Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Opinion

President or foreign minister - who should talk to Medvedev?

Listening to an analysis of the Russian presidential election, I heard the interviewer ask who would now be handling Russian foreign policy? Would it be the President - the newly elected ex-Chairman of the Russian state energy giant, Gazprom, whose name was lost to Hillary Clinton the other day - Mr Dmitry Medvedev? Or would it be that prime ministerial power behind, under, over, around, and beside the President's throne - Mr Vladimir Putin?

The government spokesman muttered something safe, as spokesmen are wont to do. Under our constitution, he said, the President deals with foreign policy while the Prime Minister (that is Mr Putin) deals with domestic matters.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • "Who, in practice, will actually be responsible for foreign policy in the post-Lisbon Treaty World of 2009?" (Photo: Peter Sain ley Berry)

We shall have to wait to see what happens in practice but only the bright and naively optimistic can surely imagine that the Putin finger will, not only be in every domestic pie, but on every foreign policy trigger as well. If Mr Putin deems it appropriate to reduce Ukraine's gas supply by a further 25 per cent - as happened this week - I doubt that Mr Medvedev will be in much of a practical position to do anything about it. That is, if he wants to continue to enjoy Mr Putin's company. You do not rise to be head of the KGB, as Putin did, by being indifferent to what happens around you.

In the circumstances, Hillary Clinton's choice of the epithet, ‘whatever,' when she couldn't remember Mr Medvedev's name exactly, seems appropriate. I suspect that should she become the US President in November, it is Mr Bare Torso himself to whom she will want to speak, rather than to ‘whatever.'

But before we Europeans shake our heads and tut-tut (and after all the congratulations to Mr Mevedev and the hoping that his election will usher in a new, warm period in EU-Russian relations, there is a very great deal to tut-tut at in Russian politics and not only Mr Putin's flagrant warping of the Constitution and suppression of all viable opposition) we could well turn the question back on ourselves and ponder who, in practice, will actually be responsible for foreign policy, on our side of the fence so to speak, in the post-Lisbon Treaty World of 2009?

Who will have the job of dealing face to face with Mr Putin and Mr Mevedev over energy security, border control, trade, missile sites, nuclear installations, climate change, extradition matters, exploitation of the Arctic, the Caucasus, Serbia, the United Nations, and so on?

Who will handle the relations between democratic Europe and despotic Russia; between two nuclear armed continents that share a long border? Will it be Europe's Foreign Minister designate under the Lisbon Treaty, Or will it be the President of the European Council?

The question matters. Especially when dealing with a resurgent and increasingly undemocratic Russia that is more than ever inclined to use its energy resources to bully its way in the world. When a former President of the Soviet Union lectures the current Russian leadership on democracy, as Mikhail Gorbachev did in ‘The (London) Times' this week, you know matters have come to a sorry pass.

Europe's gas supplies are threatened, yet again, by Russian action in the Ukraine. And Russia can get away with such behaviour because Europe's nations have yet to learn that it is better to have a strong foreign policy that delivers 80 per cent of what you want than a weak policy that delivers 100 per cent, but whose very weakness makes it, in practice, unimplementable.

In the absence of a coherent European foreign policy (look how split Europe is over Kosovo, over US missile defence bases, over gas pipelines) Russia naturally finds it easy to play one country off against another. Nothing unites us quite so well as our disunity.

But a strong European foreign policy will require leadership and diplomatic skills of the highest order, both to secure the policy at home and then to put it across abroad. As the Constitutional Convention of 2003 foresaw, Europe does need someone to speak with both personal and constitutional authority on Foreign Affairs.

Should this person be the (so-not-called) Foreign Minister - or should it be Europe's President, the man or woman whose task it will be to coral the member states, pushing the agenda along in the manner of someone first among equals?

At present, of course, there is no EU President as such. The Lisbon Treaty creates a new and, as yet, undefined post. Foreign Policy is split between the High Representative (Mr Solana) who works for the member states, and the External Relations Commissioner, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner. These two posts will be combined into something which, in practice, will be a quasi-Secretary of State role. Mr Solana (for he is the favourite) will then have a foot in both camps.

But a Secretary of State is a Secretary of State. He or she acts on behalf of the head of state. Now the European Union is not a state; it is a partnership of states that wish, ostensibly, to align their foreign policies to achieve goals and influence which they could not expect to achieve, in this global world, by acting alone. But if the partnership is to find a voice and then speak with authority, it needs a strong President.

Just having a strong President, though, is not enough. Russia practices, we are told, ‘sovereign democracy,' and the difference between this and everyday democracy has been described elegantly by Timothy Garton Ash as the difference between a jacket and a straitjacket.

Vladimir Putin may have been prepared to bend the constitution and engage in practices so anti-democratic that election observers feel they cannot operate in Russia, so great are the restrictions placed upon them. But Europeans beware! Our own democratic credentials at the Continental level are wafer thin; some would say non-existent.

Europe's President will be appointed; not even indirectly elected. As will be the Foreign Minister. Are their democratic credentials, therefore, any better than those of Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin? If our enlarged Europe is to pursue a united and successful foreign policy, she must not fall into the Russian trap of becoming another ‘sovereign democracy.' Criticising Russia here may be another case of pots and kettles.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

EU must get real on Russia

The EU must call the Ukraine conflict by its true name - Russia's illegal war on its peaceful neighbour - and take commensurate action to protect peace in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us