Russia and Germany’s SPD: Energy ties that bind

Respect! This week the US Senate voted to fortify US sanctions against Russia. The new amendments on the Iran sanctions bill would require the President to seek congressional approval before lifting any of the Russia sanctions. Trump’s elbow room on Russia is closing. This is a big deal. Not only because it was a bipartisan agreement between Republicans and Democrats, but also because Republicans went against the wishes of the US administration.

Additionally, the Senate went even further, expanding the sanction measures against those supplying arms to Syria and those conducting cyberattacks. Most prominently for Europe, the US Senate launched a broadside against Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a project that would bypass Ukraine as a transit country and expand Russian gas supplies directly to Germany.  The Senate clearly stated its opposition to the gas line “given its detrimental impacts on the European Union’s energy security” and put in a provision that would allow the administration to sanction EU companies involved in any Russian export pipeline (read: Nord Stream 2).

This is a milestone development. It strengthens US resolve on the Russia sanctions and should somewhat ease European worries about Trump going soft on Russia. And it puts further pressure on Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that the majority of EU Member States and the European Commission oppose for obvious geopolitical reasons.

Yet, the tone from Berlin is hysterical. Foreign Minister Gabriel has sharply criticised the proposal. Chancellor Merkel is backing Gabriel on this, albeit via a statement from her press spokesperson. And German Economy Minister Zypries has even speculatively floated the idea of countermeasures against the US in this regard. They consider the US Senate act an offense to the German energy companies in bed with Gazprom and claim the US is shamelessly promoting its own energy interests given its potential for shale gas exports to Europe

What nonsense!

The arguments don’t stand up to any scrutiny. First, US gas export infrastructure ain’t sufficient to make any relevant dent in the EU’s gas imports from Russia any time soon. And second, Asian markets would economically be more profitable for US gas exporters. Europe’s energy security isn’t strengthened by increasing dependence on Russia via yet another pipeline.

What’s actually at play is a kind of Schroederisation of the election campaign.

Gerhard Schroeder, the Socialist former Chancellor of Germany, successfully used anti-American rhetoric in his opposition to the Iraq War to win re-election in 2002.

Having crashed down in the opinion polls, the SPD is desperately clutching at straws, hoping that strong rhetoric against the US will bring them back some dynamic. Chancellor Merkel is aware of that threat and tried to pre-empt it with her speech in Trudering, where she highlighted that Europe can no longer rely on the US. But she too is aware of the pitfalls of going overboard. Hence, why her statement came from the press spokesperson.

The Socialist criticism of the US Senate is comical. It puts the SPD in the same camp as Trump, since his administration had been against these Senate amendments as well. So the SPD is actually supporting Trump now on Russia. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

In a declaration against the US Senate amendments, German Foreign Minister Gabriel and the Austrian Chancellor Kern state that “we decide upon who delivers us energy according to the rules of openness and market competition”, and that geopolitical interests shouldn’t interfere with economic interests. If that’s the case then what’s up with the EU sanctions regime? Aren’t geopolitical interests at play here that interfere with economic interests? Should the sanctions now also be sacrificed on the altar of economic interests?

This whole episode clearly shows again the deep ties that bind the German Socialists to the Russian regime and its energy exports. Gerhard Schroeder, now on the payroll of Gazprom as one of its chief lobbyists, is obviously doing a good job inside his party.

The SPD is known to pursue a traditional Russia policy of Wandel durch Annäherung (‘change through rapprochement’), stating that Russia can be changed through close ties. The problem is that it’s not Russia that’s changing, it’s the SPD akin to Nietzsche who said “when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you”.

Putin and his regime are masters at network diplomacy, penetrating deep into all kinds of social, economic and political structures. The intermingling of economic, political and private ties, as so highlighted by Gerhard Schroeder is dangerous. It pits personal against national/European interests. Even the Notorious B.I.G. understood this point, when he said in his 10 rap commandments that rule 7 is crucial but “so underrated: keep your family and business completely separated”.

EU Member States opposing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline need to come out swinging in favour of the US Senate, lobby the US Congress and administration in favour of the legislation, and criticise Germany for its position. Pressure on Germany needs to increase in order to deep-six the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The Internet of Wild Things: Why EU Cybersecurity makes me wannacry

More than 200.000 computers infected, more than 150 countries affected, a total cost of up to 4 billion USD, and countless hospitals, factories, and services shutdown – that was the result of the worldwide cyberattack known as WannaCry. Putting its direct impact aside, however, the Wannacry attack painfully laid bare the cyber vulnerabilities of our age.

Cyberattacks are by far no longer a niche issue or futuristic material for blockbuster movies like Die Hard 4.0. They’re a daily reality. Last year in Europe, almost 70% of large businesses and half of all small businesses are estimated to have been victims to a cyberattack. And that’s no great surprise. The majority of companies doesn’t even have formal cyber security policies in place. Most worryingly perhaps is that the majority of cyber intrusions focus on a crucial people-oriented sector: healthcare. A recent report into cyber security trends highlighted that almost 20% of all attacks target that particular industry. The WannaCry attack, for example, affected many National Health Service hospitals in England and Scotland. All kinds of devices had been infected, ranging from computers and blood-storage refrigerators to MRI scanners.

The alarm bells have been ringing for some time now and WannaCry was a wake-up call that due to its global reach, finally jolted some into action. Germany, for example, has now stated its intention to update its cybersecurity legislation to include the health care and financial sectors in its list of critical industries that require minimum cybersecurity standards.

The European Union has also been working on its cybersecurity legislation, having put into place its NIS Directive (Directive on security of network and information systems), which must be implemented by the EU Member States by May 2018. This Directive obliges critical institutions and infrastructures to have basic minimum cybersecurity standards.

However, in this fast-evolving brave new digital world, catching-up just ain’t good enough. The pace and extent of digitalisation is so fast and wide that legislation needs to adapt accordingly. That means not just reacting but pro-actively considering and putting into place cybersecurity safeguards for emerging fields.

Digitalisation is a base innovation, similar to the invention of electricity. It is spreading like wildfire into every sector, service and product. Everything is becoming connected. The Internet of Things is a prime example where regular products from coffee machines to baby dolls are being digitised. But our cybersecurity legislation is not taking it into account. These devices don’t need to have any basic cybersecurity standards. As such, the Internet of Things can through cyber-manipulation actually turn into an Internet of Wild Things.

Just last year, a massive cyberattack took control over thousands of internet-connected devices – ranging from cameras, kettles, thermostats and TVs – to then use this “zombie army” of things to take down sites such as Twitter, Spotify and Paypal.

These internet-connected products are often sold as “smart devices”. They’re not. Without basic cybersecurity standards, they’re stupid devices. They open a cyber door into our digital and physical lives. They can be the entry point, allowing someone to cross-over into other digital areas such as your credit card details. They can create vulnerability. As has also been shown in automated cars that have been hacked into and hijacked so to speak.

There’s a large vacuum in this field that needs to be filled. And the longer it takes to fill it, the more vulnerable digital society will become. Because any new legislation calling for basic IT standards on connected devices would arguably only count for new devices sold in the market. But what about all those old smart devices that are already in circulation?

Secondly, there’s another fundamental question to be asked about connected devices. Let’s be realistic: a one-off cybersecurity standard won’t do. Cybersecurity is a non-stop game where software needs to be continually updated and expanded. That was also one of the reasons why so many computers had been infected by WannaCry – they were running out-of-date versions of Windows. How will such a process for updating connected devices be put into place? Is it realistic and would companies want to take on that responsibility? And what will its impact be? Izabella Kaminska, recently asked in an op-ed in the Financial Times what would happen in the case of self-driving cars, if one encounters “the spinning wheel of death (ie. a software update) just when they need to rush to hospital?” Digital systems can have physical effects.

The European Parliament in a recently adopted Report on Digitising European Industry has brought attention to this issue of connectivity. The report raises the issue that “producers are responsible for ensuring safety and cybersecurity standards as core design parameters” and that “cyber security requirements for the Internet of Things…would strengthen European cyber-resilience”. Hear Hear! The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) has also been promoting this issue, highlighting its damage potential.

Basic IT security parameters need to be put into place to ensure the Internet of Things doesn’t turn into the Internet of Wild Things. European policymakers need to move this issue forward in spite of industry moaning. As a first step, they could adapt public procurement rules in such a way that any connected device would be required to have basic cybersecurity standards.

The cracks in society: Escaping the echo chamber is not enough

This year has been a watershed for progressive forces. The West is in the grip of a populist insurgency. Brexit and Trump are a result of this tide.

In search for explanations, one particular buzzword is defining the discourse: “echo chamber”. Many pundits have written insightfully on how progressives are stuck within their own filter bubble and have forgotten how to engage with those who think differently. They are right. But this doesn’t seem to go far enough. Perhaps, it’s too shallow an analysis. It’s not just about the (social media) echo chamber that simply reinforces your own worldview; it’s about the fact that societies have become more self-centred. Digitalisation has led to greater individualisation.

Yes, the digital environment empowers but it also makes selfish. With Fitbits and smartphones we continuously self-track our own activities and performance, in an effort to self-optimise. Facebook and Twitter echo our own views. It’s about ourselves. It’s an ethics of vanity that Edmund Burke warned against. The digital world reaffirms existence. I browse, therefore I am. Being online is who we are. Studies show that, on average, we are on our phones 221 times a day. Five and a half hours are each day supposedly spent on digital media. That number is even higher for younger generations. It diminishes the scope for intimate interaction. But it’s relationships and experiences that change people and make them grow. We cannot build our own individual ladders to heaven and leave the total human enterprise unredeemed, as Reinhold Niebuhr wrote.

The digital environment also breeds immediate desires, envy and painfully illustrates inequality. Algorithms show desirable products. Smartphones show how the most luxurious of society live. It’s now possible to constantly see a greener grass on the other side. Expectations are rising faster than before. And as digital technologies have grown so has participation in mediating institutions, such as trade unions, faith-based communities and civic organisations, fallen.

Alongside these trends there’s also greater isolation. Digitalisation and automation are changing the nature of the workforce in ways we do not yet comprehend, with people falling out of the workforce or falling into the digital self-employed. There are also too many losers of globalisation and people that feel left behind culturally. They feel no longer useful or part of something bigger. It’s like they’re falling out of society.

It is this mix of individualisation and isolation that weakens the social bonds of community and democracy. The World Values Survey has shown that there is a deconsolidation of democracy as particularly younger generations, drawn to digital technologies, are less attached to democratic values. The percentage of people who say it is essential to live in a democracy has plummeted. Less than 30% of Americans, Dutch and British citizens born in the 1980s believe so. Only 36% of millennials in Europe think that a military takeover against an incompetent government would be illegitimate.

Democracy is a system of compromise. But in this digital age, no one wants to compromise anymore. Over the past months and weeks I have met more and more people who are tired of compromise. They say they voted in an election and instead of getting what they wanted, they got a compromise. But democracy isn’t binary. It’s a long, messy, complicated, unsatisfactory compromising process. Populism, however, is the desire for fast, unrealistic solutions to complex problems.

The European Union is a prime example. Compromise has gotten ever more difficult to achieve between the EU Member States. But the EU is built on compromise. Compromising requires leadership. It usually requires the strong to give in and make that extra effort for the greater good. But Europe’s strongest Member State, Germany, has been reluctant to depart from its austerity drive, for example. Similarly with the United States. The US has been providing leadership and been an anchor for a rules-based world order. But with Donald Trump, the United States has voted to give up that role. People felt their country has done too much, given the world too much and that it was time to make America great again. Countless citizens feel that way about their country. Everybody wants to “Make X great again”, as Mark Lilla wrote in the New York Times.

We are moving from the Art of the Compromise to the Art of the Deal. Compromising is self-less. You give up something to find something greater together. Dealmaking is selfish. You expect something for giving something. No doubt, both are necessary in the tough world of international relations. And the EU, too, must engage in dealmaking. But dealmaking cannot stand alone in the world either.

There needs to be a better balance again between compromising and dealmaking, between change and security, between individualisation and community. Individualisation, too, can be a force for good. For example, when it unleashes the creative entrepreneurial spirit and allows people the freedom to fulfill themselves. But individualisation is getting more extreme. Simultaneously ,there is indeed a nascent desire for more community and coming together. The Munich “Refugee Welcome” event was one moment where that desire was awakened. Yet, bonds of society are currently loosening and societal rifts need healing.

That means it’s not enough to escape the echo chamber. One has to actively engage with opposing views and seek how these could be reconciled with one’s own and where common ground could lie. This is the tough question; it is a thin line that separates compromising from collaborating. How far can one go in finding common ground? Principled engagement should be the guide. Engaging and seeking compromise, finding common ground that can advance your principles. It’s the wisdom of the hitchhiker. If the first car that offers you a ride is only going halfway to your destination, take it.

Edmund Burke, the great conservative philosopher, warned against the loss of social wisdom, loss of community, loss of identity, all of which would bring social disorder. He highlighted that politics is not just about the interests of individuals; it’s about preserving a community, a social order. According to Jesse Norman, Burke epitomised the “balance between ego and circumstance, between ambition and constraint, between individuality and society”. Maybe it’s time again for more Burke and less Zuckerberg.

Russia in Aleppo – cont.

Russia’s strategy of oscillating between escalation and de-escalation seems to be paying off. As soon as EU sanctions in response to the Aleppo bombings were raised, Russia announced a “humanitarian pause”. Coincidentally, that pause was on the very same day that the EU’s Heads of State and Government were going to discuss the issue. Even before that announcement support for more EU sanctions against Russia was rather weak. Moscow’s tactical play further emboldened the naysayers and undermined the pro-sanctions camp. Now the issue seems off the table again, Russia can go back to bombing.

Its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is off to the Eastern Mediterranean to join operations in Syria. Spain was even going to allow the warship to refuel in one of its ports – provide it with oil so it may participate in the destruction of Aleppo. Only after an intervention by NATO’s Secretary General and others, did the Spaniards back down and have Russia withdraw its request for refuelling.

Meanwhile, the media cycle has moved on. Aleppo is no longer the story of the day; the Western offensive in Mosul is. Putin must be laughing to himself how he played this. He put the West off guard, sowed division and in the process even undermined Western sanctions policy. When Merkel intervened and invited him to Berlin for talks, Putin brought along with him Vladislav Surkov, who is on the EU sanctions list and banned from entering the EU (he was given an “exception” by the German Foreign Ministry in order to attend). And the day before his arrival, Putin mentioned at the BRICS Summit that Western sanctions can go “screw themselves”.

How much more time and escalation in Syria will it take before consequential action, such as additional sanctions, will be back on the front burner? Now is not the time to weaken resolve. Weakness and indecision embolden Moscow. It’s time for grit and backbone. You can’t “euro-fudge” the Kremlin.

It means making sure that Russia is not re-elected on the Human Rights Council this coming Friday at the UN General Assembly. It means already drafting sanctions proposals. It means not continuing business-as-usual, for example with Spain simply providing fuel to Russian warships. It means ratcheting up the pressure on Gazprom. The gas giant has raised the spectre of abandoning its Nord Stream 2 pipeline at a board meeting on 9 November. Well, let’s help them decide!

Did Juncker Rise to the Occasion? The State of the Union

There are speeches that give goosebumps, speeches that entertain, speeches that make one fall asleep, and then there are speeches that are so serious they leave an instant void; the audience needs time to digest and come to grips with it. This was the annual State of the Union speech (SOTEU) that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave this Wednesday in the plenary of the European Parliament.

It didn’t get much applause from Members of the European Parliament. The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung was one of the first to title it a “disheartened speech” with no push. Others criticised the lack of vision and emotion. But this speech wasn’t, in the words of former President George H.W. Bush, about “the vision thing”. It wasn’t meant to be an emotional rallying cry for Europe. And it certainly wasn’t meant to be an ego-show by Juncker either. Those already took place before his speech. Both European Parliament President Martin Schulz and European Council President Donald Tusk, IMHO, engaged in one-upmanship. The day before the SOTEU Schulz launched a Facebook Live Debate with his own views on Europe (which garnered 1.4 million views) while Tusk did a press release with a five page letter he sent to the EU’s Heads of State and Government outlining his perspectives. That letter was conveniently sent in the evening of 13 September so that everybody would see it in their inbox the morning of Juncker’s speech.

No, to me, Juncker rose above this. His speeches are known to be off-script, natural and humorous. He likes to be a centre of attention. But this time was different. He stayed on script and exerted particular effort to stay completely in control, aiming to avoid attention to his particular person. This seemed to have thrown off guard many Members of the European Parliament.

His speech was intended to bridge divides, smoothen political atmospherics, and lay the ground for a successful European Summit in Bratislava that will take place later this week. Let’s not forget how many divisions have come to the fore between EU Member States and EU institutions over the last year alone. His speech meant to bring sides together again.

First, Juncker made appeals to different European political parties. He turned to Socialists by calling for a more social Europe, to Conservatives by highlighting the need for debt reduction, to Liberals by emphasising free trade, to Greens by demanding the EU’s speedy ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Second, if there was an institutional power struggle between Member States and the European Commission, between more or less Europe, then Juncker took the wind out of those sails. He emphasised that “Europe can only be built with Member States and not against Member States” and that the EU “will and can never become a unitary state”.

Third, he made clear advances towards different regional splits (ie. North, South, East). This is particularly the case for Central and Eastern European Member States, which have had a particularly acrimonious relationship with the Commission. Poland was singled out as “a great nation”, the Postal Worker’s Directive, which is important to Central and Eastern European states, was given full support, and an olive branch was offered to their opposition to a fixed refugee relocation scheme with this paragraph: “When it comes to managing the refugee crisis, we have started to see solidarity. I am convinced much more solidarity is needed. But I also know that solidarity must be given voluntarily. It must come from the heart. It cannot be forced.” He also focused on the South. He highlighted Spain, Portugal and Cyprus and he took up the proposal of the Athens Declaration of the 1st Mediterranean EU Countries’ Summit, hosted by Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, to double the financing capacity of the Investment Plan. Simultaneously, he also mentioned the need for a Defence Union and took up proposals by France and Germany released in a paper this week to create a European Battle Group HQ, pool military spending and create a defence research fund.

Fourth, this SOTEU was also meant to provide ambitious new proposals that would deliver real benefits to its citizens. He proposed a fully deployed 5g network by 2025 and free WIFI access in all public places in Europe’s major cities by 2020, he pulled the initial proposal of roaming charges off the table in order to revise it with a text that would see all charges fully scrapped, he set out to create a European Solidarity Corps, in which young people across the EU will be able to volunteer their help, he moved forward plans for a EU Border and Coast Guard, called for a European Travel Information System to know who enters the EU when, promised to continue the fight against tax evasion emphasising the Apple case as an example, and so on and so forth.

And last but not least, I believe President Juncker is also trying to bring the EU and European discussions deeper into the Member States. In his SOTEU he called for more European debates in the national parliaments and said that all European Commissioners will go to their respective national assemblies to explain the European Commission’s policies, thinking, etc. This seems like a classical bear-hug strategy. At the moment, national capitals hijack the praise when Brussels does something good and they blame Brussels when something goes bad (especially when it’s their fault). But by encouraging more EU discussions in the national parliaments, and tying the European debates closer into the national debates, he might just manage to break this pattern. After all, it’ll be more difficult to lay blame at Brussels’ doorstep when issues have been adequately discussed at home and people are informed about the situation.

Did Juncker leave things out in his speech? Sure. He didn’t mention TTIP, the economic situation in Greece, the banking union and Italy’s banking crisis in the making, nor Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Do a word frequency comparison of his 2015 and 2016 State of the Union speeches and the result will be a prevalence of “refugee”, “euro”, “Greece”, “crisis” (2015) compared to “work”, “invest”, “solidarity”, “people” (2016).

And will he be able to deliver on some of his proposals? That’s a mixed bag. A doubling of the European Investment Fund and scrapping Roaming charges, is very likely. But creating a European Solidarity Corps with 100.000 young volunteers by 2020? The idea is great but considering that the US Peace Corps has had 220.000 participants over the last 50 years, maybe his numbers are too far-fetched? Or maybe they aren’t given that 2013-2014 alone saw 272.000 Erasmus students, and this could be a major contingent to be tapped. Likewise, the proposal for free WIFI in public places in major cities by 2020, raised some eyebrows how that could be achieved.

But did he rise to the occasion? I believe he did. He intended to bring different constituencies together and create more unity, show that the EU can provide clear advantages to its citizens, and bring the European debate inside the national capitals. More work certainly lies ahead but Juncker is making sure that on the road to Bratislava the EU is not losing its way.

 

The Return of Europe’s Nation-States: A Response

This month’s edition of Foreign Affairs features a strongly anti-EU piece by Jakub Grygiel (“The return of Europe’s Nation-States: The Upside to the EU’s Crisis”), a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. In his article, Grygiel argues that citizens are disillusioned with the European Union and that the EU has failed. He claims that a return to newly assertive nation states is necessary to master the continent’s pressing security challenges.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that a return to the nation state is the answer to the problems the EU is facing. But there is no wall high or wide enough to insulate a country from the globalised challenges we are facing. As recently noted by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, “in the twenty-first century, the turn away from cooperation and integration amounts to burying one’s head in the sand and hoping the dangers will pass.” It was exactly a lack of coordination between national intelligence services that facilitated terrorist strikes, and it was many years of neglect and lacking solidarity that worsened the refugee crisis. Instead, EU Member States need to cooperate better.

Mr Grygiel, for example, believes that European nation states would do a better job on their own checking Russia, but how? Europe’s sanctions against Moscow would be the first victim of a return to nation states. China’s and Russia’s ‘divide and rule’ tactics would flourish in such an environment. Germany would happily continue to conduct bilateral energy deals with Gazprom, to the detriment of Central and Eastern Europe, without EU legislation binding its hands.

Furthermore, recalling Senator Moynihan, Mr Grygiel is of course entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. Public opinion polls show support for the EU. According to Eurobarometer, citizens consistently trust EU institutions over their own national governments. After the historic Brexit vote, support for the EU actually increased in a number of Member States, particularly Germany. A recent annual survey of the World Economic Forum also highlighted that only 13% of European millennials identify primarily with their nation state, while over 50% see themselves as either global or European citizens.

What the European Union needs is neither ever more integration, nor a complete return to the nation state as supported by Mr Grygiel. Instead, flexibility is key, allowing for different types of deepening integration. EU Member States have an arsenal of integration models at their disposal. They can advance “enhanced cooperation” between groups of Member States or they can use Permanent Structured Cooperation under Article 46 of the Treaty of the EU, as is currently being debated with regards to creating a Defence Union. Options for different forms of integration exist and need to be used.

Quoting the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Mr Grygiel argues that individual countries will provide the kind of safety that Brussels can’t. Well, let me return the favour with another Niebuhr quote: “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.”

Where does the EU go from here? The upcoming Bratislava Summit

It is clear that after the UK’s historic decision to leave the European Union, the EU could no longer dodge the question that’s been increasingly on everybody’s lips: What is to be done? The EU is facing its deepest crisis with doubts about its very purpose emerging through the cracks. The forces of disintegration are on the rise. What’s the turnaround strategy that will bring Europe forward and renew confidence in this unique project? What’s the post-Brexit European narrative?

Following the UK referendum, confusion and disarray reigned supreme. The Brexiteers had no plan in case of Brexit, but neither did the EU institutions. No concrete ideas on the way forward for the EU after such a result were presented. Mogherini’s Global Strategy came closest in charting some course. Instead, there was scaremongering, flip-flopping, and calls for Commission President Juncker’s resignation.

Only after the dust started to settle and shock gave way to sober analysis did action follow. Now European leaders will meet in Bratislava on 16 September to flesh out a plan for the future of Europe post-Brexit. In the meantime, an array of actors has come out with position papers, interviews and political lines in attempts to set the agenda. Some are new, some are old, and some is just old wine in new bottles. A confrontation is emerging on two fronts. First, on the governance of the European Union and second on which policy areas should be the ones where the EU drives forward, achieves results, regains relevance and wins back confidence from its citizens.

The former is an old debate regarding the balance of power between EU institutions and governance models. It’s about “more” or “less” Europe, pitting federalism against intergovernmentalism. The social-democratic camp came out early in this one. European Parliament President Martin Schulz and German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel co-published a paper calling for more integration and a federal Europe with a bicameral European government. A rather unrealistic proposition given the current situation. Others used the opportunity to highlight the importance of a two-speed Europe where a core – such as for example the founding Member States or Eurozone – move forward with integration leaving others behind. And then there are the voices, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe, calling for a re-nationalisation of European policy. Polish President Beata Szydło, for example, sees “the need to strengthen national control over EU decision making processes” and the Marshal of the Polish Sejm stated in a declaration that “the coexistence and cooperation in Europe should be based on sovereignty of nation states”.

German Finance Minister Schäuble also weighed in to this debate, declaring that if the European Commission can’t get things done the Member States will take matters into their own hands. Laying blame for lacking progress on the European Commission’s doorstep, however, is hypocritical. It’s the EU Member States in the European Council themselves that most often cannot come to an agreement and thereby halt progress! Schäuble is disingenuous when he refers to the Eurozone crisis or the Turkey deal as examples of intergovernmentalism where the Member States took charge, solving problems. It wasn’t the Member States; it was Germany. It was a domineering Berlin that forced its deals onto others. This is what led to divisions and bad blood amongst the Member States.

In such a crisis where the core of the European project is in doubt, the Member States should especially show solidarity and walk together in lockstep. But this is not happening. Instead, Member States are descending into bloc politics. After Brexit, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier invited only Foreign Ministers of EU founding members for consultation to Berlin, snubbing the rest. The Central and Eastern European bloc is coordinating its position for the Bratislava Summit with the Visegrad Group of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia planning to publish a joint contribution beforehand. And the southern axis is coming together too: Greek Prime Minister Tsipras has invited his counterparts from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta to a summit in Athens on 9 September. Meanwhile, the three largest voting members in the European Council – Germany, France and Italy – have met at Ventotene on 22 August to discuss Bratislava.

Of course coordination before this important Bratislava Summit is necessary. But the question to me is rather, which format is more likely to unite rather than divide, on the road towards Bratislava? A strategic centre of Member States is needed that is small enough for conducive debate but representative enough to cover all Member States. Teaming up with Presidents Renzi and Hollande, Chancellor Merkel has tried to form such a centre between Germany, France and Italy. But this constellation is woefully lacking Central and Eastern Europe, forcing Merkel on a whirlwind tour of meetings with Member States (14 Member States in one week). Forming a Quartet together with Poland, which holds the current Presidency of the Visegrad Group, would have ensured that this region is also represented. It could have brought EU Member States better together before Bratislava. To quote Lyndon B. Johnson: “It’s probably better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”.

And Member States are coming together in bloc politics to push forward the policy issues important to them, which brings me to the second front I highlighted earlier. The South is rallying to achieve progress on economic growth, investment, fighting austerity while Central and Eastern Europe is focusing on the refugee issue, reinforcing borders and strengthening national sovereignty.

The Ventotene meeting on 22 August between Merkel, Renzi and Hollande showcased the splits and highlighted some of the issues that could come into play in Bratislava. Issues raised were external/internal security, youth, refugees and economic growth/investment. Little was reached on the last two while on youth it was agreed to expand the Erasmus student exchange programme also to apprenticeships. Only the issue of external/internal security had broad agreement. Generally, this much anticipated meeting was hyped up beyond proportion. After all the three weren’t going to announce some ambitious proposals ahead of the Bratislava Summit, as this would have simply strained ties with the other 24 Member States. As such, Ventotene was largely symbolic with the three laying flowers at the tomb of Altiero Spinelli, who wrote the Ventotene Manifesto calling for a federation of European states to prevent nationalism from sparking war. The meeting seemed to be very much geared towards domestic consumption, intended to bolster support for Renzi who will be facing his own referendum on constitutional reform this October.

In the context of Ventotene, it seems that the most likely progress at the Bratislava Summit will be a declaration to move forward in the area of security and defence. An agreement in this area seems clear as I highlighted in an earlier blog post. Mogherini’s Global Strategy laid groundwork for this, the French and German Foreign Ministers also called for more integration on security and defence, as did the Italian Foreign and Defence Ministers in an op-ed in Le Monde, and Central and Eastern European Member States would also be in favour with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka having recently declared that he hopes the Bratislava Summit will bring progress on a joint military. In addition, Russian military aggression in Ukraine has also made the Nordic countries more willing to co-operate on defence issues, with Sweden and Finland raising security through defence collaboration agreements with the United States.

Pushing the EU forward in the nexus external-internal security is important. It’s an area where the EU can and must deliver. It should show that the EU provides security to Member States and its citizens, an elementary requirement given that in the context of a world in flames ranging from Libya and Syria to Ukraine and homegrown terrorism, ever more people ask whether the Union can provide security.

But I fear that this won’t be enough. Discontent with the EU isn’t merely based on fears about ISIS or geopolitics. It’s also about globalisation, feelings of being left behind, economic insecurity and social inequality – it’s about pocketbook issues. Here the EU needs to provide answers, too, lest it find itself portrayed as the cause of such malaise. This means boosting investments, strengthening the social pillar of the EU, making progress on fighting tax evasion, and tackling youth unemployment. Especially the last is crucial. Youth still feels great affection for the EU as evidenced in the UK referendum, but the EU is at risk of losing its youth if they don’t see any future prospects or have a stake in the EU. An open letter signed by prominent societal actors and politicians rightly made this point recently in Die Welt calling for a strengthening of the European Youth Guarantee, a revision of Erasmus to an Erasmus for all, and developing a common school curriculum on European culture.

On the road towards Bratislava, progress is on the horizon. But more is needed. As it stands, it is doubtful, whether the EU Member States will be able to overcome their divisions. This will make the next half year especially tough with further challenges ahead: a possible renewed refugee influx as Syria’s bloodbath continues, winter is approaching and the Turkey refugee deal hangs in the balance, a presidential vote in Austria between a far-right politician and a Green, a referendum in Italy, a volatile Ukraine, and so on.