Sovereigntists and nationalists have shot themselves in the foot!
Putin’s unilateral armed aggression and phantasmal but evocative rhetoric of “denazification” against Ukraine have contributed decisively to the realization in Europe of the need for unwavering EU solidarity so that its Members can share real “European sovereignty” instead of pretending to exercise a “national sovereignty” that has become visibly phoney. President Macron in particular, but also many other political leaders, have emphasized the painful sacrifices that citizens must be prepared to make as well as the high financial costs to be incurred that will have to be shared fairly by protecting first and foremost the weakest segments of the population.
At the same time, the sovereigntist speeches of the national-populist parties were caught wrong-footed, abruptly interrupting their insidious hold on the conscience of a public opinion too long preoccupied with its selfish comfort and overarching individualism. Despite a few backward-looking electoral diatribes in France by Le Pen, Zemmour and Melenchon opposing a suspension of Russian gas purchases, the vast majority of the population seems convinced of the need to make efforts to preserve the values of peace, democracy and freedom that have been taken for granted for too long.
If Putin, encouraged by the softness of the Union’s reaction to his occupation of Crimea in 2014 which was the result of the fragmentation of the economic interests of the Member States, had thought that the course of his military intervention would be similar to that of the Nazi reoccupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, he must surely have been at least as surprised as the 27 Member States themselves at the unanimous condemnation of his action and the vigour of the response that the EU (with the support of many other actors) put in place in record time.
In the short term, the priority must be to put an end to the physical suffering of the belligerents, to obtain a ceasefire, the resupply of the population, the withdrawal of the invader and the re-establishment of the authority of the elected government over all its territory. These negotiations between Ukrainians and Russians must not be polluted by the interests of third parties. In particular, any lifting of sanctions should be seen as a consequence of an agreement between the parties and not as a precondition for their implementation.
In the longer term, in parallel with the lifting of sanctions, there is the question of the autonomy that the EU must achieve in order to ensure the security of its defense and of its supplies of raw materials, energy, and essential industrial and agricultural products. This can only be achieved at European level through a combination of the repatriation of key production sites and a suitable diversification of sources of supply for essential imports. Implementing such a medium to long term solution is aimed, among other objectives, at lowering by 40% by 2023 – then freeing itself entirely by 2027 from – the EU’s dependence on Russian energy supplies, on which at least some of its Members had progressively allowed themselves to be locked in, .
This, in turn, implies a thorough revision of the Treaties, including institutional reform, to create a federal-type political entity capable of representing the interests of European citizens in an international arena where the balance of power is being thoroughly reconfigured. Any reluctance to embark on this weighty process must be swept aside in view of the urgency of the task.
It is essential to take advantage of this providential unanimity, the result of circumstances and of Putin’s blunders, to make it irreversible, in particular (which may seem paradoxical) by dispensing with the rule of decisions taken unanimously in favor of a majority voting system, structured in such a way as to protect the legitimate interests of minorities. Only a political entity of the size of the Union can claim to successfully meet the challenges highlighted by the war in Ukraine, to which can be added those, already identified, brought about by global warming, the pandemic, digitalization, etc., which will all profoundly affect living conditions on our planet.
As I foresaw in a previous article, far from being an exception, the Recovery Plan is already being emulated by a new proposal for EU pooled financing to ensure energy independence; this time it should fully benefit countries that had been the most reluctant (Germany, the Netherlands, etc.). This EU-wide borrowing capacity has barely been tapped and will have to be accompanied by European-wide fiscal measures capable of servicing it independently of Members contributions. This indispensable source of financing will gradually and naturally lead to the emergence of a European capital market denominated in €, capable of competing in the long term with that of the United States, an objective that the EU has been trying in vain to replicate, due to the lack of an adequate institutional structure and the incomplete nature of EMU.
Before concluding, it is worth recalling that at the time of writing, the conflict is still expanding with its trail of horrors, destruction, deaths, injuries, and people deprived of access to essential goods and services, while at the same time there are gestures of support, humanity, charity, and solidarity throughout the world in response to the courage shown by the Ukrainians, which commands admiration. This conflict, unjustified in its inception and even more in its brutality, poses, nevertheless, an existential risk to the world, made unprecedented by the unpredictability and the apparent unchallenged authority of its instigator.
The distortion of the forces at play at all levels exacerbates these risks:
Firstly, the inequality of military power on the ground, which overwhelmingly favours Russia; held in check until now by the unshakeable resilience of Ukrainian military and civilian fighters, the frustration generated by this setback seems to be leading to the accentuation of strikes designed to demoralise urban populations. They are the cause of numerous violations of international law which have already been referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Secondly, the Russian forces lack cohesion, being divided between a poorly trained and commanded regular army and a modern air force alongside a powerful nuclear arsenal, the latter being theoretically unusable for fear of mutually assured total destruction. This dichotomy between the weakness and strength of the Russian army greatly increases the risk of escalation and miscalculation.
There is therefore a significant risk that Putin, seeing himself unable to achieve his war objectives, will widen the conflict to give himself a justification to threaten nuclear Armageddon by provoking a NATO member country under the pretext of military support in material given to the enemy and/or because of sanctions that destabilize his country to the point of causing the collapse of its currency and economy. The latter, of very modest size, comparable to that of Spain, is in fact progressively being cut off from the world markets, subjecting it to the equivalent of an economic weapon of mass destruction and spreading progressively on the pattern of a pandemic.
This risk, which is immeasurable and whose consequences could be irreversible, must however be assumed or else the planet is open to be blackmailed by any dictator daring to threaten the use of such an arsenal.
This observation should force all the relevant powers, once hostilities are over, to build together a new system of mutual international security which ensures the controlled and definitive destruction of all nuclear weapons; in parallel, it is advisable to organize a shared control of the “weapons” of economic and financial mass destruction in order to avoid, in spite of their less directly lethal character, that no singular Nation can exercise disproportionate economic force to the detriment of other nations.
The demonstration that preventive measures to diversify Russian reserves did not hinder the cooperation between most major players in the international financial markets (United States, Eurozone, Great Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Australia…), to effectively implement sanctions, is a reassurance that pleads in favor of a new multilateral model which, while not excluding its use, makes its effectiveness conditional on a broad consensus among its participants. The EU should take the lead in initiating such an initiative; it could be discussed dispassionately within the Bank for International Settlements which, if necessary, could coordinate its possible implementation.
In this way, thanks to the solidarity generated by Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, a new European Union – with the status of a major sovereign power – should emerge and be able to defend independently, but jointly with its allies, the security of the peoples who share the humanist and civilizing values of which the EU can be proud.