EU Summit – of Carrots and Compasses
Updated: Jan 9
“Our special meeting on Thursday and Friday will primarily focus on Europe’s place in the world and our capacity to shape our own destiny.”
It was a spectacularly lofty aspiration for this week’s EU summit from EU council prez Charles Michel, (or ‘Chucky Mike’, as I’m going to try and get him known from now on).
Certainly, in foreign relations there was much at stake, with unrest in Belarus and Turkey’s posturing in the Med pretty much requiring a response from the EU. But it was less about making a mark on the global stage, and more about avoiding making no mark at all.
If the EU is to be one of the grown-ups in the global room – a room conspicuously short of responsible adults at the moment – it can’t just silently tut and roll its eyes at the unruly juveniles threatening to burn the place to the ground.
True, there’s a greater danger from the unruly adults threatening to burn the place to the ground. But that requires a level of school-gate diplomacy strictly limited to smiling artificially from a distance, while keeping your opinions on ‘that ghastly creature’ firmly to yourself.
So in response to the Turkish and Belarussian delinquents, it was the old carrot-stick one-two the EU resorted to.
And what you get if you cross a carrot with a stick?
Apart from sticky carrots.
A stern finger-wagging for being belligerent coupled with the promise of goodies for better behaviour.
In fact it was very much along the lines of the naughty-child-discipline playbook of a classic ‘shit sandwich’ of stinky admonishment nestled in between fluffy slices of lovely soft doughy promises of loveliness.
For months (years) Turkey has been sat next to Greece with his finger in Greece’s face, going “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.” But in recent times Turkey has been sneaking in the occasional actual jab in the cheekbone, to Hellenic protestations. That’s prompted the EU now to pull in to the hard shoulder, lean over to the back seat, and have a stern word about the prospect of ice cream if behaviour doesn’t improve.
That model of discipline is a bit harder if the misbehaving child happens to have a spectacularly brutish stepdad (one of the aforementioned fractious pyromaniac grown-ups), and if the misbehaviour is particularly egregious.
For Belarus the EU prepared a similar foreign-policy sandwich, though with a considerably less favourable bread-to-turd ratio.
Pocket monies and privileges withheld – though notably not for Putin’s stepson – and the vaguest of prospects of jam tomorrow.
Possibly on the carrots.
To make them sticky.
With that compound culinary metaphor finally fully self-destructing, and Chucky Mike having reminded the world that Europe exists – albeit in the form of a rather ineffectual parent with a very confusing picnic hamper – summit turned to domestic matters.
The subtext – sometimes barely sub at all – was a reflex to try and stuff the globalist genie back into the bottle. Unfortunately the globalist genie has spent the best part of two decades gorging on now embedded models of mass consumption and is rather too portly to consider a réembouteillage forcé. But Trump has altered that. He has not so much moved the Overton Window on that orthodoxy as bricked it up entirely and knocked through a gaping hole on the other side of the house.
It means that EU leaders can feel emboldened to talk euphemistically of ‘strategic autonomy’ and without standing accused of being old-world protectionists.
They’re new-world protectionists now.
And it’s strategic so it’s ok. It’s about healthcare and energy. Not about preserving un-economic commodity industries like in the past.
Although some of those might magically turn out to be strategic too.
And it’s not just about Chinese bits and bobs and Russian gas. It’s also about forrin internets.
“Digital Sovereignty” means that just as we should be using European toasters and driving European cars powered by home-grown European renewable smugness, we should also be developing self-sufficiency in European kitten videos and European porn, and somehow be trying to Make Nokia Great Again.
And how will we get there?
Why, we’ll follow the “comprehensive Digital Compass” of course – ‘compass’ being (apparently) the latest addition to the EU’s lexicon of Names for Things that aren’t a Thing.
It’s actually quite in line with the EU’s foreign-policy image as a bumbling parent figure.
They’ll have a stern word with the bullies (probably in vain), make unfulfillable promises about growing our own produce, and when there’s a problem with the internet, they’ll reach naively for the least appropriate tool to fix it.
Although, glancing at the alternative parenting role models around, bumbling is about as good as it gets.