In times of crisis the EU 'foreign policy' is always under suspicion and has to suffer loads of critique. So on their dealing with the Ukrainian crisis. 'EU is a pussy. They are cowards. EU is only in it for the money. Words, words, words... we need deeds. EU decision making is hopelessly slow. Vladimir Vladimirovich has private laughing sessions in the Kremlim.' The basic critique is that EU foreign policy is desperately slow, and EU is only protecting its economic interests. The bottom line: the EU foreign policy is hypocrite and ineffective.
Does this critique make any sense? On face value it does. Euromaidan was very angry and frustrated on the inabilty to act by the EU, especially the unwillingness to impose sanctions. And only yesterday Dutch television showed and item (made by Russia Today, by the way) that France is delivering mans-of-war for the Russion Black Sea fleet. On which the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans commented that 'of course foreign trade with Russia continues'. In a word: 'Business as usual.' Former Prime Minister of Germany, and now commissioner of Gazprom and 'friend' op Putin, Gerhard Schöder made it even worse in defending Putin in Der Spiegel. 'Hypocrits - that's what they are' - that would be a fair summary of the commentaries on twitter? But is it true?
The Crimea crisis: an ethnic conflict?
At least it isn't the whole story. But first a short note on the Crimea crisis. What makes this crisis extremely dangerous and risky is that Putin in just a week succeeded in transforming the struggle of Euromaidan for a decent state for all Ukrainians, in a quasi ethnic conflict of international dimensions. The basic opposition is no longer between those who want a decent, non corrupt Ukrainian state and government, and those who support a criminal government. Now it seems to be between east and west, between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians, Kossacks, Tartars and Jews, between Russia and 'The West'. In this 'ethnization' of the political debate and conflict in Ukraine Putin is playing with fire.
Some commenters compare the Crimea conflict with '1939’, the Munich Treaty - the eve of World War II and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia. But the etnization of the Crimea conflict and the struggle of Euromaidan reminds me much more of the eve of the First World War - which we commemorate these days - the Balkan Wars of nineties and the war on Kosovo, this whole history of Slavic fratricide. (When you have some time left, read some pages in Christopher Clark's Sleepwalkers.) The Crimea crisis as attempt of etnicizing Euromaidan is in the light of these historical dissasters and tragedies extremely disturbing.
This is not all than can and need to be said about the Crimea crisis, but it suffices as a background of evaluating the developing EU foreign policy. It's important to see that this is no blueprint policy. In fact what we see, starting in 1989, is a roll back, repair and healing of the effects of the Peace of Versailles and the conference of Yalta. 'Versailles' lead to creating artificial borders and nations in which people with different ethnic backgrounds had to live. Yalta did it exactly the other way around. It lead to the deportation of Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Russians and others to create ethnic homogeneous nations and to prevent international conflict. In a cynical way it parallels Stalins ethnic policy in Ukraine. If there is a moral right of people with a shared ethnic background and history to determine their own future and fate, than the Europe of Yalta was build on an injustice. An injustice that not only lead to justified claims of self-determination, but also to virulent ethnic-nationalistic conflicts, and the exploiting of this injustice for geo-political aims, as we now wittness in Ukraine. 'No Post-Yalta, but No-Yalta' should be the aim of the foreign policy of the EU, as one commentor claimed.
Hypocricy: the critique of economic interests
In this context the economic interests of the EU are not a set back for a just intervention in the Crimea crisis and support of Ukraine. It's main goals should be the support of Euromaidan as the democratic movement of Ukraine, the safeguarding of the integrity of Ukraine and - first of all - preventing Ukraine from becoming the next Balkan. And here the economic interests help. First: not only offers the EU an example of unprecedented economic integration in world history, but, second, the interrelation of the EU and Russian economy curbs, in the end, the tempation to look for the most radical, zero-sum solution in the Crimea conflict. Third, Ukraine will become an ever more interesting country for EU companies to invest. Even if, what God forbid, Crimea will be lost, it will not become like a new Hong Kong on the border of China. It will be the other way around: Ukraine, minus Crimea, will be the 'Hong Kong' on the border of Russia. So, economic interests do not hamper the foreign policy of the EU. It is one of its most valuable strategic assets. First in curbing the actual post-soviet politics of Putin in Crimea. Second making Ukraine interesting for economic investment and so developing and modernizing the economy of Ukraine. So, criticizing that serving the economic interests of the EU is 'hypocrit', is not only short sighted but also a cheap way of moralizing that robs the EU of one its most important strategic assests to help all the citizens of Ukraine in there longing for a decent, non corrupt, non criminal state and flourishing future.
Ineffectiveness and the virtue of slow politics
But what is even more important is what I would call the EU 'invention' of 'slow politics'. It's quite understandable what drove protesters of Euromaidan, and Victoria Nuland mad: the seemingly inability to decide in times of crisis. The neverending use of words like 'we are deeply concerned'. Nevertheless the call for immediate action and the disqualifying of words as a critique of the EU is deeply flawed.
To appreciate this argument we have to look at the history of the EU. It's a history of words, not weapons. It's the end of violence as a ligitimate means to regulate relationships between European nations and ethnic peoples after the bloodlands of the both World Wars. It's a miracle in which now 28 countries manage to create something quite unique in world history - just by using words. The European Union is not only a common market, but also a community of rights. The EU is the slowly but persistent discovery that right is not might, but that rights have a value in themselves that should be respected - respected by words.
You could argue that this would make the EU foreign policy weak, ineffective, and vulnerable for hard power. And in the short run that can be true. But the gradual expansion of the EU to the 28 countries which are now forming the EU, seems to point in another direction. Contrary to public opinion and the easy going criticism, the EU foreign policy is in the long run extremly effective and succesfull, exactly because it is driven by the ideal of a community of rights. It is no coincidence that the Foreign Ministers of Poland, France and Germany took off immediately for Kyiv when the Januari shooting started, and forced Yanukovych to sign the agreement with the opposition, which was the overture to his fall and subsequent flight.
Foreign policy in the EU is always slow politics. It depends on the concensus of al of its 28 members. It asks for careful diliberation which takes into account the rights, interests and wishes of all who are involved, and which in the end will lead tot a reflective equilibrium of ideals and the demands of reality.
Concerning the Crimea crisis this slow politics is extremely important. First of all it has in itself a de-escalating effect. But - as the outcome of the EU as a community of rights - it could the most effective diplomatic strategy to avoid the Putin trap, to transform the Euromaidan longing for a decent government and flourishing future for all Ukrainians in the next Slavic fratricide.
An ethics of memory
Ever since 1989 we are dealing with the outcomes of the two Armageddons of the twentieth century. Versailles proved to be a dissaster. Yalta bought a cold peace at the costs of locking millions of Europeans behind the Iron Curtain, robbing them from their civil rights. Today Ukraine makes us remember these dreadful histories. Ukraine = Europe makes Ukraine the most European country in Europe. We owe to all Ukrainian citizens that we offer them the best we have. Therefore we - citizens of the EU - should stop this easy going, intellectual lazy criticizing of the EU foreign policy as 'hypocrit' and 'ineffective', and start appreciating the enormous asset of the EU that supports all Ukrainians: the common market and the community of rights.
Still the best the EU can offer is to involve Ukraine in this mind blowing learning process of discovering - by stumbling and falling - of what Immanuel Kant calls 'the eternal peace'. We are not yet there, but we are on our way. And our European brothers in Ukraine should be part of it.