The EU’s much-touted common defence and security policy was nowhere to be seen in the past week, just when the world came dangerously close to the verge of a US-Russia conflict over Syria.
As soon as President Trump’s “Russia, be ready” tweet saw the light of day last week, it was reported that the UK and France would join the Pentagon’s limited airstrikes against targets in Syria.
The leaders of the EU institutions and the bloc’s diplomacy chief made no comments on the planned US action until after the strikes took place.
We asked the EU if the institutions were informed or consulted about the strikes beforehand and a spokesperson said “a number of contacts” took place “on several levels, including HRVP” last week after the 7 April Douma attack.
So true to its ambition of being a global soft power, the EU left it up to France and the UK to do Washington’s bidding.
Suddenly, Brexit fell off the radar as it became apparent how convenient it is to have Europe’s biggest military power on board.
Once again, the big decisions were made by the leaders of major countries: the UK, France and Germany, and as far as we know, there was no attempt to broker any form of unanimity.
Even though, in the case of Germany, it adopted a ‘yes, but’ approach.
Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the US, British and French airstrikes saying the military intervention was necessary and appropriate.
But she opposed joining any military action against Syria in line with its post-1945 policy.
On the other hand, in an interview with Bild, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said an end should be put to the demonisation of Russia.
“We are at the next step of escalation in the Russian-American relationship,” the former foreign minister insisted.
“Regardless of Putin, we cannot declare Russia as a whole, the country and its people, to be an enemy.”
Manfred Weber, the EPP leader from the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, took a fierce stance but rejected talk of an escalation in a tweet on Saturday.
Germany is dependent on Russia for about a third of the gas it uses and has always tried to keep trade relations unaffected.
The Merkel government condemned the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 by Russia and the support of separatists in eastern Ukraine from Moscow.
Since then, it has played a leading role in Europe in enforcing and maintaining the sanctions regime against Putin.
“Whether we like it or not, without Russia, the political process will not succeed,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently said.
Once again, mainland Europeans have let the bad ol’ Brits take the lead and get the dirty job done. Maybe we’ll miss that after they have Brexited themselves out of the equation… Or maybe not.
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After the recent escalation in the Syrian conflict, the Austrian government is launching an initiative to resume the Syria talks that were launched in Vienna in 2015. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin predicts global ‘chaos’ if the West hits Syria again.
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Look out for…
Tomorrow’s Parliament plenary debate on the future of Europe where Emmanuel Macron is expected to try and reinvigorate his EU reform drive. We’ve dispatched Aline Robert and Jorge Valero to Strasbourg to cover all the latest.
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