DATE: 26th May 2020, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Covid-19 and the Future of Geopolitical Faultlines in Europe
SPEAKERS: Justyna Gotkowska, Hans Kundnani, Luis Simon
EVENT MODERATOR: James Rogers
James Rogers 00:05
Okay, good afternoon everyone. And welcome to this, the Henry Jackson Society’s first virtual event of the week. I’m James Rogers, the director of the Global Britain program, and I’m delighted to be joined here today by an esteemed panel from across the European continent, including the United Kingdom. Today we have with us Justyna Gotkowska who is the Program Coordinator of the Regional Security Program at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, Poland. She holds expertise in Eastern and Central Europe, Germany and the Baltic and Nordic states. We also have Hans Kundnani, who is a Senior Research Fellow at the Europe Programme at Chatham House. His expertise is in Germany and north south relations in Europe. He’s also the author of the Paradox of German Power, which has been translated into several world languages. And finally, we’re joined by Luis Simón, who is the Senior Analyst and Director of the O’Connor Royal Institute’s Brussels office and Research Professor of International Relations at the Free University of Brussels. His knowledge pertains to European geopolitics and the transatlantic Alliance, as well as the emerging strategic competition between China and the United States. But what are we going to discuss here today? Well, you might have noticed that parts of Europe have been heavily affected by COVID-19, with some of the highest death rates per million inhabitants in the world being reported in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Britain and France. But other countries in Europe such as Poland, the Baltic states, Finland and Romania have reported far fewer deaths per million inhabitants. In terms of direct impact COVID-19 shows, once again, that Europe is not homogenous. Given the way that European countries have responded to the pandemic, it also suggests that the response will not be uniform either. This begs many questions. Will the fallout from COVID-19 open up new fault lines between the less affected east and the more affected west? What will it mean for North South relations? Particularly in terms of financial assistance and transfer? How will hostile outside forces exploit Europe’s problems? Will the crisis empower Europe? Or will it weaken and fragment the continent? And what on earth will it mean for transatlantic relations? Let’s see what our panellists think. Hans is going to start, to set the scene by outlining how he thinks pandemic will affect north-south relations. But just before I hand over though, I want to point out that you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions throughout this discussion. To do that, please ask your question using the question and answer feature, which is at the bottom of your browser’s window. You can then type your question there throughout this discussion, which will let us know you’d like to ask one. If your question is selected, we will then invite you to ask it during the question and answer session later. So over to Hans, who will talk about north-south relations in Europe.
Hans Kundnani 02:47
Thanks James. Thanks for having me. What I thought I’d do to sort of start the discussion is to talk a little bit about some of the sort of internal fault lines within Europe. And in particular, as James suggested, the sorts of north-south or creditor-debtor fault line that really opened up after the euro crisis began a decade ago. And then say something about how Coronavirus might deepen that fault line, I think that’s basically the danger here. I think it’s important to talk about this because it does seem to me that in a lot of discussions about European security, or more broadly about European foreign policy, some of these internal aspects tend to sort of be ignored. If you look, for example, at the discussion around European sovereignty. I wrote recently about this that yes, the discussion tends to sort of ignore the sort of internal kind of questions. And I guess you can think of these internal questions as being along two kinds of axes. One is a sort of horizontal axis, in other words, between EU member states or European countries more broadly. And the second is a kind of vertical axis between elites and citizens. I think when we talk about Europe in the world, or European security, I think often those two axes tend to tend to be a little bit ignored. And I think that is you can see how the sort of importance of that by looking say at Europe’s relationship with China, which I think Luis is going to come on to in a bit more depth later on. You know, we talk a lot about the need for Europe to develop a more coherent, perhaps tougher approach to China. But I think there is some sort of structural reasons, some internal reasons why Europe hasn’t been able to do that, and why it will continue to struggle to do that. Again, I think they go back to the euro crisis that began in 2010. Because I think what I mean, even before the euro crisis began, you had a sort of structural shift in international politics where power was shifting from west to east, central, the global economy was moving from west to east. And against that background, all European countries were starting to do more trade with China than they had in the past. But the way that the eurozone responded to the crisis that began in 2010, it seems to me made Europeans collectively more dependent on China than they would have already been. But at the same time, they became dependent in different ways, depending on their roles in the euro crisis. So very simply the creditor countries -and Germany is the the paradigmatic case here-, became more dependent on China as an export market, because demand from within Europe, in particular, from the south of Europe, slowed after the euro crisis began, because of the imposition of austerity. And then the creditor countries and so broadly, the sort of south of Europe became more dependent on China, not as an export market, but as a source of investment, again, because investment from within the EU slowed down after the beginning of the euro crisis. So that’s just a very simple illustration of the way that there are some internal structural reasons why Europeans actually have different economic interests that undermine the possibility of a coherent approach to China. So that was all the situation I think, before the before the Coronavirus hit Europe that we had these fault lines, creditors-debtors, north-south divide within Europe. This undermines European foreign policy coherence. And then the pandemic hit. And I think the crucial question around the pandemic is the extent to which this is a symmetric shock or an asymmetric shock. It looked initially as if this was much more symmetric than the series of shocks that Europe had faced over the last decade, beginning with the euro crisis. But actually, as I think it’s become clear over the last couple of months, that actually, it certainly has asymmetric elements to it. And, and the first aspect of that is the way that you know, the pandemic hit different countries at different times, which immediately introduced an element of asymmetry which meant that certain countries were more able to deal effectively with it than others. Italy, obviously was hit first. And so that’s led to some differences in terms of the impact of the health crisis in different EU member states. But here actually, what’s quite interesting is that, although if you if you look at Italy tends to suggest again, this kind of North South divide, you know, Italy struggling much more with a health crisis than Germany. And but actually is a little bit more complicated than that, because you also have some countries like Greece that seem to have done relatively well, actually, in terms of the health process. However, the real issue, I think, in terms of these fault lines within the European Union, after the Coronavirus is not going to be so much around how many people died, in other words, how bad the health crisis was, but more around the economic impact. All European countries have imposed to various degrees a kind of a lockdown with huge economic consequences, and have racked up huge debt and are going to need to recover afterwards. And so I think the question becomes, to what extent that economic impact is symmetric or asymmetric, rather than the health crisis as such. In other words, it’s the sort of secondary effects of the Coronavirus rather than the primary effects in terms of numbers of people who, who could get the virus and who die. And so clearly, different EU member states are going to be able to deal more effectively than others with this economic crisis. For two reasons, I guess, in particular, the first- the sort of question of how long and deep the recession is going to be in each case. And here again, although as I say, Greece looked like it had dealt relatively well with the health crisis. It looks as if the recession will be particularly bad in a country like Greece, because of the extent to which its economy depends on tourism, which is going to be one of the most difficult things to, or take the longest to go back to normal. So that’s the first aspect is the question of how long and deep the recession is going to be in each case. And the second aspect is the ability of different EU member states to borrow to finance the recovery. And clearly here, again, southern European governments have higher debt levels, they’re going to have higher borrowing costs. And that’s going to make it much, much harder for them to recover. So the danger, I think, is that this divergence that we’ve seen, I mean, really, since the euro was created, but certainly since the euro crisis began. That will continue, that will deepen the macro, the macroeconomic imbalances will be exacerbated. The new 500 billion euro recovery fund proposed by France and Germany could go some way to limiting those- that divergence and those imbalances. We can discuss that later on. But I think even if the recovery fund lives up to its expectations, I think there are still a whole bunch of other questions that we haven’t even yet begun to really discuss in much detail, like, in particular, the question the fiscal rules, what do you do with the fiscal rules? If they’re not reformed? Then it looks like that will lead to an even more dramatic round of austerity in southern Europe than was already a case before. And I think there are also questions around things like state aid, which some of you may have seen the figures that suggests that 50% of the state aid since the Coronavirus, has -since Coronavirus began- been targeted to Germany. So you can see there again, how that could deepen the macroeconomic imbalances. I think Justyna and Luis are going talk a little bit more about European security. And we can talk about how these fault lines within Europe, between your between north and south would impact European security. One very obvious consequence, may be a further reduction in plans for military spending. And I think, as I was suggesting at the beginning, that this could also have the consequence of kind of pushing countries that are struggling to recover, particularly in the south of Europe, sort of further towards China and Russia than was already the case.
James Rogers 12:36
Okay, thank you very much for that introduction. Now we’ll hand over to Justyna and she’s going to talk, as I said earlier, about the situation in Central and Eastern Europe.
Justyna Gotkowska 12:47
Thank you, James, for the invitation to this event. As you said, I will talk about security policy, since this is the topic I’m dealing with. And I will talk about the dilemmas that Central Eastern Europe and especially Eastern flank countries are facing with regards to security and defence policy in the post-pandemic world. And as it is often told, the pandemic amplifies the trends that we have seen before. And this is true also for Central Eastern Europe. In this region, there has been a great deal of uncertainty about the future, since 2014. This is since the annexation of Crimea, already then and even before in Poland and in other Eastern Time countries there has been an understanding that the golden period of peaceful post-Cold War development is coming to an end. And on the one hand, we have Russia that has become the main source of instability in Poland’s Eastern neighbourhood. And on the other hand, all the frameworks that Poland and other Eastern countries regard as foundations of their security, sovereignty, economic prosperity. This is EU, NATO and the transit transatlantic relations, have been undergoing a transformation with a still unknown outcome. And of course, these trends are felt all over Europe, but Central Eastern Europe is especially vulnerable here with regard to security and accounts. And with regard to the EU, there are several trends at the same time visible from our region. A trend towards disintegration with Brexit with what may happen with the South in Europe in the time of economic post pandemic consequences. A trend towards strengthened cooperation formats outside of the EU, like the European Intervention Initiative. A trend towards a more integrated EU with the ideas of European strategic autonomy and European sovereignty. And especially in security, a trend towards refocusing on national threat perspectives. In the case of France on crisis management in the south. In case of Germany we have here a big question mark on whether Germany will have a sustainable concept in security and defence policy, other than welman diplomacy in the future. And with regards to the US, the two trends are accelerating, it is the focus being moved towards Asia Pacific concentrating on China, with Russia becoming increasingly a secondary challenge for the US, that the Europeans should deal more with. And it is the US that is more inward looking that we may or may deal with in the future and preoccupied with rebuilding the homeland. And we have the deepening of estrangement in transatlantic relations, that is extremely worrisome for Central Eastern Europeans. And the pandemic is also amplifying the strength of arguments for different solution to these challenges in Poland and in other eastern flank countries. The currently predominating answer now, and solution to security and defence challenges represented by the current Polish government is to invest heavily in the bilateral partnership with the US- closely linked to NATO’s deterrence and defence policy, with Poland becoming a hub for US military presence and military activity on the eastern flank. And this is coupled with a deep suspicion, or is the predominantly French idea of European strategic autonomy or European sovereignty in security and defence, and with the conviction that Europe is and will remain weak without a strong US engagement. And this partnership with the US is developed not only in security and defence, but also in US-Polish and US-regional economic cooperation- this is in the three seas initiative. There is, however, a growing concern about sustaining this strategy, having in mind all these trends I talked before. Also there is a still a general consensus that strong relations with the US and strong transatlantic partnership are important for Poland security and defense. There is a growing opinion in Poland that, and I would say also in other Eastern foreign countries, that we need to balance engagement with the US, with an increased involvement in European cooperation on security and defence. And the reasons are twofold. First, it is the US demand for more engagement vis a vis Russia. And second, it is also the wish to be more involved in European integration process and keeping the EU together. And there are different variations of this perspective among the environment and among the eastern flank countries. Beginning with perceiving European cooperation as a supplement to US regional cooperation and transatlantic ties, and ending the wish for working towards a European strategic autonomy in a long term perspective. And I would say that all countries in Central Eastern Europe and on the eastern flank are faced with the question of finding the right balance and right means on how to engage in European cooperation in security and defence. And we have examples like Estonia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic being the most forward leaning towards participation and franchised initiatives. But it is also linked to maintaining strong, strong links and strong ties to the US. Whether this is the right way for Poland, the biggest country on the eastern flank? I don’t think so, I believe we need to find an intra-European, so to speak, dialogue and kind of the grand bargain between France, Germany and Poland on the future of European military cooperation. And I think that in the post-pandemic world, we might need to do that even quicker than before. But I would like also to say that there is also a third way in the Polish, especially in the Polish discussions, an idea more and more present in the public debates- due to some geopolitical experts that are pretty active and ideas to counterbalance the US, the European, and the Chinese influence to the benefit of Polish security, defence, economy and prosperity. And this idea is based on the presumption that the US will lose the competition with China, and that Poland should be strong enough to build and lead a regional group of countries. And I think this is a pretty dangerous idea and inadequate from a regional perspective. A firewall to the concept of Poland, that guided Poland, since the end of the Cold War that Poland is deeply embedded in the West, Western frameworks such as NATO and the EU. And I’m not sure whether such an idea would be also helped or helpful and well received in the region. Myself, as I said, it’s marginal, but it is interesting that such a concept is appearing in the Polish debate. And I think I will stop here on presenting how the post pandemic consequences are received or perceived in Poland.
James Rogers 20:45
Thank you very much, Justyna, for that. And let’s now hand over to Luis. And he’s going to talk about how the pandemic might affect transatlantic relations. Also looking at the role of China.
Luis Simon 20:59
Thank you, James. Good afternoon. And thanks to you and to the Henry Jackson Society for the invite. So after having covered the sort of north, south and east west fault lines, I’ll try and focus on transatlantic ones. So in just a few minutes, what I want to do is raise a few questions about what COVID may mean for Sino-American competition, and perhaps more specifically for Europe’s place in Sino-American competition. And I do agree with what both Hans and Justyna seem to imply, in the sense that any discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on European security, or for that matter, EU foreign policy, which is something I’ll touch on, cannot be viewed in isolation from geostrategic dynamics that were already in train before the crisis broke. Of course, as we know, and both Hans and Justyna alluded to that, in recent years, we’ve witnessed a competitive turn in international politics, if you will, is of course, best illustrated by the intensifying great power competition between the United States and China. And we know that the effects of that competition sort of span across most policy areas for trade, military technology, diplomacy, the information domain, but also geographical regions. Because even though East Asia, sort of, is still the epicentre of Sino-American competition, we see that that competition is also being increasingly felt in many other regions, including Europe. And understandably, the United States and China are both trying to leverage different international organizations and norms and practices to their advantages. So, sort of the systemic level is also a battleground in Sino-American competition. And I think their responses to COVID-19; all the finger pointing about the responsibilities, the disputes about the role of the World Health Organization, and also the Trump administration’s doubling down on its agenda of economic decoupling, which is, I believe, strategically informed sort of illustrates that point. In that sense, I am personally rather sceptical about this notion that COVID-19 shows that we are all on the same boat and that only global solutions are possible, and that this is a sort of window of opportunity to reset multilateralism as some European leaders have argued. To me, it has now become clear that COVID-19 is a battleground in the context of the long term strategic competition between the United States and China, and also sort of a weapon to be used in many other geopolitical confrontations. So as far as our own discussion goes, I think that a key question going forward, and one that you continue to hear about here in Brussels, is will Europe be a subject or an object in Sino-American competition? And of course, the problem of Europe, Europe sort of subject versus object tension goes way beyond, as you know, American competition, it transcends that frame. However, my sense is that you know, American competition is beginning to structure a lot of the debates on European security and European geopolitics and also European strategy and foreign policy. One side of that problem, as I see it, relates to the question of Europe as an object or battle ground in Sino-American competition as illustrated by all these booming literature and references to Chinese investment and political influence in Europe, or to mounting US pressures for Europeans to adopt a tough stance against Chinese penetration in key technological areas like 5G-we’re all acquainted with that. If anything, it seems to me the problem of Europe as an object or battleground in Sino-American competition has become even more salient post-COVID. If we look, for instance, at China’s resort to masked diplomacy and disinformation to leverage intra-European divisions, and advance its influence and objectives, and Hans alluded to that in passing, I think. Or how the US also tries to promote a transatlantic approach towards China to try and get Europeans sort of closer to their position. The other side of the story concerns the problem of Europe as a subject. And whether Europeans will be able to achieve that so called strategic autonomy. And sort of elude the escape that sort of dichotomous frame offered by Sino-American competition and related pressures to sort of take sides, which, of course, is the wrong way of framing the question, but it’s still being framed that way, in many quarters. I think there’s a big issue in Brussels, and once again this is a discussion that has been boosted by COVID-19. In the sense that you hear a lot of EU leaders insist that say American blame games and quarrels show that this great power competition frame has to be rejected and that COVID should sort of be leveraged to reset multilateralism. So according to conventional wisdom in Brussels, if the US and China offer a sort of grammar of great power, competition and rivalry, the EU should aspire to recover that predictability that multilateral norms and institutions bring to international politics. The question is, is that realistic? And my sense is that as we glimpse into the post COVID-19 world, there are very few signs that suggest a de-escalation of great power competition. Nor by the way, is there any reason to think that a resetting of multilateralism to the extent that is possible, post COVID would resemble the sort of multilateralism that took root in a context defined by Western power. And I think there’s a big difference between multilateralism meant in the world of the 1990s, which was a world defined and dominated by Western liberal powers, and what multilateralism means today in a world that’s characterized by the growing influence and values of non-democratic and autocratic powers. So my sense is that the EU should critically reassess the strategic value of multilateralism, not least, given China’s systematic, even if largely rhetorical, I would say bet on multilateralism, or for that matter, the fact that the United States is strategically retreating from that very concept of multilateralism, and perhaps in some ways for good reasons. So my sense is that the EU runs can runs the risk of misreading the geopolitical implications of COVID-19. I think that rather than offering a window of opportunity for resetting multilateralism, may actually exacerbate existing dynamics of great power competition and global economic decoupling. So, not withstanding the potential that multilateral foreign institutions continue to offer to advance European interests on some fronts. I think it’s unwise for Europeans to continue to embrace multilateralism as the ordering principle of their foreign and security policies. I think I’ll leave it at that.
James Rogers 28:40
Okay, thank you very much, Luis, for that overview as well. This allows us to move into the questions and answer session, I’d just like to remind you, before we go any further that you have the opportunity to ask a question. So if you’d like to do so, then please use the question and answers function at the bottom of your window for the zoom discussion. We’ve already had a range that have come in, and we can move over to the first question already. I just like to remind you also that before we ask you to speak please do activate your microphone. To do that, just click the microphone button at the bottom left hand corner of your browser window, and that will open up and allow you to speak. So the first question comes from Luke Bliss.
Luke Bliss 29:27
Excellent. There’s been much talk about the proposed 500 billion euro relief bill that has been pushed forward by Macron and Merkel as the kind of great life raft for predominantly the southern states in the aftermath of the COVID 19 fallout and risks and predicted recession. But how endangered is this bill by Macron and Merkel’s own crumbling domestic support which a lot of which is based upon their own commitments to keeping the European Union alive. Thank you very much.
James Rogers 30:09
Thank you for that. Luke. Shall we move around the panel? Would Hans like to start with that one?
Hans Kundnani 30:19
Sure. So I think, I mean, there are a lot of questions around the recovery fund. The size of it, is it big enough? There’s some questions around conditionality attached to it. There are, although I think this hasn’t been discussed very much, there is a question mark about what the attitude of German constitutional courts towards it might be. And in particular, about whether it remains a one off or whether it kind of sets a precedent for further debt utilization in the Eurozone. I mean, the people that are talking about a sort of Hamiltonian moment, are sort of hoping that it will set a precedent that’s sort of the whole point. On its own its not that significant, it’s significant only as a precedent. The problem I think, though, is that the German constitutional court may say that it has to remain a one off because open ended debt neutralization Eurozone is against the German constitution. So a bunch of questions around it. There’s also a question, I think, around the extent to which it may get, I guess, watered down by sort of negotiations between other EU Member States, and France and Germany. But even if you assume that it goes through in like sort of current form, then as I say, I think there are still a number of questions around how much of an impact it will have. But I guess your question, Luke was more around whether it will go through at all, because of the weakness of Macron and Merkel? And I suppose I’m not. I mean, I think there is a genuine question about the extent to which it does, you know, get sort of modified and perhaps watered down as it goes through a negotiation between member states. I don’t really buy the premise, though, that Macron and Merkel are weak and therefore unable to push this through. Certainly Merkel’s case, since the Coronavirus, began, she’s kind of bounced back a little bit in terms of her domestic approval ratings and so on. And I’m not sure in terms of negotiations with other EU member states, whether it really matters that much whether they have that much domestic support or not. So I suppose like I don’t think it’s that relevant of a factor in terms of what happens with the recovery fund.
James Rogers 32:48
Okay, thank you, Hans. for that. Justyna, do you have anything to add to that?
Justyna Gotkowska 32:53
Yes, first of all, from the German and French domestic perspective, I will agree with Hans, I’m not sure whether this is as important, this Franco-German proposal being discussed, in comparison with the Swedish Danish Austrian proposal that was put forward together with the Netherlands, I think here will be the line of the debate, and not inside the countries because so far as I have seen dealing with Germany, not necessarily with economic issues, that there has been a wide support, both within the Christian Democratic Party as well as within the SPD. I might say a few words about this proposal from Polish perspective. And on one hand, it has been received here very positively because this was a proposal for all EU countries and not only for Eurozone members. But there are concerns with what it means to have such a European recovery fund, what will be the effect for the multi annual financial framework that will be that is under negotiation this year, and especially concerns what does that mean for cohesion called money for cohesion policy or agricultural policies that are important for Poland? And there are concerns about whether Poland might become a net payer for southern countries with this European one EU recovery fund, even if it, as a country, is comparatively less developed than for example Italy. So these are these are concerns from Poland and Facebook from Poland on this bond.
James Rogers 35:09
Okay, thank you very much, Justyna. For that, we can now move on to the next question, which is from Ekaterina Dimitrova.
Ekaterina Dimitrova 35:32
Thank you so much for the presentation, Hans. So you talked about the lack of coherency towards China, as of the Germany became more dependent on it for its exports, and southern countries more dependent for investment. So do you think this lack of coherency with the crisis today, lead to more fragmentation within the EU? So like different leagues between countries? So like a block in the east, so versus welcome the west, etc? Do you think that will lead to more fragmentation? That’s my question. Thank you.
Hans Kundnani 36:14
I mean, I think the driver here is the macroeconomic imbalances. And I think the sort of external manifestation of that is that you have an incoherent policy towards China. Um, I don’t think it’s the incoherent policy towards China that’s necessarily driving the sort of internal divisions, you know, so when in a lot of these debates about European foreign policy, you know, foreign policy analysts always complain about how China is dividing and ruling Europe, you know- inserting these wedges between different European countries. I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I think we’ve created the wedges ourselves. In other words, we’re dividing ourselves rather than something. So I don’t think we should be blaming the Chinese for this, I think we should be blaming, by we, I mean, Europeans, we should be blaming ourselves. So you know, I do think that the, you know, the imbalances will continue and perhaps after the Coronavirus, get worse, and I do think as you I think suggested in your question, this leads to the formation of these kind of blocks within the EU or sort of coalitions. I mean, I think you’ve seen that it began, you know, in sort of 2010 with the creditors and debtors, the north and the south. And then in different contexts. I think you’ve seen since then, a whole series of different coalitions, you know, you now have the Hanseatic, the new Hanseatic League in the refugee crisis, you had a different kind of, sort of set of fault lines, which were more east-west rather than north-south, in particular, the visa grab for which, you know, until then had been, you know, fairly sort of irrelevant, it seems to me, European politics suddenly came into its own as an anti-German coalition in the context of the refugee crisis, which was fascinating. So I think you do have these kind of groupings forming to kind of hub and spoke sort of all cantered on Germany. I think with you know, some cases coalitions forming that explicitly against Germany, whether it’s in the context of the eurozone or in the context of the refugee crisis, you do have this very messy picture of more sort of shifting dynamic of coalitions within the EU. It’s very damaging and creates instability within the EU. But I guess my key point is that the driver of this is not China, the driver of this is the internal economic problems within the eurozone and within the EU more broadly.
James Rogers 38:49
Thank you for that Hans. Does Luis have any comments on that? No. And how about Justyna?
Justyna Gotkowska 39:01
I would like to say that we have very interesting discussions on China, in the main EU countries and also in Britain. We see an interesting discussion on whether and to what extent shall we engage or decouple from China? In London, we have a hugely interesting debate on this issue in Germany. And I, I have heard Luis, saying that the EU might misread the geopolitical environment, and especially the aims and goals of China in international politics. I think we are in the middle of debate on this issue in the main countries and I think the debate that is taking place on this issue in Germany. The outcome of this debate will crucial. So I think we are still in the middle of it. And I think that it has developed to the positive. Which means to make a more realistic perspective on China at the time.
James Rogers 40:21
We have quite a few questions now coming in, so I’m going to group them into groups of three. But we have one, which cannot be asked in person, so I’m going to read it out instead. This question comes from Alan Flowers from Kings University. And he says, I found your comments about Poland and its future international associations very interesting. In relation to this, could a new Grand Duchy of Lithuania (inaudible) have a future? And what do you think there might be a possibility for Belarus moving to closer association with Central Europe? And what about the role that Poland could have in this? I think that’s made basically for Justyna.
Justyna Gotkowska 41:01
Yes, thank you for this question. I tried to present my views on it and my presentation by depicting at one of the strains in the Polish debate suggesting that this could be a possibility, and answer a solution to the challenges that Poland is facing in security and defence. A so called into marum concept, Poland being a leader of regional grouping of countries ranging from Lithuania Baltic states, to Belarus and even Ukraine and end to end the V4 group. I don’t think such a concept in security and defence is as feasible. I don’t, due to especially the simple military capabilities of such groupings. I think that neither Poland, together with the Baltic state will be for group even with Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine are too weak to counter researching and assertive Russia. And both Poland and the Baltic states and the rest of the eastern flank countries need to be embedded firmly in a Western security and military alliance security and defence framework. First of all NATO but also the EU has here a role, and therefore I deem such ideas as highly unrealistic. And I would say even dangerous, because they propose a kind of a third way Poland and other countries being in between the West and Russia. And I think we have meaning Poland and Lithuania, and other countries. We have been escaping from this position from the early 90s. And I don’t think we want to be back in it.
James Rogers 42:57
Okay, thank you Justyna. We can now move on to the question from Michela Borzoni.
Michela Borzoni 43:15
Yeah, so my question was, with doubts over resetting multilateralism, will we see a return to the Westphalian state concept? Thank you.
James Rogers 43:27
So perhaps the panel might answer the question about the return of the Westphalian state. Perhaps Luis would like to go first on this one.
Luis Simon 43:59
Thank you, James. I think Yeah, I think that’s a that’s a very good question. I would say that to some extent, we are already seeing that, both in the sense that the state is sort of asserting or reasserting itself in the economic sphere in terms of responding to the crisis, and we’re seeing that in in many countries. But also, more broadly, as it relates to international politics, we are seeing a sort of an acceleration of competition. And a retreat from globalization in some in some ways, and a retreat from multilateral venues. And that, again, leads us to sort of fall back on the state. So I would, I would argue, yes, to some extent, to what extent I think it’s still unclear, and to what extent, this will be determined by COVID. Well, probably not to a great extent, and the sense that as others mentioned before, my sense is that COVID is sort of further compounding dynamics that that were already there.
James Rogers 45:10
Okay, thank you, Luis. Hans?
Hans Kundnani 45:17
Yeah, I mean, this is a big question, you know, sort of mega trends in international politics. I guess, I’m not sure. I mean, it by Westphalian state I take, I take Michela to mean sort of the nation states, essentially. I suppose I’m not sure if the nation state is sort of objectively making a comeback, or whether it just is just that in our sort of foreign policy discourse, we’re changing our minds about you know, whether about its future, essentially, you know, so in other words, the change is not necessarily in reality here at all, it may just be in our own heads, you know. Maybe there’s a shift in foreign policy discourse back to the nation state after sort of 30-40 year period where we sort of believed that the nation state was going to die out. But it’s not clear to me that objectively, anything has really changed. And, you know, I think it’s just too soon to say whether, you know, what will happen to globalization now, after the Coronavirus and so on. I think also, I’m slightly struggling with this kind of idea of this sort of contrast between multilateralism on the one hand, and the nation state and/or great power competition, on the other hand, because it’s not clear to me that they are sort of quite opposites. And I think Luis was kind of suggesting this actually, in what he said initially, that, that actually, you can have great power competition, mediated through multilateral institutions. It’s not as if by taking part in multilateral institutions, a power is giving up on competition. And Luis was suggesting that this is precisely what China has been doing. Arguably, though, it’s also what the United States was doing in its, you know, in the entire post war period was hadn’t given up on global competition, it was just doing it through multilateral institutions. The key shift, I think, is a slightly different one, which again, Lewis pointed out, which is, it’s not so much that we’re moving from a more multilateral world to less multilateral world, I think, I think it’s just that the multilateral institutions, and in particular, you know, who kind of dominates them is changing. So now, you know, we’ve had a period since the end of World War Two, where, you know, thankfully that, you know, you take the Bretton Woods institutions, it’s a paradigmatic case, these were institutions created by the West. And you now have a you have you have new institutions being created, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as an example, which have been created by non-western powers. And this is precisely why I agree with you there is that this kind of idea of this kind of EU kind of mantra about multilateralism, and you know, as I think a structuring principle you called it is completely. I mean, I genuinely don’t understand it, because it’s not as if, you know, the EU is in favour of multilateralism, per se, it’s in favour of a certain kind of multilateralism, which is the multilateralism of the existing institutions that were created by the West after World War Two. I think that, you know, Heiko Maas should say that, rather than saying he’s just in favour of multilateralism period, as if he’s agnostic about which kinds of multilateral institutions, what kind of purpose as well, multilateral institutions have, as if he’s just in favour of multilateralism for the sake of multilateralism. That seems to me an entirely kind of empty position. So, you know, I very much agree with what you were saying, Luis, and I guess in response to Michela’s this question, I suppose I’m, I’m just not quite convinced that what’s happening here is a shift away from multilateralism towards some kind of return of the nation state. I don’t believe that the nation state is dying out as lots of people believe for a long time. But I’m also not entirely sure that it’s kind of making a big comeback. It’s just always been there.
James Rogers 49:43
Okay, thank you very much, Hans. We can now move on to the next two questions. The first is from Paul Ingram.
Yes, thank you. This really follows on from what’s just been said. My original question was specifically to Luis which is, what does it mean to reassess the EU’s commitment to multilateralism and what credible alternatives are there? That’s why that’s where you finished. And Hans’s statement just now is fascinating to me. But I think it’s really interesting that you say that in the context of Trump and America First, which is clearly a rejection of multilateralism. And so is it true? And this is to Hans, as well as the original question to Luis. Is it true that there is simply a question, a choice between 1945 multilateralism and the new multilateralism quotes? Or is there a third way the American for America First or whatever that means in the Europeans perspective? And where do you think, you know, let’s ask this normatively, where do you think Europe should go in relation to multilateralism given that we can’t just go back to 1945?
James Rogers 50:59
Okay, thank you for that, Paul. The next question is from James Beckles.
James Beckles 51:06
Hello. My question is, would an economic alliance of southern states be a credible Bulwark in the EU against the economic agenda of Germany and France?
James Rogers 51:20
Okay, thank you. And then there will be one last question in this round from Ian Bond. I think Ian, given that your first question is very similar to Paul Ingram’s question maybe you could just ask the second question, which is directed, I think to Hans.
Ian Bond 51:38
So the question was answered. I mean, the data shows that most Chinese investment is still actually going to Germany, France and the UK, it’s not going to the small southern states. And Germany is by far the most dependent of any European country on trade with China. So isn’t it a bit unfair to suggest that Southern Europe is going to be more vulnerable to Chinese influence than Germany or some of the other northern states? I mean, isn’t the problem not that China has different leavers with different states, which it can use in a coordinated way.
James Rogers 52:23
We could move first, I think to Luis and he can focus on Paul Ingram’s question on the EU’s commitment to into multilateralism.
Luis Simon 52:31
Thank you, thank you, James. Yeah, I mean, I think that yeah, this is a fascinating discussion. Thanks, Paul, to sort of go back to your question, but also to Hans, his previous answer, which I pretty much agree with. I sort of framed it in superficial ways, at first, but of course, it’s much more complex than that. The relationship between great power, competition and order, it’s always changing. And indeed, during the Cold War, after World War Two, when the main sort of great power competitor of the United States was the Soviet Union, the US did manage to leverage the multilateral superstructure, if you will, all the institutions and norms against the Soviet Union that was excluded from that superstructure. But now you have the dynamics of great power competition have now changed. The main reference, as just, you know, was alluding to earlier, in terms of great power competitor of the United States, is now China, which is part of that superstructure, and according to some people, rightly or wrongly in the Trump administration, but at least they do make a strategic case. China is managing to selectively leverage some of those institutions and norms against US power. So the question is, what do you do? Do you try to counter those one by one and try to add to sort of reorder that superstructure that was by and large created by the United States? For many reasons, but one of them certainly to prevail in the competition with the Soviet Union? Or do you just pull the plug because you accepted that that order that was very helpful in terms of advancing your interests- visibly the Soviet competitor, is not useful in the context of competition with China, so I don’t know. It’s a very difficult question. But certainly some people in Washington seem to have reached the conclusion that some level of disinvestment from that superstructure may be needed. And, but going back to the broader question about the utility of multilateralism, and you mean, the EU foreign policy. Here I totally agree with Hans. I mean, this is not about opposing multilateralism for the sake of opposing multilateralism. It’s about not confounding. The multilateralism in relation to the means versus ends. Right? It’s about what kind of multilateralism? I think in that sense. Burrell, the EU High Representative very very recently has made some interesting remarks because he said recently and a statement about EU China relations, that yes, the EU and China both stand for multilateralism, but they stand for very different kinds of multilateralism. And this is something that I had not heard EU leaders say before, it was all about partners in multilateralism. So I think it’s important the EU sort of advances in in that in that direction. I think I’ll leave it at that.
James Rogers 55:39
Okay, thank you, Luis. Maybe we can now move over to Hans, and he can answer the question from James Beckles and also from Ian Bond.
Hans Kundnani 55:48
Yes. And just before I do that, just briefly on this question of multilateralism in response to Paul, because Paul asked me about Trump. And, you know, I take your point you’re right, that Trump, there is a specific kind of unilateralism or anti multilateralism that Trump represents. That’s clearly true. Although I think sometimes it’s exaggerated the extent to which he represents a break with American foreign policy before Trump. It’s clearly true that there is a break when you look at his attitude to NATO, the WTO, there is a break there. But I think sometimes in foreign policy debates in DC and in Europe, to some extent, people sort of imagine that the US was more supportive of multilateralism before Trump than it really was. I mean, you know, the UN, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. I mean, the US hasn’t ratified that. That was what 1982 you know, so some, you know, Democrat and Republican administrations have been unable to ratify that. Or if you think about the Bush administration, you know, that was precisely the complaint about the Bush administration was its unilateralism. Now, I agree that Trump has sort of taken it to another level in a way, but I think one should be careful about sort of imagining that the US was, you know, kind of like Europe, in terms of its commitment to you to multilateralism before Trump. Then James’s question about a sort of coalition of Southern EU member states or Eurozone countries? This is a fascinating question. I sort of think there is a structural pressure on France, Italy, and Spain to form this kind of coalition. And a bit because I don’t think any of them on their own, is able to sort of shift German policy on their own. And so I think there’s a certain kind of structural pressure on them. And this takes us back to the classical German question, which was analogous to this, the big breakthrough in the euro crisis in 2012, was the product of precisely such a French Italian Spanish coalition. The problem is, is that after that, in 2012, France in particular sort of backed off from I’m continuing to sort of lead that coalition, because it worried about, about the way that we change status within the European Union, rather than the sort of Franco German partnership, it will be leading this coalition at the south, and that would that would be damaging to French prestige. I think that that does have some potential to, to kind of get Germany to change its position. But it’s clearly a dangerous strategy. I mean it’s a risky strategy, I should say, as well. And then finally, Ian, thanks for that sort of clarification, because I clearly sort of wasn’t clear in what I said, the first time around. I certainly wasn’t trying to suggest that somehow, the southern EU member states are more vulnerable than Germany, I was trying to precisely say that the surplus countries on the one hand, and the deficit countries in your hand are in different ways dependent on China. And as you suggested, China has different ways of leveraging that dependence in the two different cases. And in many ways Germany is, you know, as dependent as, say, Italy or Greece on China, except it’s as an export market rather than as a source of investment. You mentioned also that, you know, in absolute terms, a lot of the investment from China is going to countries like Germany, that’s true. But I think if you look at the importance of that investment to the German economy, compared to say, the Greek economy or the Italian economy, it is more important to those Southern EU member states. But the dependence that a country like Germany has is not so much in terms of investment. It’s more as an export market. And when you look at the figures there, particularly for the automobile industry, in Germany, it’s quite extraordinary. The extent to which Volkswagen, for example, is exposed to China. And that does I think, give China a lot of leverage over Germany. So I agree with you.
James Rogers 1:00:02
Okay, thank you very much for that Hans. Justyna, do you have any last few comments?
Justyna Gotkowska 1:00:07
Yes, maybe a comment on China because I found this question of Ian Bond very interesting, because we often we hear, also views that through the 17 plus 1 format, this is a format of cooperation of the Central and South and European countries with China. We get more Chinese influence over our policies, which is not true. And I think Germany is a key country to look how the China debate evolves. And if I may cite a tweet of the SPD foreign policy spokesman, which tells a lot about the China discussions in Germany: ‘Merkel is trumped in old China view where it was just about economic relations, she underestimates system chance security and socio political challenge. As Europeans, we need to act more strongly and decisively.’ And I think the fate of the European Union’s China policy will be decided in Germany.
James Rogers 1:01:13
Thank you very much for that Justyna. Well, that’s I’m afraid all we have time for today, because one of the panelists has to leave promptly. Thank you for your comments and your questions. I’m sorry that we couldn’t answer so many that were remaining. And thank you to all of the panellists for giving their insights. I just like to remind you that our next virtual event is on the 28th of May, and it’s focusing on Ukraine in relation to Coronavirus conflict and corruption. So please do sign up for that. Without further ado, that’s all from me and from the panel. Good afternoon.