In Praise of Reciprocity: A Pragmatist’s Way Out of the European Union’s Dead End

Caroline Galactéros, “In Praise of Reciprocity,” Geopragma, April 24, 2019

Original version in French:

Caroline Galactéros, « Éloge de la réciprocité, » Geopragma, 2019/04/24

Caroline Galactéros is a political scientist specializing in the Balkans region. She is author of the blog bouger les lignes and director of Geopragma.

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English translation by Dennis Riches.

In Praise of Reciprocity

Moscow is beginning to tire of the lessons of democracy taught by Paris; especially with regard to the mismanagement of the “Yellow Vest” protests, with the authority of the state weakened and the summits of demagoguery that our pontificating and blameless democracy deploys to get out of this rut and hopes to, in the eyes of the world, wash away this humiliation.

Now, through errors of judgment, moral faults and stubbornness, we [France] count for so little on the world stage.

In the Middle East as in Africa, where we suffer from such schizophrenia about our security and from our excessive Atlanticist loyalty, we have begun to arouse pity more than fear or hope. At a minimum, nothing is expected from us anymore. Others talk, negotiate and decide without us. Who are the others? Who are these impudent ones? The United States, Russia, China, Turkey, Israel, Iran, and even, in Europe, Italy or Hungary… All those who have for a long time already not had much faith in words, who have decided to take their future and their interests into their own hands, and have judged us to be offering little. France always speaks loud and clear, but it does little and does it badly. The aforementioned countries remind France that the time of Western precedence is over, that France no longer really carries any weight on the world stage, that the call for universal values no longer has effect, that our sanctimonious preaching has become inaudible and even completely ridiculous.

For Russia—which sees that Paris sticks to its unfortunate postures regarding Ukraine or Syria—the time has come for the response “from shepherd to shepherdess” (the definitive reply) and the application of the principle of reciprocity. Since Russian journalists accredited in France are banned from the Élysée Palace, and Sputnik and Russia Today (RT) are demonized and reduced to being perceived as Putin’s propaganda channels, Moscow plans to return the favor by banning certain French media covering events in Russia or by suspending their accreditations. In the same vein, it is said that the Kremlin may have the audacity to warn Paris that France should not interfere in the flammable situation in Algeria… The Moscow-Algiers alliance is old, but such audacity unequivocally expresses a new regional balance of power clearly not in our favor. This will teach us to repent at our own leisure.

Anyway, we claim valiantly to fight against propaganda and fake news. But who decides what is true or false, readable or to be the subject of an auto-da-fé? What higher legitimacy can we claim? When we see the findings of the Mueller report and the resounding nothingburger of Russiagate opening a phase of vengeful retaliation by President Trump, determined to “investigate the investigators”; when we remember the delusional media unanimity and Russophobic hysteria that, for two years, fed the farcical tale of an American president as an agent of the Kremlin to explain the inexplicable, the unbearable defeat of the immaculate Hillary Clinton, we must ask ourselves who, in the end, is really peddling fake news, manipulation and conspiracy.

Beyond the tragicomic aspect of our errors, we must beware of this massive discrediting of the Western media because it gives weight to the policies of and serves the purposes of their Chinese, Russian or Turkish rivals. There is no limit to Erdogan’s blackmail of Washington over the Syrian Kurds, toward Paris regarding the Armenian genocide or Germany regarding migrants. But can we only blame ourselves, victims of our inconsistencies? Turkey cannot be required to intervene in Syria against the Moscow-backed government of Bashar al-Assad, to buy American rather than Russian weapons, to keep the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees on its territory and, at the same time, be prohibited from consolidating its local influence, from competing with Riyadh via Doha, let alone to reduce the Kurdish abscess at its borders when that is its number one security and political concern.

The megalomaniac neo-sultan has nothing to do with our problems and the strategic devaluation of our proxies. He has been blackmailing us for years. We let him do so knowingly, without ever stopping him, determined to embarrass Moscow and eager to bring down the unfortunate Syria in the American-Israeli-Saudi trap. Today we pay for this senseless complacency, this indulgent acceptance of Islamic radicalism, of Daesh itself, of Al-Qaeda and its successors, as well as their Saudi, Iraqi, Qatari and Turkish sponsors. There is a time when masks fall. Washington and NATO no longer frighten Ankara, which knows that the United States will never expel Turkey from NATO. As for us French, we should never have joined the Integrated Military Command or submitted to its decrees for a few stars on lapels and perks in the organization; a market of fools thought it obvious that still, in Paris as at the Quai d’Orsay [Ministry of Foreign Affairs], it was logical and desirable since America is always right, protects us and wants only our good … We are therefore in the process of paying, without delay or credit, the price of our immoral accommodations, exposed to the boomerang effect of our moral hypocrisy.

What about Russia in all of this? Contrary to what we are led to believe, she does not rub her hands in front of the ruins of her (stillborn?) rapprochement with the European Union. Her amorous displeasure with this part of herself, which connects her to the soul and history of the Old Continent, is still there, as is her siege complex, which we persist in nurturing with our incessant provocations. So perhaps Russia sees with bitter satisfaction the European Potemkin village collapsing; not because Russia will attack it (in this matter, the action of a Steve Bannon is much more effective than that of the worst “useful idiots” of Moscow), but because its foundations are proving more brittle every day. It’s a kind of posthumous and sad victory over adversity. The advances, the humiliations, the anathemas Russia has been subjected to for almost twenty years, since she took, against all odds, her destiny in hand, are certainly not repaired. And the mental transformation of Europeans vis-à-vis Moscow is not coming anytime soon. Europe definitely does not want Russia. Very well. Russia will therefore do without Europe, and will console itself in a forced shift to Asia and Beijing, which we will pay the price for when China and America compete for our lands or come to an agreement at our expense. But this ostracization will not bring good luck to European states which, to please the American overlord, alienate Moscow without understanding the obvious necessity and geopolitical logic of a rapprochement on areas of common interest (security, migration, energy, culture…).

Without thinking autonomously and without Russia, Europe is not in a position to reach the critical mass necessary to act between the two new global strategic bulwarks. Both China and America are pressing on Europe’s wounds with jubilant commiseration. Neither will ever help Europe for nothing. The concerns of the European peoples about the threat of migration, cultural and identity insecurity, idolized free trade, fiscal inequalities between states and social inequalities within them, are such that the masquerade of unanimity and convergence no longer holds. It is becoming urgent to reform all the expectations and postulates of Europe, as well as the institutional mechanisms, from the ground up. The “language elements” of a technocracy un-tethered to reality and other postures are no longer enough. We need a cold and uncompromising assessment of our genuine common interests and a surgical definition, not a catch-all definition, of desirable and accessible areas of cooperation. We must stop lying to each other, stop believing in the pink elephants that are “the Franco-German couple”, “the Russian ogre” and the kind American wizard. We must also stop pretending that a sum of renunciations or weaknesses is a collective force. We must move on to enhanced cooperation, to projects best done by coalitions, instead of seeking unanimity that produces inertia and paralysis. Within Europe, everyone must be able to impose their views and carry them out. Rivalry is not war! On the other hand, we are being subjected to a merciless war from outside the Union that plays on our collective phobia of conflict. Seeking our place in European integration will provoke not a war, but an infinitely healthier exchange than this permanent lie of each to all that postulates harmony and identity of interests.

As a result, instead of mourning its mythical coupling with Berlin, which never really existed except in its misty gaze, Paris must bond with the powers of the south and east of the Union (treading on German flowerbeds on the way), such as Italy, Austria or Hungary, instead of insulting them and making them retrograde and sickly. We must finally dare, not procrastinate. Deciding, for example, that Europe’s purpose is not to regulate the size of our goat cheeses or the width of our windows, but to hold our borders, to establish strict trade reciprocity vis-à-vis those who would like to reach our large market, to make the euro and the European Central Bank the tools for real growth and monetary protection that are not limited to the fight against inflation, to grow without feelings of industrial, technological and digital champions, revive “economic patriotism” instead of welcoming wolves into the sheepfold.

Finally, we must stop dreaming of a “European army” or a permanent European seat on the UN Security Council—a move in which we would simply give Germany and its affiliates our present seat, hoping that Berlin will be grateful to us. Apart from the fact that one of our last relative advantages in terms of influence would be sold so casually, it is completely irresponsible to the nation and to our history.

To finish—or to start—it must be said that sovereignty is not a dirty-word equivalent of violent “populism.” Smug Europeanism is at a dead end. It’s a sham of “modernity,” a suicidal and infantile flight forward. We will not be able to silence for much longer the European peoples who refuse their perdition and the dogmatic denial of their Christian and humanist cultural substrate. To survive in the face of the devouring ambitions of others, Europe must re-arm in all ways, in the mental, cultural and symbolic sense of the term. Let it begin by re-asserting itself, by eliminating sanctions against Russia and re-initiating its plans for trade with Iran! May Europe accept the challenge of growing and asserting itself!

Caroline Galactéros, « Éloge de la réciprocité, » Geopragma, 2019/04/24