This article originally appeared at The Greanville Post
It is often alleged that the EU’s foreign policy is cobbled together in an ad hoc fashion – more often badly than well – and, so the common critique goes, that there is a lack of any coherent strategy. In this paper I maintain, to the contrary, that the European Union is in fact pursuing a targeted geostrategic goal aimed at extending its sphere of influence. The motive for this is the deeply rooted belief that in order to achieve its goal of becoming a “world power”, it is essential for it to gain control of an imperial ‘grand area’ – as will be shown by reference to publications of the [European] Group on Grand Strategy (GoGS). The first priority is to control its immediate “neighbourhood”, the most important means for which is the conclusion of an association agreement between a neighbouring state and the EU. It was thus no accident – for precisely this reason – that the escalation of tension and violence in Ukraine came immediately after the former president, Victor Yanukovich, decided to postpone signature of the association agreement with the EU which was then on the table.
Pretension to world power status and strategy of expansion
Influential exponents of European politics are more and more openly articulating the pretension to join the front line of the battle for global power and influence. Thus Social-Democrat Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said in 2013:
“Whether it wants to be or nor, Europe is a ‘global player’. The EU is the biggest and richest single market in the world, our economic strength accounts for a quarter of the world’s GDP. The EU is the biggest trading bloc in the world, the biggest donor of development aid in the world – the EU is an economic giant. Global economic power goes hand in hand with global political responsibility; Europe cannot back out of that responsibility. Europe’s partners are justified in expecting that Europe will face up to its responsibility and that the economic superpower will also become a global political superpower”.
From the point of view of the political elites, a “European Superpower” that wants to be taken seriously inescapably has to exert control over its European neighbourhood. Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorkski formulated it perfectly when he said: “If the EU wants to be a superpower – and Poland endorses that aim – it has to be able to exercise influence in its own neighbourhood”.
Thomas Renard, Senior Research Fellow at Egmont and Consultant to GoGS, underscores this: “Of course the EU has to establish itself as a power in its own region if it wants to be a global power”.
Members of GoGS – an increasingly influential group of EU geo-politicians – have been demanding for years that the EU finally commit itself openly to a geostrategy aimed at expanding its sphere of influence and establishing an imperial ‘grand area’. Writing in 2011, GoGS co-director James Rogers explained:
“The ultimate aim of geostrategy, then, is to link geography and politics to maximize the power and reach of the domestic territory. [….] Such an approach must be backed up by a subtle but formidable military posture, which aims to prevent potential rivals from emerging, encourages a high degree of security dependency on the part of foreign governments, and prevents dangerous non-state and state actors from working with one another.”
Based on this, Rogers developed criteria for delineating the borders of such a territory – defined by him as a “Grand Area” – thus, in a sense, laying out a kind of cartography of an EU empire. He includes large parts of Africa, the oil-rich Caspian and central-Asian region, and the Middle East, but also extends the ‘area’ far towards East Asia, where the shipping lanes have to be controlled (see map). Specifically, those countries and regions are to be integrated into the “Grand Area” which satisfy the following requirements:
“From a geopolitical perspective this zone would have to meet five criteria:
It would have to hold all the basic resources necessary to fuel European manufacturing needs and future industrial requirements;
Contain all the key trade routes, especially energy transmission pipelines and maritime shipping routes, from other regions to the European homeland;
Have the fewest possible geopolitical afflictions that could lead to the area’s disintegration and thereby harm future European economic development;
Show the least likelihood of significant encroachment by powerful foreign actors, relative to its importance to the European economy and geopolitical interests;
Represent an area the European Union can work towards defending most cost-effectively through the expansion of the Common Security and Defence Policy – in other words, without mandating an excessive and draining defence effort.
In addition, in order to exert control over the “Grand Area”, it should be covered with a dense network of European military bases: “The ‘Grand Area’ approach would attempt to integrate those countries into a permanent Europe-led system, underpinned by military stations, better communication lines and tighter partnerships – a European ‘forward presence’ – to reduce the need for sporadic intervention.”
The network of military bases is primarily designed to emphasize two aims: “Firstly, to deter foreign powers from meddling in countries in the wider European Neighbourhood and secondly, to dissuade obstinacy and misbehaviour on the part of local rulers”. Specifically, the proposal is to install a whole series of new bases: “New European military stations may be required in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Arctic region, and along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean. The intention behind these installations would be to (…) exercise a latent but permanent power within the ‘Grand Area’”.
Now one might dismiss Rogers’ ideas as the product of someone who has gone decidedly off the rails, but there is no question of us dealing here with some “geopolitical backbencher” – as is shown by the fact that he was commissioned by the EU’s own think-tank, the European Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), to write one of the core papers on the future of EU military policy, in which large elements of his “Grand Area Idea” were incorporated. It is striking that, in the way it has been carried out, EU enlargement corresponds significantly with Rogers’ idea. Within the political elites, discussions have been held for some time on extending the EU’s military presence as far as East Asia – and the adoption in June 2014 of the “European Maritime Security Strategy” represented an important intermediate step. But it is clear that greater importance attaches to control of the immediate “neighbourhood” within the foreseeable future – and the EU has already been working on this for many years.
Eastern enlargement as a strategy of expansion
For a long time, limits to the expansion of EU influence into the neighbouring area were imposed especially by the existence of the Soviet Union. But with the collapse of the U.S.S.R. at the beginning of the 1990s, the EU was presented with an enormous area for expansion which had to be ‘conquered’. This happened very quickly in the form of the so-called “eastern enlargement”, which had basically already been decided with the adoption of the “Copenhagen Criteria” in 1993. In order to be formally accepted into the EU, accession candidates had to submit themselves to a neoliberal shock therapy which essentially involved renouncing any and all measures of protection for their own economies and entering into “free and fair competition” with their far more powerful competitors in Western Europe. “Eastern enlargement primarily serves to open up new markets for the Western powers – the so-called “global players” – and to secure the “acquis communautaire” by means of the regulatory framework”.
In general, the strategy was successful: after the candidate countries had been forced to accept far-reaching concessions in negotiations lasting several years, in 2004 and 2007 twelve new countries – almost all from Eastern Europe – were integrated into the European sphere of influence as junior members. Since that time, only one other country – Croatia – has joined the EU, the reason being that the distribution of votes in the most important EU organ – the Council of Ministers – has been more closely aligned to the population size of a member state than before. Admitting new countries – especially those with large populations – would change the balance of power to the detriment of the major EU powers, and is thus not seriously on the agenda at this time.
In view of this, “expansion by enlargement” – which had in fact been quite successful – was no longer usable: “Even before the completion of the 2004 enlargement, the European Commission was already considering how to continue. (…) The EU had reached the limits of its existing developmental dynamics – a two-way reinforcement through integration and enlargement. (…) But it was also clear that an abrupt end to the dynamic of expansion could not be in the interests of the EU, as it would involve the risk of creating a stark conflict of interest between the EU and its periphery. Thus a plan had to be hatched that would allow further expansion of the EU – but an expansion that did not force the EU to accept further enlargement. How is expansion without enlargement possible?”
Imperial neighbourhood policy
The new strategy of expansion had actually been initiated as early as 2003 with the Commission’s “Wider Europe Communication” [full title: “Wider Europe – Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours”. COM(2003) 104, 11 March 2003], which paved the way for the introduction the following year of the “European Neighbourhood Policy” (ENP). In relation to the ENP, which currently involves 15 countries around the EU, its official raison d’être is the promotion of democracy and prosperity, but in reality the same objectives are being pursued as previously through enlargement. There is only one – but very significant – difference: for the reasons outlined above, the EU was not prepared to offer the ENP countries the prospect of accession. The Commission’s “Wider Europe” communication states drily: “A response to the practical issues posed by proximity and neighbourhood should be seen as separate from the question of EU accession.”
Apart from that, the clear priority in the Neighbourhood Policy is to enforce the neoliberal economic agenda and the integration of further countries into the European sphere of influence:
“What is not said is that the main reasons for economic integration are to bolster the competitiveness of the EU, integrate new economies into the expanding economy of the Empire (the EU) and to gain access to natural resources in the energy-rich neighbouring countries. The enormous accumulation of prosperity and economic power has given the EU a lever with which to impose market-friendly reforms – including privatisation, the liberalisation of trade and the adoption of the EU’s regulatory mechanisms – at the same time as avoiding being drawn into the ongoing debates in the surrounding countries. By doing so, however, rather than contributing to stability it runs the risk of creating political instability and of exacerbating the economic inequalities in its neighbourhood”.
Denied the lure of EU membership, the political classes and the public in the neighbouring countries are to be “persuaded” of the necessity of neoliberal reforms primarily through the promise of large sums of money – almost 15.5 billion Euro have been allocated to the “European Neighbourhood Instrument” (ENI) for the EU budget between 2014 and 2020.
The basic stipulations and regulations for countries to promote themselves as peripherally integrated sales outlets and investment opportunities for the core EU will then be set in stone as binding elements of an Association Agreement which the countries will have to sign. These agreements are central to the EU’s current strategy of expansion and are thus of enormous importance: “The association agreements which the EU is pushing for in the post-Soviet arena are a key element of the expansion of the EU’s sphere of influence to the east”, according to Professor Joachim Becker of the Institute for International Economics and Development at the Vienna University of Economics and Business.
Neoliberal Association Agreement
By 2012, the lengthy negotiations with Ukraine over an association agreement had finally resulted in a document that was ready to be signed – as it subsequently was, in full and unamended, on 27 June 2014, by the new rulers of Ukraine. For a long time only parts of the text of the “Association Agreement between the European Union and its Member States of the one part and Ukraine of the other” were to be found on the Internet, but it was finally published in full in the Official Journal of the EU on 29 May 2014. It comprises a 180-page core text plus a further 2000 or so pages of annexes and protocols devoted primarily to defining in detail the free trade zone being pursued.
If one examines the specific provisions of the agreement, it becomes clear that these are extremely problematic for Ukraine from an economic point of view. Three elements stand out: firstly, that a free trade zone is to be set up within 10 years; secondly, that for this purpose all tariffs and other measures designed to protect the domestic economy must be almost entirely abolished; and thirdly, that the introduction of common – N.B.European – production and certification standards will form a binding part of the agreement.
If one takes each of these points in turn, one quickly discovers the core concern: “The Parties shall progressively establish a free trade area over a transitional period of a maximum of 10 years starting from the entry into force of this Agreement” (Title IV, Article 25). In order to implement this goal, any tariffs [customs duties] with which a country protects its own economy but which could make the products of another country more expensive must be almost completely removed: “Each Party shall reduce or eliminate customs duties on originating goods of the other Party in accordance with the Schedules set out in Annex I-A to this Agreement (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Schedules’). (Title IV, Article 29, para. 1). Anyone making the extremely frustrating attempt to understand what is hidden in Annex I-A is confronted by a list of around 500 pages which details the future tariffs for almost every imaginable product. We must be grateful to the European Commission for explaining – in a background paper – that the Association Agreement will result in 99.1% of Ukraine’s tariffs being lowered, and 98.1% of the EU’s.
In order to make this process irreversible, the association agreement prescribes that the tariffs may not be raised again at a later date: “Neither Party may increase any existing customs duty, or adopt any new customs duty, on a good originating in the territory of the other Party.” (Title IV, Article 30). In addition, so-called ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’ – such as restrictions on quantities – are likewise banned: “No Party shall adopt or maintain any prohibition or restriction or any measure having an equivalent effect on the import of any good of the other Party or on the export or sale for export of any good destined for the territory of the other Party, except as otherwise provided in this Agreement or in accordance with Article XI of GATT 1994 and its interpretative notes.” (Title IV, Article 35).
A further passage with considerable implications appears under the seemingly inoffensive heading of “Approximation of technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment”. This binds Ukraine to accept European production and certification standards: “Ukraine shall take the necessary measures in order to gradually achieve conformity with EU technical regulations and EU standardisation, metrology, accreditation, conformity assessment procedures and the market surveillance system, and undertakes to follow the principles and practices laid down in relevant EU Decisions and Regulations (1)”. (Title IV, Article 56, §1).
While the European Union claims that the increased competition the Association Agreement brings with it – and of which the EU is fully aware – will result in undreamt-of improvements in efficiency and unleash a veritable economic boom in the country, the Russians maintain that the exact opposite will be the case. For example, Sergei Glasyev, adviser to President Putin on questions of Eurasian integration, wrote: “If Ukraine signs the Association Agreement with the EU and enters this unequal free trade zone, it will suffer negative growth and a negative trading balance up to 2020. We estimate the losses at around 1.5% of domestic GDP per annum. Up to 2020, Ukrainian products will be ousted from its own market, accompanied by economic recession and a reduction in opportunities for development”.
Of course, in the context of this dispute it is necessary to treat Russian statements with some care. But one hears similar arguments from different quarters – to the effect that Ukrainian companies which are already under great pressure from the introduction of expensive European product standards and certification procedures will be virtually defenceless in the face of the mighty competition from the EU due to the abolition of protective tariffs and non-tariff restrictions. Even Germany’s own “Germany Trade and Invest” foreign trade agency concedes this: “The adoption of EU standards and survival in the EU free trade zone will in many cases require immense modernisation efforts on the part of Ukrainian companies. The foodstuffs industry in particular has to adapt itself to the new standards. Financing [such changes] often presents an almost insurmountable hurdle to Ukrainian companies”.
Prof. Joachim Becker, whom we have already cited above, comes to a similar conclusion: “The geo-economic and geo-political line of attack is particularly obvious in the case of Ukraine. Going far beyond the liberalisation of trade, it is intended that Ukraine should be partially integrated into the internal market of the EU. This would mean that Ukraine would have to adopt substantial parts of EU economic law. Ukraine would lose not only possibilities for external protection of the national economy, but also core options for its domestic industrial policies (e.g. in relation to public tenders). (…) A “deep and comprehensive free trade area” is a core element of the Association Agreement. For Ukraine, ‘deepened’ free trade and the adoption of core elements of EU economic law might well result in a ‘deepening’ of de-industrialisation and ‘deeper’ structures ofdependence”. (Italics ours.)
Concerns such as these appear to have played an important role with the Yanukovich government, which is why the attempt was made during the negotiations to have various protective measures for domestic companies included in the Agreement. But this was categorically rejected by the EU. When Russia then offered Ukraine the prospect of considerable economic concessions (a discount on gas supplies worth around $3 billion a year and the purchase of 15 billion dollars’ worth of government bonds), it made perfect sense for the Yanukovich government to reject the Agreement in November 2013. This then initiated a process of escalation – massively supported by the US and EU – which led finally to the overthrow of Yanukovich and the establishment of a “transitional government” that lacked any legitimacy.
Military Association Agreement
The significance of the Association Agreement with Ukraine is, however, not merely economic, but to an even greater extent geo-political. This is so because it represents in practice a decision to join just one of two alliances which stand in an increasingly hostile relationship to each other. An Association Agreement with the EU categorically and permanently rules out accession to the Eurasian Economic Union to which Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan belong (and vice versa).
Given this, a more or less openly waged war has broken out over control of those countries which have not yet formally joined one or the other block. Thus GoGS co-director James Rogers writes:
“Eastern Europe is the gateway between the vast resources of Asia and the dense and technologically advanced populations of Europe. This means that it will either be controlled by imperial despotism in the form of Russia (sic), or by democratic civilisation in the form of Europe. Due to its geostrategic location, who gains access over this crucial zone will also gain influence over the entire Eurasian supercontinent. When Eastern Europe is controlled from Moscow, Europeans – and by extension, North Americans – will be held captive, as they were for much of the Cold War. When Eastern Europe is shaped by Brussels (as well as London, Paris and Berlin) – and by extension, Washington – Russia will be weakened and rendered relatively harmless, as it was for much of the 1990s and 2000s.”
Bearing such [insidious] statements in mind, we can understand the otherwise rather strange (because they are unusual in such an association agreement) passages in the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement on the development of military cooperation and integration into the military policy of the EU:
“The Parties shall intensify their dialogue and cooperation and promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), and shall address in particular issues of conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability, disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control and arms export control as well as enhanced mutually-beneficial dialogue in the field of space. Cooperation will be based on common values and mutual interests, and shall aim at increasing policy convergence and effectiveness, and promoting joint policy planning. To this end, the Parties shall make use of bilateral, international and regional fora.
The Parties shall enhance practical cooperation in conflict prevention and crisis management, in particular with a view to increasing the participation of Ukraine in EU-led civilian and military crisis management operations as well as relevant exercises and training activities, including those carried out in the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).” (Title II, Articles 7 and 10).
It is surely such passages as these which have contributed to Moscow’s decision to challenge the West. Probably also because it cannot have escaped Moscow’s notice that in a core strategy paper published on 15 October 2013, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s “High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, stated that the whole of the European periphery was an area of special interest and even intervention for the EU:
“The renewed emphasis by the US on the Asia-Pacific region is a logical consequence of geostrategic developments [e.g. the rise of China]. It also means that Europe must assume greater responsibility for its own security and that of its neighbourhood. (…) The Union must be able to act decisively through CSDP as a security provider, in partnership when possible but autonomously when necessary, in its neighbourhood, including through direct intervention. Strategic autonomy must materialize first in the EU’s neighbourhood.”