Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
×ECR Party
The Conservative
ECR Party
TheConservative.onlineTwitterFacebookInstagramYouTubeEmailECR Party’s multilingual hub for Centre-Right ideas and commentary
The Conservative
News & Commentary   |    TV   |    Print   |    Columnists

Without trust, The EU is weak against Russia

Perhaps one of the biggest non-coronavirus related stories of the week was the news broken by the New York Times that a report into misinformation by the European External Action Service (EEAS) was allegedly influenced by China. The allegation went that the EEAS, under the leadership of High Representative Josep Borrell, a Spanish socialist, that language in a regular report on the spread of misinformation related to the Coronavirus outbreak had been altered to appease the Chinese State.

High Representative Borrell was quickly called to task for this by a cross party group of MEPs from the centre-right, with the European Conservatives and Reformists, and the European Peoples Party both writing open letters demanding an explanation. In a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday 30th April, the High Representative finally responded to the claims says:

“After having been informed by the services about the way they proceeded in this case, I can assure you that no changes have been introduced to the report published last week to allay the concerns of a third party, in this case, China. The report very clearly points out State-sponsored disinformation campaigns and very specifically names the actors behind them – including China. There was no “watering down” of our findings, however uncomfortable they could be.”

The damage however has already been done. Whether or not the High Representative is telling the truth, trust in his position, and indeed that of the European Union has been undermined. And this only plays into the hands of its rivals. Even the European External Action Service itself recognises that the key strategic aim of both China and Russia is to undermine trust in our institutions – and by not responding quickly enough to the allegations trust has been lost.

The same is true of other aspects of the European Union’s handling of this crisis. The Von der Leyen Commission was far too slow to act at the beginning of the outbreak, something that the President herself has acknowledged in the European Parliament. The problem is, that for all the apologies she or anyone else makes, the damage has in the eyes of the people been done. And the disturbing side effect of this broken faith in the EU is that many ordinary Italian people are turning away from Europe. A shock poll recently revealed a sharp increase in the percentage of the number of Italians would now vote to leave the European Union. And more shockingly still – that 52% of Italians see China as a friend, and 32% see Russia as a friend whilst 45% see Germany as an enemy.

The slow response from the EU has fuelled Euroscepticism outside the European Union as well. In Serbia the President gave a truly astonishing speech in which he claimed that Europe was no longer the countries future – a fact that should have been a cause for concern.

All of these incidents weaken us as a Western Alliance at a time in which we need to be building the broadest possible coalition for support. When we should be working with the United States, Josep Borrell is making unhelpful remarks against them. When we should be boosting our support for countries on the frontier with Russia, we are instead stalling on giving them aid and trade deals.

Every one of these cases gives Russia the upper hand. Whilst they may no longer have a underlying ideology that we can analyse, as they did in the Cold War, they have a broad strategy of ensuring their own survival. Much of that depends on the weakening of those who the Kremlin deems to threaten their existence. And whilst we in the West know that we don’t want to destroy Russia, but rather see it prosper under a liberal democratic government like our own, it is convenient for the Kremlin to display the divisions in our society.

Russia wants to show that we are not unified in our belief in our own democratic systems. They want us to fight amongst ourselves rather than focus our attention on stopping their aggression in the East. Every time the EU talks about creating its own autonomous defence capabilities, it undermines NATO. Every time the High Representative takes a swipe at the United States, it undermines our trans-Atlantic alliance. Every time the EU acts in a condescending way towards its citizens – it pushes them away from the mainstream. Every time a journalist unveils dishonesty in Brussels – it undermines trust in both the media and institutions.

If the European Union wants to be in a strong position to defend our liberal democracies against the external threats of Russia and China, then it must do two things. Firstly it must work to restore its credibility in the eyes of the public – rebuilding trust in its institutions. Secondly, it must repair its relations with the Member States, and then with the other members of the democratic world in the United States, NATO and Eastern Europe.

Whilst the EU has already been slow to respond to the Coronavirus crisis it isn’t too late to rebuild trust. When the lockdowns end – relaxing rules on state aid, and lifting unnecessary regulations could be a start to restore confidence in the European Economy. Equally, working constructively with our Allies to temporarily lower trade barriers could help prevent a crisis in supply. But ultimately in times of crisis people turn to their national governments for support, and anything the EU does should be through them. People who are scared for their jobs and their livelihoods aren’t interested in supranational organisations. If the EU can show that it is on the side of the Member States, supporting them rather than telling them what to do, then perhaps some trust can be restored.

It is only once we have rebuilt trust in our society that we will be in a stronger and more unified position. So long as we continue to allow ourselves to be undermined, we continue to risk our western way of life.