it is unlikely to produce the desired results, especially since European interests were sacrificed at the altar of American ones.
After siphoning off wealth from EU countries and restricting their room for manoeuvre, the pie has shrunk and it’s only natural that the scramble to get a slice will intensify. Looting and cannibalizing your allies isn’t exactly a smart move, it reeks of desperation and is a clear sign that the U.S. is financially and militarily overextended.
The economic and industrial decline in EU countries now seems unarrestable. It couldn’t be otherwise when you are trapped in an abusive and exploitative relationship that denies you the freedom to choose your friends and business partners.
The economic and geopolitical centre of gravity has moved eastward, the unipolar world order that emerged in the 1990s is unravelling and a new multipolar order is taking shape before our eyes.
Instead of following the pragmatic path of Eurasian integration and bolstering mutually beneficial economic ties with China and Russia, the EU has embarked on a suicide mission for its curators in Washington in the doomed attempt to weaken Russia and contain China.
For years the EU had been allowed to benefit from the U.S.-led globalization drive; it developed trade relations and multilateral cooperation with neighbouring countries and the rest of the world.
The U.S. rather than accept the emergence of a new multipolar reality, chose to reverse globalization and split the world into two blocs, creatively framing the competition as an ideological confrontation between democracy and autocracy. Trade protectionism increased, international investments were subjected to heightened scrutiny on national security grounds, data-flow restrictions proliferated, sanctions became the norm.
After being condemned to geopolitical irrelevance, European countries are called upon to foot the bill of U.S. imperial ambitions and provide military assistance. A report published by the RAND corporation in November acknowledged that the U.S. defence strategy and posture have become insolvent and recommended a different approach:
“The tasks that the U.S. government and its citizens expect their military forces and other elements of national power to do internationally greatly exceed the means available to accomplish those tasks.
The United States cannot and should not on its own attempt to develop the requisite operational concepts, postures, and capabilities required to realize this new approach to defeating aggression. The imperative for allied and partner participation is about more than just generating the resources needed for a credible combined defense. Because deterrence is about more than raw military power, solidarity among the leading democratically governed nations is required in diplomatic and economic dimensions as well. And closer cooperation and interdependence in the defense arena will have beneficial spillover effects in other areas, helping facilitate coordinated action to meet common challenges.”
To better assist the moribund hegemon, the EU is being told to enlarge and reform. Actually reform is deemed even more urgent than enlargement because the U.S. fears that the EU’s ability to carry out the prescribed task might be undermined by a handful of countries exercising their veto power. At the centre of the conversation is the EU’s unanimity rule, which means every country must agree before the bloc can make a decision on issues such as foreign policy, assistance to Ukraine or tax rules.
It is no coincidence that the loudest arguments in favour of EU expansion and majority vote in lieu of unanimity are being heard in Atlanticist circles. Washington needs to strengthen control over Europe’s foreign and security policies and that’s why it has intensified pressure on France and Germany, as well as other European states that are resisting the prospect of Ukraine, Moldova and West Balkan states joining the club in the future.
The capture of Europe
In the kind of EU that Paris and Berlin dreamed of 30 years ago, Baltic and Eastern European countries would provide cheap land and labour, and new untapped markets for their companies — the ideal Lebensraum for ambitious, enterprising Western Europeans. This neo-colonial scenario would be assisted by cultural imperialism and facilitated by geographical proximity.
But in the post-Cold war euphoria the Franco-German tandem didn’t pay attention to the Stone Guest: the expansion of NATO was proceeding at a much faster pace than the enlargement of the EU. Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, NATO hadn’t been disbanded, if anything its mission “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” had been given new impetus after NATO welcomed states whose new political elites had been groomed exactly for that mission.
Not only would the Americans call the shots louder than before, they could count on more allies to do exactly that. As new member states joined the EU, their anti-Russian sentiment also started playing a disproportionate role in shaping EU relations with Russia. As a matter of fact, Russophobia was actively cultivated in post-Soviet states to prop up fragile, and in some cases totally artificial, national identities, and lend legitimacy to new rulers.
In order to glue together new and old members and attract more candidates, the EU turned political problems into technocratic ones, relied on legal procedures and allocated or withdrew financial resources to impose its ‘vision’, became an ideational actor and a ‘global teacher’ of neoliberal principles, Western ‘values’ and EU standards.
To conceal its anti-democratic nature and legitimize an invasive bureaucratic apparatus completely disembedded from the wider society, the EU turned into a giant PR machine that drained resources to project moral authority and keep up appearances.
Lacking democratic legitimacy, the EU had to invest considerable resources in creating a simulacrum of democracy. Lacking a demos, it had to invent one through a ‘civilizing mission’ that was undertaken with missionary zeal.
In order to create the new ‘European demos’, national, cultural and religious identities had to be diluted first (or artificially inflated where they served an anti-Russian function), one step at a time, starting from kindergarten, and then replaced by some woke ersatz provided by the likes of the WEF and Open Society Foundations — the social engineering path to civilization!
One should bear in mind that the EU is neither an independent geopolitical actor, nor a ‘geopolitical power’, regardless of what Borrell or Von der Leyen rave about. The EU was created to drain power away from member states, erode their sovereignty, so that they will never become a challenge to U.S. interests and power.
As a result, the EU isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, it’s the geopolitical equivalent of a black hole. Its institutional architecture, an intricate network of talking shops, is so mind-boggling and mind-numbing that Henry Kissinger, when he was U.S. Secretary of State, famously quipped “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”
Neither an international organisation nor a nation state, the EU can be described as an artificial supranational polity. This takes the form of numerous mutually penetrating networks of social, economic, political, ideological, interconnections which include, at different levels and stages, supranational mechanisms, national governments, regional administrations, multinational corporations, and interest groups whose reach is international.
So when we talk about the EU we should remember that it is run like a private club for a cluster of transatlantic corporations and financial elites. Their lobbies and think tanks control the knowledge and information that shapes public opinion and that figureheads act upon — EU leaders are invariably failed politicians and mediocrities whose political careers were facilitated by the same lobbies that own them and dictate their agenda.
As these transatlantic elites engage in a global struggle to maintain and increase their power, seize and control resources, from digital data to natural resources, they form cartels when their interests coincide, or compete for political influence when their interests diverge.
The ‘culture wars’ that have made rational debate virtually impossible in the West are often fuelled by these elites as they have the means to mobilize political resources — people, votes and parties — around certain positions on cultural issues.
The European integration process is an imperialist project both in the sense of the relation of the EU to the rest of the imperialist chain, but also inside the EU in the uneven relations between the different countries.
The signs of a deep crisis of European integration have multiplied, Brexit being the most obvious but not the only example. The growing crisis of legitimacy is also exemplified in the reaction of voters in EU countries.
Contrary to the accusations of ‘populism’ and ‘nationalism’ addressed to anyone who is critical of European integration, what emerges is rather the anxiety caused by people’s sense of a lack of control over their own lives, disbelief against the undemocratic institutional and political framework of the EU.
Since living standards continue to drop and promises of prosperity and social welfare in the European garden are largely unmet, dissatisfaction and dissent are rising, and not only among ordinary people. Some national elites have become more restive too because they are penalized by the EU hostility against Russia, and increasingly China. EU’s potential for economic growth has been exhausted and the majority of the bloc’s members suffer from chronic budget deficiency and excessive state debt.
But since the U.S. needs all hands on deck to prop up its rapidly waning hegemony, the EU doubled down on its role of enforcer of the U.S. rules by interweaving NATO and the EU into an architecture of control and propaganda — hybrid warfare has been unleashed against the European population under the guise of defending it from Russian disinformation. In such a context more resources are being diverted to the defence and security budget, and to U.S. proxies such as Ukraine.
No matter how you spin it, it is obvious that only a handful of well-connected companies benefit from an increase in member states’ military expenditure and R&D.
The Covid-19 emergency offered the U.S. the perfect opportunity to check if all its European ducks were in a row. For the first time in its history the EU adopted a joint procurement strategy: the joint procurement of vaccines not only tested cohesion, coordination, the ability to ‘act quickly’ and mobilize financial resources, it constituted a precedent that later facilitated the joint procurement of weapons for Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions on Russia.
The exclusion of Russian and Chinese vaccines showed that the EU could be trusted to obey orders even if they conflicted with its economic interests — U.S. mRNA vaccines were more expensive than the alternative and relied on a technology whose safety hadn’t been proven.
The EU media and political debates deployed the language of warfare by referring to a ‘war’ against Covid-19, the virus was ‘fought back’, medics and paramedics were described as ‘front-line soldiers’.
A cognitive metaphor of war helped structure the perception of reality. The state of exception was normalized, leading to the suspension of constitutional rights.
The pandemic offered the pretext to carry out the most far-reaching psychological operation ever attempted in peace time: any public display of dissent or non-compliance with nonsensical rules was harshly repressed, media and social media were weaponized to brainwash and censor the public, the capacity of the EU new army of ‘fact-checkers’ was boosted and the scope of digital surveillance was extended.
Lockdowns led to huge economic losses (and gains for a handful of mostly American tech and pharma companies) but also to a paradigm shift in the EU fiscal, monetary and investment policies, notably through the adaptation of State aid to allow member states to support their economies by means of more direct intervention.
It signalled a break from the austerity policy adopted after the financial crisis of 2008. As states became more indebted they had to cede even more sovereignty to the EU: the development strategies and goals of member states had to align with priorities set by the EU and mainly benefitting the U.S. The debt trap was presented as a recovery plan with high-sounding names such as Next Generation EU (NGEU) — €360 billion in loans and €390 billion in grants.
As they say, never let a crisis go to waste. An emergency creates a sense of urgency and the need to act quickly, which seriously reduces the ability to think carefully. This approach paved the way for the acceptance of even greater losses later, when the EU imposed sanctions on Russia that turned into a boomerang. Any hesitation to give up Russian gas was promptly pre-empted by its American ‘partner’ through the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.
Eurocrats who love being loved, especially the pay-to-play manifestation of love, are now kept on a shorter leash. It is estimated that there are around 30,000 registered lobbyists in Brussels and they have been spreading love for decades. But in more recent times only U.S.-vetted lobbyists have been granted free rein. It appears that the arrests that followed the Qatargate were a warning to eurocrats: accepting bribes from certain foreign actors like Qatar will no longer be tolerated. Transatlantic interests must always come first.
EU enlargement — cui prodest?
Though expansion has been enshrined in EU official documents as a geo-strategic imperative, the EU is now facing far bigger challenges than it did in the post-Cold War years. In the early Noughties, European leaders discussed whether to enlarge the union, absorbing Eastern bloc countries, or to deepen its integration. They tried both and the result is an unsustainable mess according to all socio-economic indicators, even before you factor in the mind-blowing cost of supporting Ukraine, the loss of affordable energy resources from Russia and boomerang sanctions.
Think tanks, eurocrats and the media have recently increased their efforts to spin past examples of EU enlargement as a success and future enlargement as an opportunity, but outside their echo chambers scepticism is growing and enlargement fatigue has set in.
If enlargement is being discussed is because talk is cheap. Ask North Macedonia, a country that was granted candidate status in 2005 and is still on the waiting list. The application of Ukraine and Moldova was hastily accepted in 2022 to dangle a carrot in front of them, knowing perfectly well that neither country meets criteria to join the union.
Besides, it’s still better for the EU to keep them on the hook, never sealing the deal. Nine countries were formally made the same promise, and you can’t fast track Ukraine and Moldova’s accession without causing resentment.
But as Washington fears that ‘politically and economically vulnerable countries’ would lose patience with the EU, and find more attractive partners to support their development, namely China and Russia, the EU has to keep making promises and most crucially, bankroll political elites in neighbouring countries to bolster their power and clientele. The U.S. is also counting on the EU to fund Ukraine’s war efforts and the reconstruction of whatever will be left of this failed country when the military conflict ends.
Let European taxpayers pick up the bill: the EU’s support to the Kiev regime has now reached €85 billion and Von der Leyen promised more will come. An additional €50 billion for the ‘Ukraine Facility’ was proposed by the European Commission for the years 2024 to 2027. In 2022 the European Parliament had approved €150 million to prop up Moldova’s puppet government.
As the EU cannot expand without imploding, France and Germany invited 12 experts to form a a working group on EU institutional reforms. They have come up with a set of proposals for a multi-speed construct that would allow some member states to integrate more deeply in certain areas and prevent others from stopping them. The report proposes to get rid of the requirements for unanimous voting, even if scrapping vetoes entails accepting different levels of commitment.
It envisages four tiers of membership, the last two falling outside the EU altogether. These ‘concentric circles’ would include an inner circle whose members could have even closer ties than those that bind the existing EU; the EU itself; associate membership (internal market only); and the looser, less demanding tier of the new European Political Community.
The main ‘advantage’ for the Collective West is that all the countries of this ‘Europe’ will be cut off from Russia and Belarus, but it’s not clear what are the advantages for countries in the outer tier given that they will have limited or no access to the Single Market but are expected to give up part of their own national sovereignty in favour of Brussels, losing autonomy and room for manoeuvre in a multipolar world.
Last October, the European Political Community — a talking shop that includes leaders of EU countries, EU candidates, Switzerland, Norway, the UK, and even Armenia and Azerbaijan — convened in Granada to discuss a potential enlargement of the bloc.
The meeting was supposed to strengthen resolve but instead it deepened the reservations of those who never warmed up to the idea of enlarging the EU at the expense of current members. Some members have already done the math and realized that if the proposed EU enlargement goes ahead they will have to pay more to and receive less from the EU budget: net receivers will become net contributors. Understandably they are not too excited at the prospect.
While increased EU-NATO integration and eastward expansion created new powerful lobbies and a new class of ultra-Atlanticist eurocrats, EU member states lost any semblance of strategic autonomy and therefore any chance to protect or advance their economic and geopolitical interests.
Initially it was the working class of Southern and Western European countries that bore the brunt of the EU expansion, then the middle class too started to feel the pinch. These days Italy’s GDP per capita has fallen to Mississippi’s level, the poorest state in the U.S.; France’s is a little better, it falls somewhere between Idaho’s and Arkansas’, while Germany’s, the engine of the European economy, matches Oklahoma’s. Not exactly a success story.
Though EU sceptics have become more numerous and vocal in these countries, their political influence is limited. Their adversaries represent the interests of a new political and economic elite that emerged through both the material and symbolic co-constitution of the administrative and bureaucratic apparatus of the EU. This elite, through the apportionment and disbursement of funds, can induce compliance or reward the loyalty of politicians. By controlling the purse strings, it can act as kingmaker in any EU country.
It goes without saying that this elite shares the habitus and neoliberal ideology of transnational elites more at home in London and New York than in Brussels. It would be naive to expect it to defend European interests. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t. The eurozone countries, which 15 years ago had a GDP of a little over thirteen trillion euros, today have increased it by two miserable trillion, while the U.S. has almost doubled its GDP (from 13.8 to 26.9 trillion euros) despite its smaller population.
According to the Financial Times, in dollar terms, the European Union economy is now 65% of the United States economy. That’s down from 91% in 2013. American GDP per capita is more than twice that of Europe, and the gap continues to widen. Brilliant work!
If EU leaders are routinely bypassed in favour of national leaders in international negotiations it’s because the EU fits the definition of a paper tiger. The unity shown vis-à-vis the proxy war in Ukraine can’t be sustained for long and its main American and European architects will no longer be in office in a year time. Europe’s political setup militates against a proactive foreign and defence policy.
So, when Borrell raves about the need for Europe to turn from a soft power to a hard power, he conveniently forgets that the EU is not a state actor. It has some of the attributes of statehood — legal personality, some exclusive competences, a diplomatic service and some EU countries have a common currency — but ultimately it is a hybrid and as such is not equipped to play a 19th century ’great game’ of power politics. And, to be honest, it will not be equipped to do so for many years to come.
A ‘geopolitical EU’ remains little more than a consolatory fantasy predicated on its power of attraction — the queue to join.
By Laura Ruggeri, Born in Milan, she moved to Hong Kong in 1997. A former academic, in recent years she has been investigating colour revolutions and hybrid warfare. Her analyses and opinion pieces have been published by China Daily, DotDotNews, Qiao Collective, Guancha (观察者网), The Centre for Counter-hegemonic Studies, et al. Her work has been translated into Italian, Chinese and Russian.
Published by SCF
Republished by The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.com.