What Angela, Nicolas, and Dmitri Did (and Didn’t Do) in Deauville
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Deauville, the beach resort in Normandy where Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and Dmitri Medvedev met earlier this week, has seen better days. So—perhaps not coincidentally—have France, Germany, and Russia. Indeed, Deauville’s glory as the acme of summer holiday elegance for Europe’s elites lasted for much of the 19th century, when Prussia, France, and Russia (together with Austria and Britain) ruled the continent in a balance of power known as the Concert of Europe.
That age finally went up in fire and smoke in the dog days of August 1914. Are Paris, Berlin, and Moscow trying to bring it back in 2010? French officials were very careful before this week’s summit to dispel any such ideas. The meeting, journalists were told, was “a brainstorming…to better understand the expectations and ambitions of each partner”; no decisions were expected to come out of it. Meanwhile, the conservative Polish weekly Gazeta Polska ran this headline: “Troika Carves Up Europe.” So, what did happen in Deauville? A meeting of minds? Or a carving of countries?
To start, the summit (which lasted from a Monday night dinner through a two-hour conversation on Tuesday morning) meant something quite different for each of the three leaders. For French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the host, the meeting in Normandy will have been a more than welcome respite from nationwide strikes and angry criticism at home. It was also a preparation for his country’s taking over the G20 chair in November. That month also sees a NATO summit in Lisbon, where the alliance is expected to approve a new strategic concept.
France, like Germany and some other member states, wants NATO to establish a more cooperative relationship with Russia as well. Last, but not least, the French disapprove of German-Russian chumminess. Being inside the tent with Berlin and Moscow is preferable to peering anxiously through the flap from outside. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for her part, is also embroiled in an unpleasant debate about the integration of migrants, and yoked to a disappointing coalition partner. She is keenly aware that her country’s overtures to Moscow in recent years are regarded with distrust in other parts of Europe.
In fact, the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 was an unpleasant shock to Berlin. The relationship was downgraded after that, from a “strategic” to a “modernization” partnership; Merkel has since mostly avoided bilateral initiatives and made a point of criticizing Russia’s human rights record. And, like the French, the Germans have left no doubt that Medvedev’s proposal of a new Euroatlantic security treaty is a non-starter, as it would give Moscow a veto in all matters of European security. Yet Berlin continues to feel strongly that Europe’s strategic interest lies in anchoring Russia to the West in a cooperative relationship.
Hence its June proposal that the European Union should establish an EU-Russia Council—and consider a joint resolution of the frozen conflict in Moldova’s breakaway eastern province of Transnistria, where more than 1,100 Russian “peacekeeping” troops are stationed. Russia, too, has clearly been reconsidering its position under the double influence of the global economic crisis and the 2008 war with Georgia—from which it emerged as the military victor but the political loser. It has engaged with the Obama administration’s “reset” policy, signed a U.S.-Russian agreement on strategic nuclear arms reductions, supported sanctions against Iran, cooperated over Afghanistan, and mended fences with Poland.
This week, troops withdrew from Perevi, one of the villages in Georgia still occupied by Russian forces. For Medvedev, well-meaning but weak, Europe is where his friends are. Medvedev provided the only real news item to come out of the summit: he announced that he would attend the NATO meeting in Lisbon. That said, it’s worth noting the substantial list of things that did not happen: there is still no movement on a new European partnership and cooperation agreement, or on visa-free travel for Russians, or on Transnistria.
And, while Russia’s president indicated that he was willing to talk about missile defense at NATO, he gave no sign that Moscow might actually accept the U.S. plans. In sum: a very modest success, accompanied by a sensible focus on trust-building, rather than a renewal of bilateralism or a rubberstamping of grandiose and unrealistic plans for a new European security architecture. But progress it is not. Yes, the Chancellor made a point of emphasizing that European leaders will continue to meet in “different formats.”
The fact remains that these formats are holdovers from an earlier age—an age that Russian elites still hanker after and would like to bring back. Berlin and Paris would be well-advised not to create the impression that they do, too. Granted, the institutional arrangements of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty explicitly leave room for leadership from groups of countries. But in a Europe of 27, this cannot mean forging ahead and presenting others with a fait accompli. Wise and patient consensus-building is what is required.
It can also not mean behaving as though the institutions of EU foreign and security policymaking do not exist—specifically, the EU’s foreign policy representative, Catherine Ashton. The shaping of Europe’s Russia policy ultimately ought to reside with her. And surely more could be done to reassure Washington (where the summit revived unpleasant memories of a 2003 “troika” meeting at the height of the Iraq war that featured talk of Europe as a “counterweight” to the United States) about the transatlantic transparency of these meetings? Most importantly, it must be clear that all this is about bringing Russia closer to the West—not about carving Europe out of the Atlantic community, and into a Concert of Eurasia.
Constanze Stelzenmüller is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Berlin
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.