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Russia's place in Europe

Date de publication: 15.09.2017

Metropolitan Hilarion, the Archbishop of Bari and a guard of honour carry the relics of St Nicholas on their arrival in Moscow, 21 May 2017

What is Russia's place in Europe?

John Laughland



Speech to the international conference,

L'Après-Bruxelles, Pour une construction politique de l'Europe des Nations,

Office of the European Parliament, Madrid, 15 September 2017



In order to discuss the place of Russia in Europe, as I have been asked to do, on a panel devoted to a new geopolitics for Europe, I would like to take you back, if I may, to the year which official EU history gives as the beginning of the European construction, 1950.  1950 was, of course, the year of the Schuman declaration on 9 May when the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community was announced.  This was the first European Community and the present EU grew out of it.

It is appropriate to recall 1950 because our conference today falls on an important anniversary.  Today is 15 September and yesterday marked the anniversary of the conclusion of a series of meetings in 1950 which played a key role in the European construction.  What happened then helps us to understand the geopolitics of the European construction, an aspect of it which is often obscured by propaganda about peace and reconciliation between France and Germany.

On 12 September 1950, a series of three days of meetings started in New York between the American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, and the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman.  One historian has described this meeting as being of "extraordinary historical importance".[1]  This is because Acheson had summoned his British and French colleagues to New York in order to drop a bombshell on them: he announced that the USA wanted to re-arm Germany.  This, he said, was the condition for his other historic announcement: that the US was prepared to "put into Western Europe at the earliest date substantial forces to become part of the total new defense establishment."[2]  However, before the USA could take what he described the next day as "step never before taken in its history"[3] he demanded that the European allies agree to the rearmament of Germany.  "We must have an answer now," he told his French and British colleagues.[4]  Acheson thereby announced the abandonment of the policy of maintaining a weak and disarmed Germany and undertook a U-turn which was a geopolitical response to the by then radically changed geopolitical situation in the world.

What caused the US to undertake this change?  I am not trying to push historical analogies too far to say it was the crisis in Korea - just as today there is a crisis in that peninsula.  The Korean war broke out on 25 June 1950 when North Korea attacked South Korea.  The two Koreas were similar to the two Germanies - one nation divided into two states by being American and Soviet satellites. North Korea's invasion was carried out with Stalin's blessing and the Americans feared that the same thing might happen in Germany.  They believed it was therefore essential for the Western European continent to be able to defend itself.  This was the geopolitical context of Acheson's announcement in New York.

No less interesting than Acheson's announcement was the reaction of Robert Schuman.  The architect of the Coal and Steel Community told Acheson on 14 September that he agreed on the need to rearm Germany, which only six years previously had occupied France, but that French public opinion was not ready to accept the idea. He said that the French parliament would reverse any decision on rearmament and that therefore the decision had to be kept secret.  "An announcement now of the decision on this matter (the establishment of German army units) would cause the gravest difficulty in France."[5]

Schuman was no stranger to taking decisions in secret.  He had, after all, prepared his declaration on the Coal and Steel Community a few months previously, on 9 May 1950, in conditions of absolute secrecy.  Fewer than ten people knew of his plans.  When the Benelux countries and Italy were consulted about the Schuman Plan, at the last minute on 8 May 1950, at a top secret meeting in Paris, all the working documents were immediately destroyed after the meeting.  Chancellor Adenauer's office was informed of the Schuman Plan only in the morning of 9 May 1950, a few hours before the Declaration was read out.  There was, however, one non-European who knew the secret before it was announced - Dean Acheson.  Dean Acheson was in Paris on 8 May 1950 and Schuman told him about his plan, which Acheson immediately decided to support.  So the Americans knew about the European Coal and Steel Community the day before the Germans did!

We all know how the French government decided to deal with Acheson's demand for German rearmament.  The solution was to propose a European army.  The French prime minister René Pleven, presented to the Council of Ministers his plan for a European Defence Community less than one month after the New York meeting, on 8 October 1950.  Coal and steel, the primary materials of war having been pooled by the ECSC, in May, it was natural that the French and German armies should be merged as Paris proposed in October.

So the first two major stages of European construction were taken for geopolitical reasons, to face down what was perceived as the Soviet threat.  They were an integral part of the creation of the Atlantic Alliance between Western Europe and the United States in the new conditions of the Cold War.

Indeed, there is further key way in which the European construction in its first stages was directed against Soviet Russia.  When Dean Acheson met Robert Schuman in Paris on 8 May 1950, Schuman told him that he was worried about the success being enjoyed by Soviet peace propaganda. 

"In the propaganda field, we are all inferior to the USSR ... France welcomes the London proposal to reinforce propaganda activities ... we must counter the powerful Communist peace propaganda theme, which is making dangerous headway in non-Communist circles, by impressing on our own and friendly peoples that we do not prepare for war in order to wage it and that we increase our defences for peaceful purposes only." [6] 

The very next day, Schuman put peace at the top of his Declaration about the Coal and Steel Community, the very first words of which are "World peace..." Ever since, the European project has claimed legitimacy in virtue of the claim that it promotes peace, in Europe and the world.  This peace propaganda was a direct response to the peace propaganda of the Soviet Union and it was designed to supplant it.  The nascent European Community, indeed, was intended to neutralise some of the attraction felt by many in the West for Communist Russia and to give those people attracted by Soviet propaganda a substitute body onto which to project their vision instead.  The Communist threat, after all, was as much internal to Western Europe, through strong Communist parties in France, Italy and elsewhere, as it was external from the USSR itself.

If I have spent some time recalling the very beginnings of the European construction, especially these few months in 1950, it is because I believe that the same geopolitical and anti-Russian agenda is driving the EU today.  On 22 November 2016, the European Parliament announced the creation of the European Defence Union and said that it 

"Considers that the worsening perception of risks and threats in Europe make the establishment of the European Defence Union a matter of urgency ... stresses that the situation deteriorated notably and progressively in 2014, with the birth and expansion of the self-declared Islamic State and subsequently the use of force by Russia;"[7]

Just as in 1950, when military issues and propaganda were discussed together, and indeed formed part of the same policy, so in 2016 the very next day, the same European Parliament voted a resolution on  "EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties."  The resolution of 23 November is the Siamese twin of the resolution of 22 November: they were both drawn up by the same constellation of MEPs from Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.  The rapporteur of the resolution on defence is a former Estonian foreign minister; the rapporteur for the resolution on strategic communication is a former Polish foreign minister.  But whereas the resolution on defence makes references to the threat from the Islamic State, the resolution on strategic communication to counter anti-EU propaganda makes only 4 references to Islamism and no fewer than thirty three to Russia.

Of course these Eastern Europeans have their own axe to grind.  They are the tail wagging the European dog.  But in fact the whole of the Brussels apparatus hates Russia, for ideological reasons.  When the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, called for a European army in 2015, he said that it was needed specifically to defend "European values" against Russia.  The idea of deploying a European army to defend Europe against mass immigration from Africa or Asia was never mentioned.

The ideological reasons for the EU's hostility to Russia are numerous.  The EU regards Europe's history as a dark period of wars and conflict which only the creation of the EU has overcome.  It regards nations as the cause of those wars and seeks the dissolution of national sovereignty in a bureaucratic superstate.  It rejects the notion of Christian values or indeed of any Leitkultur and instead accepts only abstract "human rights" as a factor for social cohesion.

On all these issues, Russia has adopted the opposite path.  Russia has sought to renew with her pre-Soviet past without making an abstraction of the Soviet period with all its horrors.  It sees nationhood as the key to success and national sovereignty as the cornerstone of the international system.  It promotes Christian values (while of course tolerating the presence of other faiths on its territory).  On these three issues, Russia stands as an ideological alternative to the current post-modern, post-historical and post-Christian EU.  Indeed, Russia is the EU's ideological opposite, which is why there is some truth in the concept of a new Cold War between East and West, except this time the roles are reversed.  The West is in the progressivist, atheist, anti-national camp; Russia is in the restorationist camp.

Only last November, a statue of the first Christian ruler of Russia, St Vladimir, was unveiled next to the Kremlin in Moscow.  It is the equivalent of a statue of Clovis being erected on Place de la Concorde!  It is not just a matter of state philosophy: there is a genuine popular movement behind such choices.  In May, the relics of St Nicholas of Bari - the saint who inspired Father Christmas - were lent to Russia.  This is the first time the relics have ever left Italy and well over a million Russians queued up to venerate them.

Surely this is the symbol of a united Europe - of the true Europe and not of that grotesque caricature in Brussels.

[1] Marc TRACHTENBERG and Christopher GEHRZ, America, Europe, and German Rearmament, August-September 1950: A Critique of a Myth, Journal of European Integration HistoryVol 6, No. 2, December 2000.  Trachtenberg re-uses this text in subsequently published books including The Cold War and After (2012) and Between Empire and Alliance (2003).

[2] United States Delegation Minutes, First Meeting of the Foreign Ministers, New York, Waldorf Astoria, September 12, 1950, 3 pm, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Western Europe, Volume III, page 1192.

[3] Ibid., Second Meeting of the Foreign Ministers, September 13, 1950, p. 1208.

[4] Second Meeting, September 13 1950, p. 1208

[5] Minutes of a Private Conference of the French, British and United States Foreign Ministers and Their High Commissioners for Germany, Foreign Relations of the United States 1950, Volume III, p. 299

[6] US State Department, Office of the Historian, Foreign Relations of the United States, Western Europe, Volume III, p. 1008 (Telegram from the Secretary of State to the Acting Secretary of State, Paris, May 8, 1950)

[7] European Parliament resolution of 22 November 2016 on the European Defence Union (2016/2052(INI))


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