Mary Dejevsky: The destructive prejudices of Europe's new members

Related Topics

Whatever you think about the conflict in Georgia – and opinions about the rights and wrongs of it could hardly be more polarised – there is one aspect on which there could surely be wide agreement. This fast and furious little war, with far wider implications, was an ideal opportunity for the European Union to show its diplomatic mettle. Countries the world over have been crying out for the EU to take a more activist role as mediator, where better to start than with South Ossetia – potentially highly dangerous, but potentially soluble, too?

In fact, the EU's first moves were positive, as international responses go. The French presidency of the EU placed the onus on Nicolas Sarkozy and his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, to react in the name of Europe. Exhibitionist and interventionist politicians both, they made an admirably prompt start, exchanging their sacrosanct August holidays for a few rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Within days there was a six-point agreement, validated by the signatures of both sides. It was a promising start: a single message, activist diplomacy, and a realistic awareness of what was possible on the ground.

At which point everything fell apart, and a head of steam built up once again behind the rhetoric – except that this time it was not just Russia and Georgia doing the shouting, but their respective cheerleaders, which meant pretty much everyone against the Russians. And the EU voice of reason, as exemplified by the mediators, M. Sarkozy and M. Kouchner, was progressively drowned out by a different and more diffuse argument: not the small question of how to solve the problem of South Ossetia, but the big question of what to do about Russia.

The reason the focus shifted was that the east and central Europeans – who became full members of the EU in 2004 – could see the war in Georgia only through the prism of their bitter experience. For them, it was just another example of Soviet-style Russian bullying and a red flag they could wave at "old" Europe to illustrate the justice of their fears.

Now I yield to no one in my delight at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of east and central Europe and the death of Soviet communism. These "new" European countries are fully-fledged nation states with a reclaimed sense of their own identity. Visit any one of them, and I defy you not to sense, and share, their sheer joy at being able to be themselves. Given history and geography, their preoccupation with the perceived threat from the east can also be understood. In seeking not only EU but also Nato membership, they were defending their vital interests as they saw them. Their single-mindedness paid off.

The trouble is that while the "old" Europeans left past enmities at the door when they joined the EU – that was the whole point of joining – too many of the "new" Europeans saw the EU, like Nato, as a means of pursuing old quarrels from a new position of strength. Recent recriminations in "new" Europe about who did what under communism demonstrate how much is still not resolved. For these countries, the prospect of a new Cold War is ever-present quite simply because, for them, the old Cold War is not yet at an end.

In 2000, Jacques Chirac's fears about EU enlargement drew reproaches of condescension and worse. The official US and British view was preferred; that these countries would form a "bridge" to Russia. Over time, though, M. Chirac looks more right than wrong. Popular European opposition to the Iraq war was less effective than it could have been because of divisions between "old" and "new" Europe that were well exploited by the US. As Iraq faded as an issue, EU efforts to reach a realistic and mutually beneficial relationship with Russia were repeatedly thwarted by a chorus of "new" Europeans warning of the worst.

There are many reasons why the EU should review relations with Russia, most of which predate the recent conflict over South Ossetia. A mutual – yes, mutual – interest in reliable energy sales and supplies is one. Moscow's relations with the ethnic Russian populations living within the EU is another; and the permanent demarcation of post-Soviet borders, which requires a resolution of the so-called "frozen conflicts" such as South Ossetia, is a third.

That discussions on all these issues are coloured by the very particular experience of the "new Europeans" is a good part of the explanation why no solutions are being reached. Alas, that failure is now water under a premature enlargement that has proved more of a block than a bridge.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn