THE PLANK JANUARY 13, 2009
Anne Applebaum has a typically good column today on the lack of a unified European energy policy, particularly vis-a-vis Russia. "Instead of sending in crisis negotiators [to the Ukraine] every Jan. 1," she writes, "Europe's leaders could focus on this problem and solve it. I would love to describe this past week's events as a 'wake-up call,' but there have been so many 'wake-up calls' already. When will Europe heed them?"
It's a good point, but surely Applebaum knows things aren't so simple. It's not just about Brussels forgetting what really matters, focusing instead on "E.U. sausage-making regulations, E.U. Intercultural Dialogues, even E.U. attempts to broker peace in Gaza." The EU spends a lot of time thinking about Russia; the problem is, there's no easy answer. Bush and other outside observers (including Applebaum) would have them draw a hard line between east and west, in part because Russia seems already to have done so. Every time they attempt to do so, though, Russia makes threatening noises, and so far no one in Europe has the gumption to ignore it.
But even that is too easy a reading. Europe's security insecurities are as much existential as anything else: It still isn't sure where Russia fits within its worldview--if Turkey can be a candidate for EU membership and Georgia a possible (though increasingly longshot) member of NATO, who's to say that Russia isn't a part of the European community? And if it is, doesn't that require it be treated with a softer hand?
If anything, the gas crisis underlines less the need for a concerted European response than the difficulties inherent in any such effort. Not to put too fine a point on it, would they bring the Ukraine into the fold, or leave it, well, in the cold?
All of these are tough questions, without easy or obvious answers. And while I'd like to see Europe take a more concerted stand on energy, I can also understand why they have an easier time regulating sausage.