European Voice

Posted: April 7, 2008 in European Voice
Tags: , ,

Here are a couple of op-eds that i wrote for the European Voice ( an off-shoot of the Economist. Can’t link to them directly, as they have a charge on their website. The most recent looks at China’s march on Africa while the EU fiddles around, and the second calls for the Europeans to come together with some semblance of a coherence strategy on Russia.

China steals a march while EU dawdles in Africa

By Raffaello Pantucci 

Vol. 14 No. 4 : 31 January 2008

Rather than the usual winter decision to turn off the gas taps to Ukraine or Belarus, Gazprom kicked off 2008 with the announcement that it was looking towards investing in Nigeria. The immediate Western paranoia about this is all the more absurd given Europe’s continuing insistence on a gradualist approach to Africa that is so plainly not working.


China and India are inexorably – though without heavy-handed interference – encroaching on the continent and exploiting its rich natural resources.

Small wonder that Russia wants part of the action.

Ardent Europeanists often champion the notion of process as an achievement. For them, it is the incremental action within European bureaucracies that gives them their strength – the acquis which provides European institutions with credibility and longevity, and eventually the pan-European identity which will provide legitimacy to the institutions.
Thanks in part to the stasis of the Cold War, Europe had years to slowly cogitate and develop ideas which may well lead to greater cohesion – the single market, the growing zone of visa-free travel are indeed achievements. But it is becoming clear that, in a time of accelerating globalisation and competition against an emerging superpower as ambitious as China, gradualism can only spell doom for any credible EU foreign policy.
Occasional summits at which leaders gather – or don’t, as in the case of the EU-Africa summit and Gordon Brown – do not double as an actionable foreign policy. Nor does talk of a “new era for political dialogue” with Africa disguise the fact that there is an essential disconnection between what Africa needs and what Europe seems able to give.
In stark contrast, China throws major summits for African states at which thousands of business deals are discussed, and the capital city Beijing is transformed to welcome African leaders. Discussions about human rights issues in problem states such as Sudan and Zimbabwe are notably absent.
Instead the priority is a pragmatic recognition of the needs of both the supplier and provider states. China needs untapped sources of hydrocarbons and new markets; African states need, or want, new infrastructure and weaponry.
None of this is particularly focused against Europe, which is becoming simply irrelevant. But Russia’s decision to invest in Nigeria and the United States’ decision to create AFRICOM are certainly symptoms of a vacuum left in Africa that can easily be attributed to European failure.
China continues to make (and literally build) in-roads to Africa and is only quietly the ‘responsible stakeholder’ that the US urged it to be, by allegedly pressuring recalcitrant African leaders through back-room channels. The Europeans, by contrast, busy themselves with vacuous statements but appear unable to deal with awkward but soluble difficulties such as assembling armed forces to help restore peace in troublespots on the continent they so long considered their backyard.
This is not a counsel of despair, nor a call to neo-colonialism, nor an invitation to abandon natural responsibilities (and huge opportunities) in Africa. The strong cultural and human connections are real, as are pressing issues that would benefit from co-ordinated action – starting with immigration, but extending well beyond this.
While Europe remains paralysed about what to do next, China – and to some extent India – are filling the void in Africa with millions of euros in investment and a 750,000 strong army of merchants and businessmen; they are settling in for the long-haul.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s statement at the December EU-Africa summit about a “milestone” was frankly risible to anyone who knows what is really going on. The EU-Africa relationship, in common with a few other EU relationships, needs no more markers or invented triumphs, but a coherent and active strategy, and definite and visible action to match.
It is an open question whether that is genuinely possible. Is the political process which made the European Union – akin to slow cooking – now destined to prove its undoing?

  Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

New EU states must unite against Putin

By Raffaello Pantucci

Vol. 12 No. 21 : 1 June 2006

Many greeted Angela Merkel’s election as a turning point in EU relations, both internally and with the outside world. The new German chancellor had the outlook of an Atlanticist and showed herself keen to emphasise that the EU was a Europe of 25.

During last year’s precarious EU budget talks she was credited with ensuring that smaller member states – previously frozen out of the EU decision-making process by the Schröder-Chirac axis – were consulted.
But six months into her term the only major policy shift has come in Germany’s new American viewpoint. All other relations have remained much the same. The severing of the personal link between Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin produced only a slight chilling of relations with Russia and above all there was not the hoped for repudiation of the gas pipeline deal Angela Merkel’s predecessor signed just before leaving office.
Instead, to the horror of Poland and the Baltic states, she has pushed forward in supporting the controversial pipeline (controversial in that it purposely circumvents them), declaring it a matter of German national interest.
While unsurprising, the decision reflects the broader European predicament about Russia: the need to be supportive of smaller member states versus the realpolitik of having to secure energy supplies. Similarly, Russia has to be kept onside over global security issues such as Iran and nuclear proliferation, but Russian actions in its immediate periphery – on Europe’s borders – are often at odds with international democratic norms.
The EU’s response to these twin quandaries has, thus far, been muddled. If national energy interests cannot be overridden, a greater effort could be made to achieve some sort of baseline consensus on Russia.
It should also be noted that the EU has more leverage with Russia than it appears to realise. Reports in Italy earlier this year of shortfalls in Russian gas supplies highlighted the need for investment in Russia’s energy infrastructure.
Most steps taken so far appear only to have inflamed Russian nationalism and strengthened Vladimir Putin’s hand. What is needed is a basic pan-European consensus. Unfortunately, there are few major European leaders left who are comfortable enough in their positions to be able to take the lead.
But the Baltics and other central and east European member states have profound interests in influencing overall EU policy towards Russia. Were they able to start to develop detailed proposals among themselves which took account of energy concerns, they might at least start a debate on what direction EU-Russian relations should take. At the same time, larger member states could make more concerted efforts to reduce their dependency on Russian hydrocarbons.
Ultimately, Russia is able to act as it does because it has perfected a divide- and-rule strategy towards the EU. European leaders either feel beholden for energy reasons, or are simply too occupied with domestic issues to even begin to address Russian actions.
US Vice-President Dick Cheney has already taken a leadership role in criticising developments in Russia. Central and eastern European states should take advantage of this support to start to wrench European policy away from its current wavering.

  Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate in the Europe programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s