The defense ministers of the European Union met this Thursday in Paris to coordinate their response to the Ukraine crisis at a time when Europe seems to be getting out of the focus of its own security with Moscow and Washington negotiating in Geneva, with the feeling of that the Union is once again ignored on the diplomatic board and when Macron has just inaugurated a rotating presidency of the block making the strategy of European sovereignty in Defense his big bet. For Europe, what is at stake is whether it can allow Putin to disrupt the security structure that has helped maintain peace on the continent since World War II.
Just before the meeting, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, wanted to make it clear that the Union is not going to “negotiate under pressure”, understanding the Russian military movements on the border with Ukraine as an element of pressure. Borrell has also pointed out that coordination with the US is “absolutely perfect” in this matter and that the Americans themselves have guaranteed Brussels that “nothing will be negotiated or decided without the Europeans.”
The meeting of ministers in Paris was informal and no statement was made at the end, something that was already planned. Borrell himself had pointed out that no decisions were going to be made on this day, but rather that it was a meeting to “elaborate” the bloc’s joint position. Just that which seems not to be seen clearly on this occasion either. The truth is that the crisis in Ukraine within the framework of NATO has exposed, once again, the weakness of a single and powerful European voice in foreign policy that has a weight comparable to that of Washington and Moscow. The European Union has no place at the table in most of these talks, which are, after all, about European security
The bloc’s relationship with Moscow is fraught with edges of a different nature: From France’s traditional diplomatic doctrine to speak with Moscow due to geographical proximity to the fears of the Baltic republics towards Russia, including energy dependence on Russian gas, something that Putin has already has used on other occasions to exert pressure. The picture is even more complicated now, after the departure of Angela Merkel, a valuable interlocutor with the Kremlin. His successor, Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz, leads a complicated coalition more critical of Russia. Europe has important trade ties with Russia and stands to lose much more than the US if new sanctions are put in place.
France, for its part, wants to transform the crisis in Ukraine into an opportunity for Macron’s plans in this semester of the presidency. The French president wishes to take advantage of the opportunity to promote what he calls European sovereignty, which he understands as an increase in the capacity of European action on the international scene. Under this concept, it includes better border control and the creation of a political management mechanism for the Schengen area, a reinforcement of the common defense policy, offering clear prospects for the future in relation to the EU to the countries of the Western Balkans , and an ambitious technological and environmental transition. Just a week ago, Macron and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, promised in Paris to promote that Europe of Defense that seems so vital at times like this. The French president advocated on that occasion to establish a “frank, demanding and coordinated” dialogue between the European Union and Russia at this time of escalation of tension between the two due to Moscow’s military reinforcement on the Ukrainian border.