What Can Russia Expect from a New Europe?

The crisis in Russian-European relations in the past few years has largely been caused by a conflict in basic values. The values that Europe has been increasingly accepting were not to Russia’s liking and vice versa. Moreover, the development of European integration caused distortions in its decision-making system, making Europe a somewhat uncomfortable partner. The anti-Nazi parties that came to power in the leading EU countries after World War II gradually developed into rigid elites and bureaucracy. Talking to them became more difficult; they simply did not want to hear what Russia had to say.

Today, these distortions are likely to be corrected and the initial atmosphere of the holiday restored, at least to some extent. However, it is very difficult to predict the strategic consequences of this. This applies to Russia as well. Russia will have to reconsider some of its basic values, one of which is “our Victory Day.” After all, the forces that are coming to power in European countries are much closer in spirit to those against whom the people of Russia fought the mortal struggle in 1941-1945.

There can be two responses to this: we can either shut our eyes to the fact that hypocritical Europe is being replaced with nationalist Europe or accept it and calmly react to the manifestations of European politics that seemed to Russia absolutely unacceptable just several years ago. This change can be seen in the meeting of representatives of some right-wing parties, with the participation of the Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is friendly to Russia. It took place in Tallinn early last week and was hosted by the hospitable Estonian party EKRE, notorious for its anti-Russia statements.

Totalitarianism of Love: How Not to Get Lost in a Changing World
The second day of the Valdai Club Annual meeting began culturally  with “Dostoyevskian psychology”, but in a good sense of the word. The session, which opened a series of expert discussions in Sochi on October 16, was devoted to national identity in a changing world. Without referring to the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, there is a certain “political understatement”, as say the authors of the Valdai Club report, which was presented the day before.
Club events

The change is all the more topical since the elections to the European Parliament will take place in a couple of days, on May 27 and 28. These elections are likely to be important; for the first time, the opposition to the traditional European establishment will address voters with proposals on a radical reform of the EU rather than dismantling it. It is hard to predict how many votes this conventional “coalition of the new right” will get and whether it will be officially registered. Some analysts predict that they will get between 15 to 20 percent of the vote. One thing is clear – for the first time since the formation of the European Parliament it will have a serious association of deputies that want to push European integration from the path that led it into a deadlock and an internal crisis.

Importantly, the backbone of the future right-wing faction will be formed by deputies from large EU countries – the French National Rally (formerly Marine Le Pen’s National Front) and the Italian League – now the most influential party in the Apennines. This is no longer a joke, and they cannot be marginalized, as they have been in the past by the conventional elite. In all probability, they will be supported by Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz, the Alternative for Germany, and rightist parties from Austria and smaller European countries, such as the same EKRE. As a result, they could establish a fairly strong coalition, the parties to which will share a number of fundamental views. There may be few of them, three or four, but their emergence as a single platform at the pan-European level will become a truly revolutionary event for the EU.

The forthcoming elections are particularly symbolic because they are being held on the 40th anniversary of direct elections to the European Parliament (EP), which took place in 1979. Five years before this, the heads of state of the then European Economic Community (EEC) agreed to grant their citizens the right to elect representatives to the European Parliament, without giving it any serious levers of influence on decision making within the EEC. The result was a surprise. As early as 1980, a group of EP deputies suggested a political program for promoting European integration. This was the foundation for Europe’s development over the following two decades. The consequences of this were only fully removed by the middle 2000s when a Constitution for Europe was knocked down. Won’t the likely proposals of the conventional “right-wing bloc” gain similar influences in the next European Parliament, especially since their representatives are already or de facto in power in some EU countries (Italy, Hungary)?

The issues raised by the European right-wingers may have decisive significance for the destiny of European integration. First and foremost, this is the position and role of the European Commission – the notorious organization of the so-called Euro bureaucrats. As the most desirable radical solution, the European right-wingers are proposing that the European Commission be eliminated altogether in its current form because it presents a threat to the real sovereignty of the EU member states. The alternative would be agencies to oversee the specific tasks based on instructions from the EU member countries. Even a slight step towards the implementation of this scenario would change the face of modern Europe beyond recognition.

In addition, the European right parties are calling for meaningful rather than decorative reform of European immigration policy. Today, this is the most important demand of voters because it directly affects their security and values. Europe’s current immigration policy, or rather the lack of such policy, is simply a threat to its citizens.

These reforms, aimed at drastically reducing Brussels’ influence and renouncing political aspects of integration, will finally close down the EU issue as an imperial project. This is very important from a strategic perspective, including to Russia. Prominent American historian Timothy Snyder wrote, indirectly, that to avoid their own radicalization, the leading European countries should be part of a larger association, a kind of an empire. This idea is nothing new. It is a version of the proposals made by Altierо Spinelli more than 70 years ago.

Historically, Europe has generally been faced with a choice between two scenarios for unity. Let’s call them “unity, Russo style” and “unity, Hobbes style.” The former implies the voluntary unity of the European countries on the issues that do not violate their sovereign rights. This is the model that was the foundation of European integration initially and subjected to substantial distortion in the past 10-15 years. The latter model by Hobbes is the imperial form of association with a strong common center. For instance, Napoleon and Hitler tried to create such associations. The current European establishment was sitting comfortably under the wing of European bureaucracy and the practices imposed on it. The people were invited to enjoy the benefits of integrated life, free telephone roaming, and a celebration of Europe Day on May 9.

Brexit and the Decline of a European Union Empire?
David Lane
Discussion of the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union has evolved around the British side’s problems of extrication. Rather less has been revealed about how the process has affected the European Union. What kind of institution is it?

What will the start of Europe’s movement to a more democratic and institutionally loose association mean for Russia? In theory, it means greater freedom to maneuver in relations with the European states and the implementation of our national goals in Europe. But at the same time it could require a change in the entire paradigm of our attitude to Europe and European nationalism based on the experience of the Great Patriotic War. This may be painful for us but it is probably inevitable.

The EU, in its current state, and NATO, both of which are hostile to Russia, are essentially anti-Nazi organizations aimed at suppressing any form of European nationalism in favor of the supra-national domination of Brussels or a personified domination of the US. Russia’s relations with these institutions and their elites have come to a deadlock and there seems to be no way out of it at this time. But is Russia ready for a dialogue with the forces that hold the memory of all those who perished in the most terrible war in European history – World War II, regardless of which side they were on?

If Russia is willing to hold such a dialogue for diplomatic or strategic reasons, it will have to undergo a gradual and painful reconstruction of the entire friend-or-foe approach that was forged in the fire of the Great Patriotic War and World War II. Obviously, without US support, modern Europe cannot pose a military threat to Russia, as it did for centuries. But if the European processes, that are gaining momentum now, prevail, soon we will have to extend our hand to the spiritual successors of those against whom our grandfathers fought at the frontline.

Europe’s Choice
Alexander Rahr
Humanity is increasingly caught up in the maelstrom of new conflicts. Disorder in the world is growing. A great war can no longer be ruled out. The global conflicts have nothing to do with territorial claims or conquest, as in earlier centuries. No state today seeks territorial expansion, not even Russia, which laments the collapse of the Soviet Union; the events in Crimea in 2014 were a response to NATO's eastward enlargement.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.