Last tango in Paris or in Washington?

Por una Cabeza, Carlos Gardel, 1935

          Before the European Parliament a few days ago, the President of the French Republic considered that the European Union should conduct its own discussions with Russia. In his capacity as Acting President of the Union, he referred to a forthcoming “European proposal” for a “new security and stability order”. In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, the initiative immediately raised some concerns in Washington, which is currently conducting separate and exclusive discussions with Russia. 

The presidential speech can a priori be considered as a commendable one. If it is a continuation of a line aiming at promoting greater responsibility of Europeans for their own defence and security and also of a reset in the relationship with Moscow, it may also have been timely inappropriate and insufficiently coordinated, too declaratory and ultimately poorly assertive. The Elysée Palace has quickly introduced some amendments to emphasize that the intention was in no way to oppose the American discussions, but rather to reinforce the unity of NATO and also to strengthen the hand of France and Germany in this matter. It was eventually necessary for the Quai d’Orsay to try to restore a certain coherence. According to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the way to proceed would in fact be “to build between Europeans, to share with Allies within the framework of NATO, and then to propose to Russia”.

All for that? It’s not a question of challenging the presidential vision at all costs, but the choice of the moment matters. In his statement following the Berlin Quad meeting, the French Foreign Minister was right to stress the complementarity of all the forums in which dialogue with Russia can be maintained, whether it’s the Normandy format on Ukraine, the U.S.-Russia dialogue on strategic stability, the NATO-Russia Council, or the OSCE. This is the urgency that Mrs Baerbock stressed in her meeting in Berlin with Secretary of State Blinken: “the only way is political… it goes through dialogue. Unfortunately, the Russian attitude is expressed in another language».

Therefore not everything is depending on us, but we cannot stay simply as observers and passive. And above all we cannot dance from one foot to the other. The line which France intends to promote is perfectly justified with regard to Ukraine – because it is France and Germany which were the initiators of the Normandy format and this one is a frame to tackle a problem taking place on the European continent – and because it sets a long-term direction for a European Europe.

If this fundamental position is founded, it must also be realistic. With regard to security, which is a broader concept than Defence in the strict sense of the term and takes into account in particular “new threats”, it is first and foremost essential to build on what exists, in this case the capabilities of a major geographical partner, and much more than that, namely the United Kingdom, with which new forms of operational cooperation will have to be found. Germany, which remains constrained in this area, has other cards at its disposal, particularly of an economic nature, as the debate on Nord Stream 2, which is not yet over, illustrates it well.

The promotion of a European political Europe, whose sine qua non prerequisite is the organisation of a more autonomous common security, is not directed against Washington. It is both in the sense of history and proceeds from an observation. The United States remains an irreplaceable partner and ally, but the winds blowing from the American continent are no longer as strong as those that facilitate to cross the Atlantic from west to east. Beyond the doubt that has been instilled over the years with setbacks in various theaters of operation, the last of which were Middle East and Afghanistan, a sense of real concern has gripped us.

It is no longer simply a question of observing a recurrent alternation of phases of isolationism and interventionism, and the paroxysmal moment of the events of the Capitol, a year ago, acted as a revelator and changed the perception. How can we therefore defend democracy and its geographical enlargement? How does a very big power still have the quality to be its figurehead? This evil which arises from the depths, of which we ourselves are not immune, is more serious than the very figure of a head of state, of his excesses or supposed weakness.

Great civilizations are threatened only when they have abandoned the values on which they were built, have analyzed eminent historians. This also applies to Europe. The pathetic and sometimes desperate search for identities perceived as threatened is a symptom. But very often, the fear of the other results only from our own weakness, that of even minority religions comes from the vacuum in which secularized societies have been plunged to the extreme. But the last tango would in reality be the belief that the fight for civilization is a return to the past, sometimes imagined or recomposed, while the attachment to real perennial values is the condition of development, progress and modernity.

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