What Santa can bring Eastern Europe
Dec 27th 2008
Radek Sikorski for NATO chief
THE reindeer are harnessed, the sledge laden. So what will Santa Claus bring the ex-communist countries for Christmas? Desirable presents are easy to think of. A respite from the economic downturn. A less chauvinist attitude from Russia. A more considerate approach from Germany. Attention from the new American administration. But these belong in the same charming but unrealistic category as a child’s wish-list on which “no school”, “a fairy carriage” and “machine gun” are scrawled in crayon.
Rather more likely—and genuinely desirable—would be the appointment of someone from the once-captive nations to a top international job. Since the collapse of communism, the record on this has been dismal. Russia chaired the G-8 (though most of the countries attending the St Petersburg summit did so while wincing at their host’s behaviour). Slovenia held the European Union’s presidency competently (though close inspection revealed a tight French embrace of the EU’s nominal leadership).
But in terms of the big appointments, such as running the EU Commission and NATO or even the lesser posts such as leading the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or anything at the United Nations, it is hard to find anyone from eastern Europe who has held anything remotely resembling a top job. The message is: be grateful for your EU commissioners; now shut up.
The new member-states of NATO and the EU feel they have been rather poorly treated in the past year or so. Germany snubbed them at the Bucharest NATO summit. The EU told them they were silly to care about Georgia, imposed a single flimsy sanction on Russia and then was unable to maintain even that.
Much of the responsibility for this lies with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. He has also flirted with the Kremlin’s new scheme for European security. This involves kicking the Americans out, sidelining NATO, and allowing Russia and the big EU countries to stitch things up between them.
In private briefings, French and other west European officials are already undermining the upcoming Czech EU presidency, sneering and jeering at the idea that the dumpling-munching peasants of Bohemia can match the grandeur of France. They also grossly overstate the importance (more accurately: nuisance value) of the abrasive Czech president, Vaclav Klaus. All EU states are equal, Mr Sarkozy concedes. But the bigger ones have “more responsibilities” (and are less equal, George Orwell might have concluded, than others).
Next year, if the Lisbon treaty is ratified, the following jobs will come open: presidents of the EU Commission (an existing post) and the EU Council (a new one), plus EU foreign minister, NATO secretary-general and president of the European parliament. As things stand, the east Europeans will get only the last of these—which is by far the least important.
That is not just unfair. It’s risky. It will alienate the east Europeans and make their political elites feel mutinous. East European countries have plenty of ways to slow down EU decision-making. So far, they have for the most part been at pains to show that they are good Europeans. That cannot be taken for granted.
Here is a possible way out: the NATO top job should go to a heavyweight Atlanticist politician, with expertise in defence policy, from a new member state. That produces a shortlist of roughly two: Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (and former defence minister) or Sasha Vondra, the Czech deputy prime minister. Poland’s status as a defence heavyweight makes Mr Sikorski’s case the stronger. Let’s hope Santa sees it that way too.
Thursday, January 08, 2009