Angela Merkel said she was “saddened” that her fellow EU leaders had scrapped her idea for the blockade. holds its first summit with Vladimir Putin since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia. He showed, he said, that “we’re just not trusting each other so much.”
It was a rare flash of frustration from a politician renowned for his self-discipline and singing. Yet he highlighted the scars left by a Franco-German initiative which sparked strong emotions and not a little anger – even among Merkel’s closest allies.
The row dropped a ball on one of the last EU summits of one of Europe’s oldest leaders. Merkel will leave her resignation this year after 16 years as Chancellor, and the heated discussions this week are not nearly as good as many have hoped.
“She miscalculated the influence it could bring,” said Ulrich Speck, a former visitor to the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It was a sign that his power was dwindling.”
The EU-Russia summit was Merkel’s second foreign policy initiative to kick off this year. A major EU-China investment agreement she had supported was put on the ice March by the European Parliament after China sanctioned 5 MEPs. “Merkel is effectively a lame duck,” Speck said.
Merkel in her long experience of EU summits has shown mastery in reading the room and securing arguments for her way. But this week, that approach failed.
Visibly irritated, she rejected the suggestion by some EU states that she and Macron were making “free concessions” to Russia pushing the idea of the summit. “I want to make it clear that such discussions with the Russian president are not a kind of reward,” he said at a post-summit press conference.
For Merkel’s political opponents in Germany, the row highlighted the collateral damage caused by Nord Stream 2, the Berlin-backed pipeline that will bring Russian gas directly to Germany and which many see as growing Europe’s confidence in Russian energy.
“The problem is that thanks to NS2, Germany has lost all credibility as a representative of European interests,” said Franziska Brantner, spokeswoman for the Greens in Europe. “Some EU member states are really wondering if the German government is acting in the interests of Europe or just those of German companies.”
After the summit, Merkel explained what prompted her to push the idea of a Russia summit – chief among them the show of Joe Biden meeting directly with Putin in Geneva this month.
Given that the United States and Russia have agreed among themselves on a framework to “discuss all litigious issues” in their relationship, Merkel said that “in such circumstances, it would make sense to find formats for the EU to speak also to Russia ”.
It was not, he insisted, a “new start” in EU-Russia relations, but rather a question of understanding how best to resolve current conflicts.
“Even in the Cold War.” . . we have always had channels of communication, “he said. While individual countries, including Germany and France, continued to speak with the Kremlin, it made more sense for the EU to speak to Moscow with one voice, he said. .
Diplomats say Merkel probably thought this week’s summit was her last chance to put the EU on a tighter engagement course before leaving the political scene.
And his initiative had the support of his junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats. “The EU must become a major player in security policy…[and]acting as one in international affairs, “SPD finance minister Olaf Scholz told FT.” And Russia has to understand and accept EU integration. “
Nor was it all without EU support. While some leaders have questioned Putin’s offer a sum given his bad behavior, defenders have said the downward spiral in Russian relations was even more a reason for the EU to change its mind.
The problem, diplomats say, was that the idea was raised by its defenders just a day before the summit. One marked the gambit “badly prepared” and “something that came like lightning from a clear sky.”
Germany also seems to have underestimated the sensitivities of member states geographically close to Russia. The Baltic response has been particularly strong, while some countries, such as the Netherlands, have emphasized that they do not sit at the same table with Putin.
However, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and a longtime ally of Merkel said the chancellor’s gambit would not “in any way” tarnish his legacy.
“My position was actually very close to the Franco-German proposal, but I could not accept an EU27 meeting with Putin. It would be too much of a gift for him,” he told the Financial Times.
The audacity of the plan also jeopardized their chances. Russia has not withdrawn its forces from Crimea or eastern Ukraine, while the assassination attempt has gone Alexey Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, has also strained relations.
However, this is far from being the end of the story. The Czech Republic and the Netherlands have indicated that they are not necessarily opposed to a summit between the presidents of the European Commission and the Council and Putin.
And Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, said the issue had not yet been resolved. “Yesterday wasn’t the right time, but I think we’ll discuss more.”