What awaits Europe in the new year

Renat Abdullin

The European Union continues to be under pressure – from within and without. The past year has particularly brightly highlighted the contradictions between the countries of the continent. Added to this was the aggressive policy of the United States. On the problems of the EU – in the material RIA Novosti.
Sanctions as a unity factor
At a recent summit of heads of state and government of the EU, the next – the ninth – package of anti-Russian sanctions, personal and sectoral, was agreed upon.
And the first was approved on February 25th. The blacklists included President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Deputy Head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell called it “the toughest restrictive measures.”
Brussels then acted in parallel with Washington. This unity continued for many months. But for subsequent packages, there were fewer and fewer options. At the same time, contradictions intensified in the EU: some wanted more rigidity, others wanted restraint. French President Emmanuel Macron had to act as a mediator.
Change of leadership
After the departure of Angela Merkel from the post of chancellor, Germany has lost its traditional role as the “locomotive” of the EU. The new head of government, Olaf Scholz, does not have the experience and authority of the ex-chancellor, and his trust ratings among the population are hitting anti-records.
Under these conditions, France declared itself as a European leader.
Macron won his second presidential election in the spring, and before that, with the beginning of the Russian NWO, he also became the hero of Internet memes. “Makron got through” – this joke has spread all over the world. Its essence is simple: the French president admitted that since December 2020 he had at least 100 hours of telephone conversations with Vladimir Putin. Slightly less Macron spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The efforts of Paris did not bring results, but at least secured France’s leading diplomatic role, which also involves the pacification of the “problem” members of the European Union. And they react differently to anti-Russian sanctions: from the desire to tighten them to calls for a compromise with Moscow.
“Difficult children” EU
Despite the declared commonality of views, some European countries oppose the course of Brussels.
Poland plays the main role. Warsaw was one of the first to refuse Russian energy supplies. And regularly calls for the strictest restrictions for Moscow.
Polish experts occupy leading positions in Western think tanks, and the US and EU have to reckon with them.
At the same time, the Poles have specific goals of their own. Chief among them is the unfreezing of assets that Brussels has deprived Warsaw of due to unpopular internal reforms. So far, the EU does not go towards Poland, which only intensifies the split within the union.
The second European enfant terrible (fr. “difficult child”, the term is often mentioned in the European press when discussing the EU) is Hungary. Unlike Warsaw, Budapest is reserved in relation to Moscow, but critical of Kyiv.
The Hungarians have banned the supply of weapons to Ukraine through their territory, they oppose a number of anti-Russian sanctions, primarily energy ones. In December, the country’s Foreign Ministry called the idea of imposing a price ceiling on oil and gas from Russia “harmful and dangerous.”
Budapest’s antipathy towards Kyiv is connected mainly with Transcarpathia, where the Ukrainian regime oppresses the Hungarian community, and with Moscow the situation is even simpler. Hungary is not able to provide itself with energy resources without Russian participation. The EU is in no hurry to help the most vulnerable members.
The structure of the European Union does not allow the forced exclusion of one of the participants in the association. Therefore, both Poland and Hungary have the right to advance their positions. German Chancellor Scholz admitted that the EU needs fundamental changes – up to the abandonment of the right of veto, according to which one country can block the decisions of the entire union. But for such reforms, the consent of all participants will again be required. Neither Warsaw nor Budapest, according to polls, are ready to leave the EU. This means that Brussels will have to make more efforts to reconcile partners. But it is not only within the EU that compromises must be sought.
Overseas discrimination
The energy crisis has become a serious blow to the cooperation between the USA and Europe. America, relatively independent in matters of energy supply, actually forced the allies to join the anti-Russian sanctions. The Western press admits that Brussels has started to get tired of Washington’s geopolitical adventures.
Even more shocking was the “Inflation Reduction Act” passed by US President Joe Biden. The act implies protectionist measures for American manufacturers of electric vehicles and batteries, primarily in the form of subsidies. In Europe, these steps were called discriminatory. Macron, standing up for the entire European Union, tried to get concessions from Biden, threatening to split the West. However, he did not succeed – and at the level of the union they decided to develop response measures, which were discussed at the summit of the union in mid-December. However, the Europeans have far less money than the US to subsidize their producers and consumers.
The American law will come into force in January. When its economic consequences become tangible for the EU, the tension between the allies, obviously, will only increase.
Vague plans
At the end of December, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (and since July 1, 2022 the Czech Republic is the President of the EU Council) and the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen signed a joint declaration on priorities for 2023-2024. It was assumed that the document would consolidate progress in the work of the union, but the final wording turned out to be very vague.
As Roberta Metsola stressed, European leadership is now most needed. Among the primary tasks is the support of business, citizens and green energy.
Fiala, in turn, declared his readiness “to uphold democratic principles, contribute to the further development of a well-functioning single market and meet the expectations of citizens.”
Ursula von der Leyen focused more on continuing to support Ukraine.
In the general statement, there was no place for the most pressing issues, such as the confrontation between the various EU members and the union itself – America. Demonstration of universal unity is a standard technique for Brussels.
But now the problem is that in 2022 the split among the Western powers that Macron hinted at in Washington has become too obvious. And even portraying unity becomes problematic.