The events in Ukraine and the political spat over who should be the next president of the European Commission might seem like issues far apart. But there is a connection that may seem rather surprising. As European leaders gathered in Brussels last week to decide on whether Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next EC president, despite British objections, the same leaders were also being lobbied by Washington to leverage further trade sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
The election of Juncker was presented, in the British media at least, as a kind of “showdown principle” over independence and freedom within Europe; but perhaps of much greater pertinence to European independence is how the continent appears to be toeing an aggressive American foreign policy towards Russia. This latter aspect is scarcely touched upon, yet it is arguably more urgent and relevant to the so-called democratic deficit that mars the European project. This democratic deficit is all too often associated with European politics in the popular mind and it lies behind the rise in anti-EU sentiment that shook the Brussels establishment in the parliamentary elections last month.
First though, on the EC presidency: British Prime Minister David Cameron incurred a humiliating rejection from other European leaders at the end of the week when they voted overwhelmingly for Jean-Claude Juncker to become the next president of the European Commission.
Apart from solitary support from Hungary, Cameron was the odd man out when the leaders of the other 26 EU members gave their approval for Juncker to take the top post. Previously the prime minister of Luxembourg, Juncker is to replace the outgoing José Manuel Barosso for the high-profile Brussels job, provided that his nomination now gets the backing of the European Parliament.
Britain’s premier David Cameron had been gunning for Juncker in recent weeks, complaining bitterly that the Luxembourg politician was too much of a “Brussels insider”. Ahead of the vote by EU leaders at the summit on Friday, Cameron told reporters: “This is the wrong person, the wrong approach… My message to my fellow heads of government and heads of state is that this approach that they are contemplating taking is the wrong approach for Europe. That is a mistake.”
Following the crushing blow to Cameron’s opposition to Juncker, the British premier remained defiant, saying: “For a Europe crying out for reform, we have gone for a career insider.”
So the narrative being contrived here is that Cameron was trying to take the moral high
ground and put himself forward as “the champion of the people” by standing up to the grey, faceless bureaucracy that has become an epithet of European politics. The British leader is endeavouring to make himself out to be a defender of free, independent European states, as opposed to the Brussels monolith, where the selection of top bureaucrats often seems to be an arcane process removed from any public input.
There is little doubting that Juncker is a consummate Brussels figure. He is one of the longest-serving European leaders, having been prime minister of Luxembourg between 1995-2013. He is a doyen of the Christian democrat centre-right European People’s Party – the largest bloc in the European Parliament – and he is an avowed integrationist and federalist. The 59-year-old Juncker is credited with being one of the main planners of the Euro single currency during the early 1990s. And he has a reputation for relishing late-night political marathons, helped along by chain-smoking and generous consumption of wine.
The British Conservative Party leader is thus positioning himself as a champion of European reform and decentralization, by stridently opposing the selection of Juncker as the next European Commission president. Cameron points to the dramatic rise in votes across Europe in the parliamentary elections last month, which saw a host of fringe, anti-EU parties gaining a total of 25 per cent of total seats. These anti-EU parties, many of them espousing anti-immigrant politics and neo-fascist tendencies, are viewed as a growing popular discontent with European enlargement. In Britain, the ultranationalist UK Independence Party led by Nigel Farange has made particular electoral inroads against Cameron’s Conservatives, the traditional dominant party of the centre right.
In the weeks up to this week’s summit in Brussels, Cameron had been threatening that if Jean-Claude Juncker were to be made EC president then he would bring forward a British referendum on EU membership from 2017 to a sooner date, and that he may even campaign for a No vote, leading to Britain’s exit from the bloc altogether. That remains to be seen in the wake of Cameron’s debacle with other European leaders this week.
However, let’s look at the principle of European freedom and independence from another perspective. This week also saw the signing of the EU trade association between Brussels and Ukraine. The controversially elected president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who won the poll with less than a 45 per cent voter turnout last May and amid widespread violence in that country, has pushed ahead with the EU trade pact. Poroshenko’s governing regime in Kiev came to power in an illegal Western-backed coup last February. Both the signing of the EU trade agreement and the ongoing violence in Ukraine at the hands of the Kiev regime have led to a parlous deterioration in relations between Moscow and European governments, as well as primarily between Russia and the US.
But the eastward expansion of the EU, as with NATO, to incorporate former Soviet states and now the grooming of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova for eventual incorporation is best understood as a geopolitical agenda defined first and foremost by Washington. As Sergei Glazyev argued recently in his article on the ‘Rise of Eurofascism’, the EU has
unfortunately become a vital part of the architecture upholding US global hegemony.
Glazyev notes: “The United States supports the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO in every way possible, viewing these organizations as important components of its global empire. The US exercises control over the EU through supranational institutions, which have crushed the nation-states that joined the EU. Deprived of economic, financial, foreign policy and military sovereignty, they submit to the directives of the European Commission, which are adopted under intense pressure from the US. In essence, the EU is a bureaucratic empire that arranges things within its economic space in the interests of European and American capital, under US control.”
This intended subordinate role of the EU to US geopolitics was aptly highlighted this week when Washington tried to lobby European leaders to launch a third round of sanctions against Russia, allegedly for not “de-escalating” tensions over Ukraine. Western media reports disclosed that US President Barack Obama and his senior aides were engaged in intense phone calls with various European leaders, pushing for European sanctions.
As the Financial Times reported: “Washington is pressing the EU to threaten Moscow with sanctions against entire sectors of the Russian economy, including energy, finance and defense. Dan Fried, the US envoy for sanctions, visited Brussels on Wednesday to signal that the US was ready to proceed with these ‘level three’ measures but would seek to do so in lockstep with the EU, diplomats said.”
The key European political figure to advance American foreign policy is the British Prime Minister David Cameron. The week of intense Washington pressure on Europe to adopt a tough line towards Russia began with Obama and Cameron working out the common ground. American government-sponsored Radio Free Europe reported that the White House said Obama and Cameron “agreed that should Russia fail to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine, the US and European Union would work to implement additional coordinated measures to impose costs on Russia.”
As it turns out, the EU decided to not press ahead with Washington’s objective this week of slapping more provocative embargoes on the Russian economy. The opposition came from Germany’s Angela Merkel and several other member states that have a high dependence on Russian gas supply, including Austria, Italy, Spain, Finland, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.
The rejection of American-led sanctions against Moscow paves the way for diplomacy and talks, and a real possibility of de-escalation of what has become a very dangerous precipice towards a catastrophic war in Europe. On that score, notable European countries have this shown a welcome measure of independence from Washington and the latter’s aggressive policy towards Russia – at least for now. The same cannot be said for Britain. Britain’s Cameron is the archetypal messenger boy for US policy. If he had his way, the EU would be nothing more than an American satrapy, carrying out orders without question.
The EU’s democratic deficit is a real concern and needs to be addressed with reforms that reign in faceless bureaucracy and oppressive economic policies of austerity. All of that is related to Europe’s subservience to American Big Capital, instead of addressing real social needs. But none is more subservient to American interests than successive British governments, which ironically have deepened the democratic deficit of Europe by their slavish kowtowing to Washington’s economic and foreign policy objectives. The latest example of that is Cameron serving as Obama’s flunkey in Europe to promulgate sanctions against Russia.
The real threat to European freedom and independence comes from politicians like Cameron, not Jean-Claude Juncker.