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EU must decide if it wants to be taken seriously

by Frank Schnittger Sat Apr 10th, 2021 at 09:37:01 PM EST

Letter published by Irish Independent (second letter down)

EU must decide if it wants to be taken seriously

It is peculiarly appropriate that Ursula von der Leyen should have been denied a seat beside European Council president Charles Michel and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at their meeting in Ankara, as precedent and protocol requires.

Turkey had just announced it was withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, and what better way to underscore that than to snub the first female president of the Commission.

It was a pity that Charles Michel missed the opportunity to offer his seat to her for at least part of the meeting, especially when matters under the primary purview of the Commission were being discussed.

Women's equality does not require that all male chivalry must go out the window and it would have underlined her equal status within the EU.

The incident is the latest in a series of occasions where foreign leaders have felt emboldened to disrespect the EU and its leaders. Another took place during the visit by Josep Borrell, the Commission's foreign affairs chief, to Moscow in February. That was described by MEPs as a deliberate humiliation by Russia when several EU diplomats were expelled and the Russian foreign minister called the EU an "unreliable partner".

The UK has also refused to offer full diplomatic recognition to the EU's ambassador in London.

Perhaps if the EU was more robust in its defence of the rights of its own citizens it would garner more respect and appreciation abroad.

Exporting more vaccines to non-EU countries far more advanced in their vaccination programmes than the EU speaks of an organisation which cannot be relied upon to protect the human rights of its own.

Why then should Recep Tayyip Erdogan be concerned at some mild expressions of disapproval by the EU?

If the EU wants to be taken seriously in an increasingly chauvinistic and nationalistic world, it has to be prepared to match fine words with more robust actions, and if necessary, to kick over the odd chair or two to make its point.

Rebuilding US Alliance with EU - Human Rights

A crucial role as a wedge in Near Asia, the Middle East and the Russian Empire is played by Erdoğan's vast nation Turkey. It bridges three continents and is close to China's province of Xinjiang, home to the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group.

Just this week in a global power play for "greed" and "capitalism" the United States pushes its anti-Russia and anti-China agenda.

Gets applause from former German minister of defense Ursula Von der Leyen and is send on a mission to get Turkey back into the NATO fold ... unbelievable!

Joe and Hunter - fans of a corrupt Ukraine ... war drums on behalf of Biden and Stoltenberg of NATO ...

Address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the decisions of the National Security and Defense Council, the situation in Donbas and the U.S. support for Ukraine | April 2, 2021 |

Biden vows US backing for Ukraine as Russia amasses

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sat Apr 10th, 2021 at 10:33:28 PM EST
I saw a report which suggested that there is no love lost between Ursula vd Leyen and Charles Michel. He apparently made a big point of taking the vacant chair and then letting UvdL know she wasn't going to get a seat with equal billing.

The EU hamstrung itself in having 2 representatives. If they're both saying the same thing, why have both of them? If they say different things, which one is the official position?

Dealing with nationalists such as Putin in Russia or the UK tories is always gonna be a problem, they always have to do brinksmanship for domestic consumption, they don't really represent serious politics.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 07:53:53 AM EST
Internally Michel and VDL represent two different institutions and methods within the EU - the inter-governmental and community methods which both play an important role in determining policy and are part of the institutional balance of powers so beloved of (especially US) constitutional theorists. The EP and ECB are to other important power centres, but the Commission and Council are the most important.

I'm quite sure there are huge political tensions between these power centres particularly in contested areas of competence and the balance of power can change over time. But it shouldn't be beyond the wit of mature and skilled politicians to coordinate policies and present a united front abroad. Brexiteer attempts to divide and conquer the EU didn't get far. Even the blame games over vaccine s haven't yet become over personalised, though not without some governments trying it on.

But if Michel was complicit in dissing VDL on this occasion, then he is the big loser in this affair. You have to present a united front when abroad, and he let the whole EU down if he allowed her to be snubbed, especially with women's equality so high on the agenda. She appears to have handled it with some dignity in public, but I imagine there was war behind the scenes. While VDL has her critics, Michel seems to be a bit of a non-entity as far as I can see.

I don't think the EU should abandon such complexity and  cave into the "strongman" model of governance where all policy seems to revolve around a central figure like Trump, Boris, Erdogan or Orban. I quite like the fact that the EU has virtually no military capability or culture, but that doesn't mean it should shy away from using its soft or economic power when required.

I appreciate that, as Oui notes, Turkey plays a key role in east European and near middle east politics, but actions such as snubbing VDL and abandoning the Istanbul convention should have consequences, perhaps in the form of travel ban in the current situation as I don't trust Turkish covid statistics since Erdogan sought to minimise the numbers to avoid damage to the tourist trade.

Your point that despots need to do brinkmanship for domestic consumption to shore up their positions is well made, but the EU also needs to show competence, coherence, and decisiveness in the face of common threats or crises and that means consistent messaging and coordinated actions - in this case against oppression and demeaning of women. If Michel can't be on that team then it is he who should be replaced. I imagine Angela might be having a word...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 09:54:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was a pity that Charles Michel missed the opportunity to offer his seat to her for at least part of the meeting, especially when matters under the primary purview of the Commission were being discussed.

Michel showed, at a minimum, a serious lack of judgement. According to Brussels bubble journalists, this two-tiered seating was indeed mostly a casualty of the Michel-VDL rivalry: the EU Delegation in Turkey was supposed to be the main point of contact to arrange the meeting, but the Council (Michel's team) "sent an advanced team including a Protocol officer who established a direct contact with the Turkish Protocol thus complicating effective communication and coordination with the Turkish side."

Then, Michel didn't realized the exceedingly bad optics of seating alone with Erdogan while forcing his rival to a remote sofa, until it was way too late.

The Turkish side, who is blaming the EU protocol rules for the blunder, is not entirely blameless: Erdogan had already been seated with both the EUCO and the EC presidents, and there were three chairs; of course, both presidents were male at the time. The Erdogan team, who apparently are trying to appease the EU-Turkey relations rather than pulling a deliberate humiliation, didn't see the bad optics either - neither the bad optics of pulling out of the Istanbul Convention a few days ago. They may be furious at what they surely perceive as unfounded accusations, but they failed as much as Michel to see a problem with the seating arrangement.

Still, the main issue is, as you pointed out, is the rather weak and too often ineffective EU Executive. Unfortunately, this is by design: the head of states & governments in the Council have always wanted to have primacy over a possibly too active Commission (and over the EP, goes without saying). For the Council members, Michel, a former Belgian PM, is "one of us", and he is always insisting on his primacy, protocol or otherwise, over the EC President, until of course he overplayed his hand in Ankara. VDL herself was nominated to the EC after a not so glorious political career in Germany and has willingly played second fiddle to the EUCO.

Eventual change is not going to come from inside the EU institutions: only the EU governments can change, and eventually reinforce, the EU institutions. With the rise of nationalists, if not outright fascist, parties all over the continent, and the msinstream right parties jealous of their national prerogatives, it doesn't look like change is going to happen anytime soon.

by Bernard (bernard) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 12:39:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great comment. Will there be consequences for Michel for embarrassing the EU, or will all of this be brushed under the carpet? How will Merkel feel about her former protege being humiliated?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 02:01:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hard to say: I expect that many heads of state/government in the EU27, starting with Merkel & Macron, but also the Greek and Cypriot PM's, are none too happy; this after the Borrel humiliation in Moscow two months ago.

I don't know whether the EUCO can remove Michel, but we can expect they will want to keep him on a shorter leash, especially Merkel, who's been VDL's sponsor.

In any case, for all the talks of "geopolitical commission" or whatnot, the EU is still a trade giant and a political dwarf (and it still doesn't have a unique "phone number"). This is by design from the member states, but it is clearly not up to the task when engaging with "difficult" neighbors like Russia or Turkey. Will this prompt more changes in the way the 27 organize their common diplomacy? I don't expect radical changes any time soon, and certainly not before the German and French elections.

by Bernard (bernard) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 05:21:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The EU is misnamed. They should have called it 'The European Confederation'. That would be more accurate and might let more people have realistic views of what it can and cannot do. The thing about the EU that is most union like would be the EMU, but that is a poor recommendation.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 06:59:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's difficult to generalise across so many countries and political views but I don't get the sense in Ireland that people have wildly unrealistic expectations of what the EU can and can't do. It was the Brexiteers that wildly inflated its powers and all pervasive influence, to bolster their own case that it was an undemocratic dictatorship.

Here, people tend to look at their own government with some destain and distrust and are glad the EU has some powers to mitigate it's worst excesses. They would be aware of the ECB's role in ensuring the availability of cheap money for borrowing, and of the EU role in attempting to keep economies afloat with some structural spending.

The EU is seen mostly as a sensible attempt by 27 countries to cooperate and coordinate their responses to global problems too big for any one country to fix by itself. People are proud that Ireland, as a small country, has a seat at the table with some much bigger countries.

They are happy that it helped sustain Irish agriculture and develop the Irish economy by making it attractive for MNCs to locate here to access the single market. They value the EU's contribution to the peace process and ensuring Brexit wasn't allowed to jeopardize it completely.

The snafu over article 16 and the failures in vaccine procurement would be seen as the main mistakes but there is a recognition there were a lot of factors involved and perhaps an openness to greater cooperation and coordination in the future. I don't get the sense of a huge alienation from the EU as you got with Brexiteers and amongst many in the US towards the Federal government.

So overall, its not too bad a place to be in, even ifit can be infuriatingly slow to get a consensus on any issue.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 10:10:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Women's groups launch petition calling for Charles Michel to resign  - Brussels Time
European women's associations have written to the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, asking him to step down following "Sofagate," the label given to an incident on Tuesday in which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was subjected to a protocol snub in Ankara.

A petition launched by the associations obtained over 2,500 signatures in less than two days in Belgium, France, Italy and even outside the European Union.

The petition was started by the Millenia Foundation, an international public utility foundation for women's empowerment and equality, following Tuesday's incident, in which Michel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat in the only two armchairs provided when the Turkish leader received his EU visitors, leaving the Commission President standing.

by Bernard (bernard) on Mon Apr 12th, 2021 at 02:27:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know how important seating arrangements are, but viewing the EU from the US suggests that it is a long way from being taken seriously on this side of the pond.

I would bet that if you asked 100 Americans about the EU you would get a blank stare from 99 of them. We "know about" Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, and maybe a couple of other European countries, but I know zero people who could identify Slovenia, for example, on a map--even though it is the home country of the ex-FLOTUS. And most of what we "know" comes from watching glorious WW2 movies on TV.

As for the EU, a few people might say something about the Common Market, but that is about it.

If the EU wants to be taken seriously, it needs to take that huge step from being a confederacy to a federation, with all the accoutrements, as mentioned above.

by asdf on Sun Apr 11th, 2021 at 11:41:45 PM EST
When I was a student I spent a summer working in Wildwood NJ and Virginia Beach. I was often asked where I came from and when I said Ireland I would get a blank stare followed by Iowa? Idaho? Finally, Ireland in Europe registered.

But I'm not sure if I care much about whether the EU is taken seriously in Washington. They tend to mirror Stalin's response when told that the Pope might not approve some proposed course of action. "The Pope? How many divisions has he?" was his no doubt apocryphal reply.

But I'm quite happy for the EU to be under-estimated provided it delivers the goods when it matters. You could call it the cute Kerryman strategy - pretend to be a complete gobdaw while you are buying and selling your opponent behind his back.

I would not like the EU to acquire the accoutrements of superpower status: Large army, militarised police and political culture, authoritarian attitudes and imperialist mind-sets.  If that is the price of being taken seriously by Putin, Erdogan or Washington, then it's not worth it.

What the EU DOES need to start doing, however, is to deliver more tangible benefits for its citizens. Maintaining the peace in Europe is never to be taken for granted, but it is not enough to develop a European identity, demos or civic space or to justify continued membership amongst more nationalistically minded citizens.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 12th, 2021 at 06:40:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Irish Times view on EU-Turkey tensions: a revealing snub
Ankara insists it was a straightforward error, but many others, knowing Erdogan's obsession with status and macho one-upmanship and the quasi-monarchical trappings with which he surrounds himself, struggle to believe that. Erdogan, whose circle is male-dominated, was aware that at the meeting he would be scolded over Turkey's withdrawal from a landmark treaty on violence against women.

The fallout neatly captured the EU's larger divisions on Turkey, which have stymied efforts to present a united front in dealing with the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan. While von der Leyen had no doubt she was deliberately slighted, Michel let Erdogan off the hook by blaming the incident on a "strict interpretation" of protocol rules. Michel said he carried on the meeting to avoid causing a scene. To critics, that merely showed how Erdogan intimidates the EU.

by Bernard (bernard) on Mon Apr 12th, 2021 at 02:30:26 PM EST

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