To please, or not to please

Wednesday, 1. October 2008     1 comment(s)
Arkady Moshes
Programme Director - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme

I regularly give talks on EU-Russian relations at the External Policy Training seminar, arranged by the European Institute of Public Administration for the staffers of the European Commission in Brussels. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with all these practitioners and I enjoy the discussion every time. More often than not, I return under impression that the people I am invited to talk to do not really need my recommendations. They know everything themselves. And I could definitely say the same about many civil servants, not only diplomats, who deal with Russia professionally.

Why does it then take so long before this knowledge finds its way into European policy towards Russia, if this happens at all? Why, for example, as late as in the beginning of the Finnish EU presidency in 2006 many in the EU still preferred to wear the rosy glasses, at least in public? True, Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko were still alive, but YUKOS had been demolished and Putin’s post-Beslan speech, pointing at the "traditional enemies of Russia" had been made some two years earlier, which probably enough to alarm the observers. Why up until very recently did European leaders continue to talk about the common values? Did they really share them with the current Russian leadership? Why is it in general so difficult for the European leaders to say to Russia and about Russia what they really mean?

I do not have the answer. Hopefully, we can have a discussion here on that.

All I have is two wild guesses. One is that European leaders are simply too much politicians. As such, they have learned a skill to please - the voters during elections, the businesses in order to receive funds and other support, etc. And they would also instinctively like to please external partners, hoping that a pleased partner might be easier to deal with. I leave it here to those who want to have their own opinion as to whether this helps or not.

(Of course, when some EU leaders try to please Moscow too much, they provoke the reaction of those inside the ranks who disagree with that, which complicates the intra-EU situation further, but this is different story.)

And my second guess deals with the general pacifist culture of the old continental Europe, which its leaders embody and personify. It’s not true that Europe does not have the muscles. It does, but these are for the podium, not for fight. Europe abandoned the logic of si vis pacem para bellum - if you want peace, prepare for war - decades ago. It believes that a bad compromise is better than no compromise. It looks around and thinks that a conflict with country X (I do not mean necessarily Russia, it can be Iran, or any other country) would be such a bad thing per se that it has to be avoided. And this logic dictates the behavior of conflict-avoidance at any price and the intention not to think about the long-term implications of this line of (in)action.

It would be no doubt very good, if everyone else in the world followed this logic as well. Unfortunately, the world is different.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

Discussion (1 comments)

26.3.2009, van torma

I have heard that knowledge is power. I am of finnish anncestary and am wondering if you could share any more information regarding the aspect of the cultural philosophy of the finnish people and their conflict avoidance nature. It seems to be gaining more importance lately due to the nature of my my job and I need some assistance/guidance in this area. Thank you in advance. Van Torma

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