I carefully read the public letter you wrote in the run up to the EU Malta summit. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome you warn the European leaders that the Union risks to perish due to external and internal threats.
Open letter to Mr Donald Tusk, president of the European Council
Ghent, Belgium, February 10, 2017
Dear Mr Tusk
I carefully read the public letter you wrote in the run up to the EU Malta summit. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome you warn the European leaders that the Union risks to perish due to external and internal threats. I do understand, I think. With the Brexit and the condescending remarks of the new president of the USA it seems necessary to call all hands on deck. You called it 'United we stand, divided we fall'.
You see quite a lot of challenges which are more dangerous than ever since the signing of the Treaty of Rome. You speak of foreign threats linked to the new geopolitical situation: an assertive China, the Russian policy of aggression in Ukraine and its neighbors, terror and anarchy in the Middle East and Africa, and, strikingly, “worrying declarations by the new American administration”.
But you see also threats coming from inside the Union. Many will share your concerns over the rise of anti-European feelings, growing xenophobia and national egoism. And right you are, the European elite hardly hides its doubts over the European integration and gets seduced by populism at the cost of the fundamental values of liberal democracy.
I've read your letter several times. Not that I didn't understand your concern, but I was looking in vain for a kind of reflection. Sixty years, though, seem to me a right moment for retrospection an some critical questions. Just to mention, maybe something on the neoliberal stance, the social consequences of the budget policy, or questions about the arms trade, about development, investment and trade policy, the refugee crisis, or human rights...
Could it be possible, Mr Tusk, that Europe's actual situation is function of past policy lines? It is hard to believe that nature just pours its disasters over humankind, to which we are then externally and internally subjected. Let us talk about the threats you mentioned above. The outside world has anti-European positions, you mention first of all the yellow danger. Cold war atmosphere is not far away, I see.
It is true, China makes its naval force operate in its geostrategic environment some hundred kilometers before its coasts, it builds small artificial islands to expand its economic zone and Beijing does not hesitate to claim the seabed rich in resources. And indeed I do recognize it must not be easy for several countries in the Pacific to feel safe when one forms an obstacle for China. But I don't understand why this is a threat to Europe. I don't remember either, any European concern over the worldwide presence of the US fleet and the hundreds of military bases and US troops all over the globe.
Moreover I think to know that Europe had a history in the past century of quite an 'assertive' global behavior. I honestly wonder how you can legitimize such a western privilege of worldwide presence against all the ambitions of other great powers based on the same economical, political and cultural driving forces.
This brings me unavoidably to Russia. Your criticism towards Moscow will be without doubt appreciated in European elite circles who you wish to wake up with your letter. Sure, Moscow has for certain played a role in the violence in eastern Ukraine. Annexing the Krim is not acceptable. But have you ever tried to look upon these facts as a common Russian citizen does, who sees that since 1997 NATO has been moving steadily towards the east?
I remember the strong declarations of some NATO leaders at the 2008 Bucharest summit who said that Ukraine and Georgia should be given the perspective of membership of the western military alliance. At the end of 2013 the then president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, suggested that it was better for Kiev not to work for deeper trade relations with Russia because “a country cannot be at the same time member of a custom union and thoroughly immersed in a common free trade zone with the European Union”. Read: Ukraine has to choose between EU and Russia, it is one or the other. It is not a coincidence that shortly after, Ukraine fell into a profound crisis.
Mister Tusk, I know that you as a Polish citizen do understand better than anyone else how it feels when a military strong alliance – which stands for more than half of the worldwide military expenditure – is coming so close to your border.
I'm still trying to grasp the urgency of the Russian threat, to understand the hysteria shown by quite a lot of western leaders. It is not reasonable to think this is due to Russia's military spending, which is only some 7% of the combined NATO members' military budgets. Putin cannot be that lunatic to go for a suicide? Even if president Trump's America should let us fall and Brexit London should turn its back to Europe, France and Germany combined still have a bigger military budget at their disposal than Russia. Is that the place to search for an urgent threat?
And thus, I do not understand your call to make defense spending rise, unless it is your aim to suit the powerful defense industry of course. From 2020 onwards this sector can count after all on a 500 million gift of European tax payers for research and development. This makes me spontaneously think of the former German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, who tried to find a peaceful policy in cold war times with his 'Wandel durch Annäherung' (change through approach). His 'Ostpolitik' cleaned the path for the Helsinki Agreement, brought better relations with the East-European neighbors, détente and trust. It resulted in the founding of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in which countries of both blocs resided. The reasoning was that is better to make security agreements in stead of fueling military confrontation.
So I wondered, Mr Tusk, if you have ever thought to try this method again and invest in a Helsinki II. This would result in a win-win situation. Defense costs wouldn't need to increase any more and the liberated funds could be used for social economic development. In your letter you state that you want to restore the social economic welfare of the European citizens, to work for growth and employment. Well this would create a beautiful opportunity to do so.
It reminds me how I was surprised with the European vigor after the annexation of the Krim : a ban on goods from the Krim and a prohibition to invest. Quick as a lightning. Maybe I can take you to another occupation, one in the unstable Middle East. Couldn't you do there the same as you did for the Krim: to take, after fifty years of occupation of the West Bank, the same measures against investment in Israeli colonies on Palestinian territory? Your colleague Mrs Mogherini has repeatedly stated that the Israeli settlements are illegal and are not recognized by the EU. What about the idea to cut trade relations with the settlements? I have learned that after a certain time words have to be accompanied by deeds. If they aren't, your authority will wane.
It is not hard to imagine how land grabbing, demolition of houses, check points, a separation wall, random arrests and military repression are influencing people's daily life. The conflict has degenerated year after year, and it is obvious that this causes anger, frustration counter violence. Bin Laden often referred in his speeches to the Zionist occupation of holy Palestinian land. It appeared to be a good argument in recruiting.
You mention instability and terror in the Middle East and Northern Africa. I share your concerns. In the name of some morbid extremist organization which emerges from nothing and gathers all of a sudden ferocious military power, attacks on civilian targets happen frequently; the number of refugees grows constantly... It is a region to be concerned about. Of course, the local population is the main victim that suffers most: daily terror attacks, bombings,... I fear you will think that I feel some masochistic pleasure in cultivating a European guilt consciousness or that I am fulfilled of cultural self-contempt. But I can't help. I see the young Iraqi who tries to cross the Channel in Calais and I realize that in all likelihood he wouldn't be there if Bush and Blair hadn't invaded his country. I look in the eyes of an Afghan refugee and see the pain of wars waged with hundreds of billions of dollars and euro's in his poverty-stricken country. Can you believe me, Mr Tusk, that I sometimes dream of riddled and dismembered bodies of Yemenis, Libyans and Syrians? It came to me that many of them must have been killed by European bullets and bombings. I read that 75% of all weapons in the region come from the US and the EU. Your letter states “let us shown our European pride”; I refuse to think that these are cynical words.
Mr Tusk, I would dare to suggest you to write a new letter. A letter of reflection, starting with a thorough introspection of our own deeds. Just by making clear what has gone wrong in European policy since the past decades with some thinking over how Europe can be great and proud in an other way, over how we can take care that no one will be excluded of work, identity and dignity, how we can reach rightful welfare for everyone.
The Greek people will show collectively its gratitude, it will certainly not be the only one. And who knows, maybe this is the way to help us get rid of Trump's shadow, and that of extreme right populism over our continent.
Ludo De Brabander