I have my criticisms of the Obama administration, but it does seem to have the right idea about the European Union’s diplomatic efficacy. His top diplomat for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, has been taking a lot of stick after she was caught on tape (or hacked, as we Brits would call it) discussing the Ukraine problem with the US ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt. She was rude about the EU, but the condemnation of her language seems to have overlooked her central point.
The EU has been trying to muscle in on talks about Ukraine’s pro-democracy moves. It could have helped by offering membership to Ukraine, but it prevaricated – and now wants to insert this prevarication into the negotiations. No wonder other (non-Russian) diplomats are dismayed.
The Americans have a clearer line on Ukraine. A few weeks back, Nuland herself went to Independence Square in Kiev to denote her support for the pro-democracy demonstrators. In her conversation, she is caught telling her colleague that the UN is getting more involved – and that its secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a representative to Ukraine. She then says:-
“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it. And you know, fuck the EU.”
And here’s the audio:-
An admirable sentiment – inelegantly expressed, perhaps, but her overall point is clear. The EU should not try to behave like a United States of Europe – Norman Lamont recently wrote a piece in the Spectator asking if the EU really needs 32 diplomats in Mozambique Or 44 in Barbados. It’s appalling mission creep, and it would be okay if the EU was effective. But it isn’t.
As Lamont put it:-
The puzzle is, what do these embassies do that is not being done by embassies of individual members? What can the EU embassy in Moscow do that the German, French, Italian ones cannot? Does the EU have some interest separate from that of its members? And if not, why is it spending so much of other people’s money?
A very good question – and one to which there is no answer. As Victoria Nuland seems to have worked out.
Update: the below from an editorial in Saturday’s Wall St Journal:
As for Ms. Nuland’s frustration with EU foot-dragging on Ukraine, who hasn’t had the same thought? Moscow’s independent radio station Ekho Moskvy reported from Kiev Friday on the large number of Ukrainians who shared her view and cheered her honesty. Many EU diplomats are also upset by the unwieldy 28-member bloc’s inability to rise to the occasion in its backyard. Ms. Nuland apologized for her sailor’s tongue, but it’s laughable to call it a scandal, or even a gaffe.