Is Europe about to become a complete masterpiece?

It is extremely hard to present a true picture of what is going in in Europe today. As great minds dating back to Ancient Greece have so frequently stated, if one cannot see the full picture one cannot see the solution.

There has been much comment about one significant event but with virtually no rational explanation. The questions raised by French President Emmanuel Macron’s Europe Day speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg are numerous but most likely we will have to wait to see if it is fully explained at the European Council meeting in June.

Enrico Letta, former Italian Prime Minister and leader of that country’s Democratic Party, may have offered a reasonable indication by proposing a European Confederation which would include a ‘Common Defence Clause’.

Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, did not dismiss Macron’s suggestion merely not wanting to see it as “fobbing off” the current accession processes that have been “going on for so long”.

To those of us who are able to recall first-hand what was being said in Brussels in the nineteen eighties and early nineties there is a familiar undercurrent to all of the above. Divisions and issues that beset the then Common Market gave rise to a frequently stated alternative that Europe should to revert to the original six.

President Macron offered no specifics but perhaps he sees the future of Europe centred on a small integrated group of countries that would, of course, be French speaking. That though might be only part of the picture.

Various European leaders and administrators have been cited as having had close personal involvement with Russia in the recent past and therein lies yet another conundrum. The media have universally presented that in negative terms and, whilst in certain cases they have been right, there is a wider picture.

That the divisions and national disparities that were complained of prior to the formation of the EU in 1993 have now reached epic proportions has been highlighted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That most EU countries would like to see Ukraine accepted as a member would currently require the end of the war and many years of negotiation.

The EU cannot continue as it is. Countries have failed to meet reasonable defence requirements and efforts to change how NATO works so that decisions do not require unanimity are again proving divisive. Denmark has said it would block such a move and they would not be alone.

But among the seriously important issues that have arisen and may well be motivating Macron is the role of Brexit Britain. Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries in particular have realised how important the United Kingdom is in terms of defence. But here lies an impending problem that should be seen as part of the bigger picture: the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Right now perhaps the politicians will resolve the issue. But, as I write the EU is threatening a trade war over the protocol and the US is sending a delegation to study whether Britain is damaging the Good Friday Agreement that allows for Irish unity in the event of a positive vote in Northern Ireland. The election that created the current Stormont stand-off is far from that.

Politicians and the media keep asking what led to Brexit, the answer is public opinion. So it should be carefully noted that foreign interference in Britain’s internal affairs, whether it can be blamed on the signing of the Brexit Agreement or not, is starting to influence public discussion.

The decision to reach an agreement that Britain will support Sweden and Finland should they be attacked is already becoming a steamy media debate with proponents and opponents of the agreement close to insulting each other on national radio. Central to the debate is upgrading Britain’s nuclear defence at a cost of some £300 billion and preparing bunkers to store US nuclear weaponry. Some think the money would be better spent helping mitigate the cost of living.

The instigator of the debate about whether the Sweden and Finland defence support agreement will lead to war is, quite simply, fear. Also proponents of a trade war over internal border checks in the UK should remember that Britain is not devoid of national pride and principal. A democratic well ordered change in the status of Northern Ireland would be met with sadness and regret. A change driven by America or the EU would be met with demands such as ending the Irish dual nationality arrangements and much more.

That is perhaps a message for Dublin, but the more important one is for Brussels which is that a public already beggared by world economics, the effects of the pandemic and the economic impact of the Ukraine invasion might just decide to cut defence spending out of economic necessity or fear but also to spite those whose measures made things worse.

That is perhaps something that President Macron can see clearly. On the positive side there may be a part of the bigger picture that is just being drawn and might be seen in June. Are Macron and others looking forward to a Europe that could accommodate Russia in trade and defence terms once the Ukraine war is over and Putin gone from the scene?

Such would be an incentive to the current Moscow establishment to act and help redraw the broader picture.

------------- Dateline: Deal, Kent. ------------

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Chris White

Chris White

Chris White is a former UK national newspaper journalist and was the founder and editor of a magazine focussed on EU affairs.

Now writing for EUToday, Chris has his own column, 'Chris's Corner'.

Chris is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK and the oldest in the world, having been founded in October 1884

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