European leaders meet to take the future into their own hands

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — As France headed into a second week of mass transit paralysis due to a nationwide public-sector strike over proposed pension reforms, tensions ramped up among Parisian commuters, and protesters braced for more flying tear gas canisters as they prepared for another day clashing with riot police in the streets of Paris. Amid all of this mayhem, it was hardly noticed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had slipped into town on Monday for a meeting at the Élysée Palace.

While Democrats and Republicans were busy arguing over whether U.S. President Donald Trump should be impeached for pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son in exchange for access to both Trump and U.S. military aid, German and French heads of state were sitting down in Paris with Putin and Zelenskiy to work out a solution to the unrest on the Ukrainian-Russian border.

It has become emphatically clear that it’s up to Europe to sort out the problems in its own backyard, even if it means the greater exclusion of the U.S. Everyone involved seems to understand that a pragmatic approach rather than an ideological one is long overdue.

During last week’s NATO summit, Trump took issue with Macron’s characterization of the alliance as experiencing “brain death,” calling it disrespectful and insulting. Trump seems to have missed the point. Macron wasn’t criticizing actual people. He was taking issue with NATO’s outdated mission and its obsession with propping up an idea that should have crumbled with the Berlin Wall. NATO was created for a single purpose: to counter the Soviet Union, which no longer exists either structurally or ideologically.

“Who is the enemy of NATO?” Macron tweeted last week, reiterating his position. “Russia is no longer an enemy. It remains a threat but is also a partner on certain matters. Our enemy today: international terrorism, especially Islamist terrorism.”

Observers wondered why Macron appeared to have softened his stance on Russia. There’s a simple explanation.

When Macron issued that tweet on Dec. 4, immediately after the NATO summit in London, he knew that less than a week later he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be trying to broker a deal between Ukraine and Russia. Ideally, the outcome of negotiations would eliminate the need for the sort of military assistance that’s at the heart of Trump’s impeachment process — there would be no more conflict on the Russia-Ukraine border to fund. An ideal solution would recognize Ukraine’s geographic reality, sandwiched between the West and Russia, and encourage the country’s independence so that it’s not exploitable by any other.

One of the most grotesque aspects of the impeachment process has been the revelation that U.S. politicians and lobbyists on both sides have exploited the systemic corruption in Ukraine, which stems from its weak democratic institutions. Whether it’s former Vice President Joe Biden’s son being parachuted onto the board of a Ukrainian energy firm or Trump pal Rudy Giuliani running around the country trying to drum up business deals for himself while attempting to persuade Ukrainian officials to meddle in American politics, both sides have been willing to exploit Ukrainian corruption for their own benefit.

Are we supposed to believe that these opportunists care about the Ukrainian people and want what’s best for them? To U.S. power brokers, Ukraine is little more than a political football on a faraway playing field. But its Europe’s up-close reality. That reality prominently features Russia, too, as Macron has made clear.

“I don’t see how, in the long term, his project can be anything other than a partnership project with Europe,” Macron said of Putin in an interview with The Economist last month.

As much as NATO defenders would like to believe that there’s still an ideological impetus to the world order, there really isn’t. Everything — including NATO’s reason for being — has been reduced to purely economic competition. This fact has finally been laid bare during Trump’s presidency.

“In the eyes of President Trump … NATO is seen as a commercial project,” Macron told the Economist. “He sees it as a project in which the United States acts as a sort of geopolitical umbrella, but the trade-off is that there has to be commercial exclusivity, it’s an arrangement for buying American products. France didn’t sign up for that.”

Europe is trying to carve out a balanced future for itself between the East and West. And why shouldn’t it? The current world order has done little to serve the average citizen in any of our countries.