The meeting of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Moscow last week was met with predictable accusations in Western circles that Moscow was becoming “subservient” or even a “vassal” of Beijing.
MEP Guy Verhofstadt, a Euro-fantasist and former prime minister of Belgium, jeered on Twitter, “Putin's appalling legacy now includes turning Russia more and more into a Chinese vassal state,” oblivious to the irony of his own words. As the United States took the lead in denouncing China’s peace plan for the Ukraine conflict, publicly setting out the conditions on which it should end, the European Union was nowhere to be seen, or at least had nothing original to say.
This makes Verhofstadt’s comments a damning display of lacking self-awareness. Russia and China are setting out their vision for a new multipolar world, while the US struggles against them in seeking to maintain its hegemonic position. Meanwhile, the European Union has been reduced to the status of a mere bench player in it all, and has become effectively irrelevant. The failure of EU countries to stake out their own will and position amidst the larger powers, as well as their total subservience to the US, has made a mockery of the “strategic autonomy” concept once championed by Emmanuel Macron.
“Strategic autonomy” is a principle of European integration where the EU should be an actor in a multipolar world, which advocates for its own interests and pursues its own agenda. Supporters of this principle insist that the EU should not blindly follow the will of the US when it comes to every foreign policy issue, but should be proactive and enhance its role on the world stage. Therefore, they should not, as is commonly demanded by Washington, take sides on matters such as a new Cold War with China. The term gained growing traction during the years of the Trump administration, when Europe’s relations with the US hit a low due to his particular interpretation of the “America first” doctrine.
However, the practical reality of “strategic autonomy” is that the EU is not a unitary state, but a loose intergovernmental organization of states which, while seeking to establish common positions on a principle of unity, do not truly have a unified foreign-policy-making mechanism. The intra-institutional politics of the EU are often a messy compromise and battle of wills between different levels of actors, including the states themselves, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. This combines with the reality that “European integration” has been a broken process since 2008. Challenges such as the Eurozone financial crisis, Brexit, Covid-19, and internal conflicts with various states such as Poland have all weakened and fractured the EU.
As a result, the EU has been ill-suited to deal with what is, despite media misdirection, the single most explicit source of foreign influence and interference against it, the US. Washington has multiple channels whereby it exerts control over the EU’s many foreign policy actors. Firstly, it uses a web of government-funded think tanks and associated journalists to control public opinion and steer EU countries towards supporting its objectives. Secondly, the US has an extraordinarily political hold over the former Soviet bloc states to the east of the EU (with the exception of Hungary), which it uses to foment increased antagonism against Russia and China, and therefore undermines the attempts of the bloc’s most “autonomous” and powerful states – Germany and France – to pursue more reconciliatory foreign policies.
Thirdly, the US uses the United Kingdom as its primary cheerleader in Europe (be it from within or without the EU) to project its political will onto the continent and override the will of any defiant member states. An example of this is the BBC World Service acting as a massive propaganda machine to push narratives in line with Washington’s foreign policies. Additionally, the US has shown an ability to work with and weaponize the intelligence services of member states against their own countries, such as using Danish intelligence to spy on other European leaders.
Through all these factors, both past and present, the US has been able to keep Europe divided, conflicted, and seemingly unable to pursue any foreign policy which actually meets European interests, as opposed to those of the US. This has culminated even to the extent of literally destroying the Nord Stream pipelines and then propagating a false narrative that Ukraine was responsible. The Ukraine war has ultimately only accelerated the isolation and irrelevance of Europe, which has strengthened the hold of the military-industrial complex over the continent, undermined its energy industries, and thus converted the term “strategic autonomy” into a laughing stock.
One might ask, who is truly the vassal? If a new multipolar world is emerging, it’s fair to say, Europe simply isn’t part of it. Russia, China, and America are the drivers of current events, the EU is but a passenger.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.