Protecting Eden, or the Dark New Geopolitics of “Fortress Europe”
The EU is justifying its adoption of power politics with the accusation that the outside world started it. In fact, the EU—and Germany—has been practicing retrograde power politics for some time and is purposefully blocking out the option of returning to its own, better past.
The European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, was in Twitter trouble last month, having called Europe a neat “garden” surrounded by invasive “jungle.” He was speaking about the need for a shared European geopolitical culture, and he encouraged his audience of European diplomats to see themselves as gardeners pruning back the chaos.
There is nothing more pointless than discussing a shitstorm that has already blown itself out, except this one came during a week of much geopolitical messaging by the EU. Days earlier, for instance, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz had allowed himself to be photographed, awkwardly, with French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, shaking hands with the founders of BIG—aka the Brussels Institute for Geopolitics—and then listening to their ideas.
“Euro-geopolitics” is evidently a thing now. The high representative and BIG are responding to the command given in 2019 by the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, for the EU to become geopolitical. And their wording indicates that there is now a shared vision of how this euro-geopolitics should look. Borrell says the EU must safeguard Kant at home and embrace Hobbes abroad; BIG wants Kant at home, Machiavelli abroad. Note the inference here—Europeans need to become geopolitical, and they need to do so in order to adapt to the world outside.
The question that bothered Twitter: Is the EU actively neo-colonial or just a little bit clumsy in how it speaks? If the messaging of the last weeks is anything to go by, the answer is neither—the EU is defensive not expansive, and ever so careful in how it presents itself. Borrell and BIG tell a careful story of innocence lost, paradise protected: outside aggression has awoken us to how fragile our orderly corner of the world is; but since the world has stolen our innocence it must be prepared to see us defend it by any means necessary. This adds up to the slightly passive aggressive message to the world, “We are getting tough, but you started it!”
The EU’s Victim Complex
If I say the EU is framing its geopolitical turn in a careful way, then it is because speeches like Borrell’s help the EU to avoid the obvious truth about itself. Any honest observer can see that the EU is already geopolitical. And if the EU has found the outside world an increasingly hostile place, then that is in no small part because we Europeans have been subjecting them to a retrograde form of power politics for at least five or six years. Far from preserving Kant at home (whatever that means exactly), this has made us more protectionist, top-heavy, and expedient in our commitment to our own standards, as well as allowing itself to become dominated by the bigger member states.
EU immigration policy is a ready example, an easy way to show that Europeans are anything but the passive victims of a mad, bad world—as well as the futility of pretending that it is possible to draw a line between how we behave abroad and our own domestic order. We have all watched as the EU tried to turn into “Fortress Europe,” and would probably admit that this was not forced upon us. Certainly, we could have chosen a different path, a better one.
Back in the 1990s, when the EU created its huge border-free territory, the Schengen area, with the massive commercial advantage that brought, its founder states France and Germany went out of their way to make this acceptable to the outside world by promising others they could join it or repeat our experiment for themselves in their part of the world. They needed to as well—they had yet to work through all the potential vulnerabilities in the system. That self-aware phase has given way to a defensive one over the past two decades.
By the 2000s, we Europeans were clearly losing our appetite for including other countries as equals, and our governments hugely expanded the EU rulebook, its onerous adoption a pre-requisite for others to join Schengen. By the 2010s our governments redoubled these efforts at regulatory harmonization, this time apparently to create a “level playing field” inside the EU, a way of building “resilience” to shocks and preventing people smugglers and outside autocrats playing divide and rule.
In 2016 this heavy-handed norm-setting split the EU north-south, east-west. It also alienated neighbors like Turkey, since we in effect pulled up the drawbridge, deepened our rules so far that no others could plausibly join, then leveraged access to Schengen to oblige other countries to guard Schengen’s perimeter.
Create Problems, Then Use Them
In the migration field, the EU now routinely uses its bulk to bully other countries and then, when they retaliate, often using the weak weapons of the weak, complains that they are “weaponizing” our dependencies. Take the European Commission: For 60 years, the commission handled the EU’s external relations with a light touch, priding itself on its smart and inclusive approach. But suddenly it had to compete with the EU’s diplomatic corps (Borrell’s outfit, the European External Action Service) set up in 2009 in a sign that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom wanted more bang for their buck, and so it turned to blunt leverage.
A decade later, foreign governments negotiating migration deals still say that they have plenty of grounds to cooperate with the EU, but complain that the commission is now intent on using its economic leverage to dictate the terms. So, they withhold migration cooperation and let the EU feel how deeply it depends on them, until sufficient payment is offered.
The EU’s biggest member state has undergone a parallel “awakening” to the commission, pursuing concessions from other countries concomitant with its economic weight. Germany believes it is simply defending itself. It pictures itself at the heart of a huge regional market that stretches out to Russia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and the coast of Latin America. Its fear has been that, as this economy dips, all paths will lead to the country “at the heart of Europe.” Turkey and Co. will exploit this fact, Berlin worries.
Sitting in the center of Europe, the Germans can be forgiven their euro-centricism. But only two groups have profited from their international migration deal-making over the past seven years—the autocrats who took Germany’s cash and the smugglers who learned to cross the borders Germany built. As migrants now escape autocratic repression, all roads really do lead to Deutschland. Germany, rather than pausing to reflect, takes this as confirmation of its fears, a justification for more of the same German assertiveness.
“We’re Becoming Geopolitical, but You Started It”
Germany and the commission identify the exact same moment as the alarm clock to their geopolitical awakening—the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016. Shortly before, the EU accused Turkey of “weaponizing migration” and treated this realization as a wake-up call after decades of a “wir schaffen das” mentality (“We can manage it,” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously said). Turkey was indeed threatening to “open the floodgates,” but it was largely bluff. Turkey was in fact on the ropes and scared that the EU was about to insulate itself and cut it off. Each time Ankara made the threat it lost control of all its other borders as well as drawing stinging criticism from Muslim states.
During talks, staff at the EU’s own borders agency gave a sober analysis of the situation, highlighting the Turks’ weaknesses. They showed that each time Turkey spoke of opening “the floodgates” a few thousand people moved across Turkey toward the EU (including Turkish nationals, incidentally, who the government in Ankara wanted to arrest in connection with a failed coup attempt) and hundreds of thousands of Syrians started moving toward Turkey’s own borders. They showed, too, how Frontex could use its professional networks in Turkey—networks created precisely to insulate border management from power politics—to improve relations and handle the pressures together.
Germany fell for the Turkish bluff, however, and with a mix of muscle and moolah bought it off. This set a precedent for more of the same. Last year, Belarus genuinely did weaponize migration, artificially manufacturing a crisis. It wanted a Turkey-style payoff of its own. Germany and the EU saw this as confirmation that they had been right about Turkey, proof that outside powers are unscrupulously exploiting their dependencies. Again, they created problems through their assertiveness and used these as a justification for a shift to power politics.
In Pursuit of a Backward Future?
Even as Borrell’s diplomats clutch their pearls and complain that our neighbors have begun weaponizing our vulnerabilities and critical dependencies, the truth is blisteringly obvious: With so many of the EU’s international problems, notably the “arc of instability” around Europe’s perimeter, the original sin was ours. The EU started it. But the neat thing about the framing given by Borrell and BIG is that Europe can pose as the eternal victim, and we can look back over the past few years and pretend that power politics is being forced upon us by autocratic governments on our flanks, which pop up apparently out of nowhere.
So let me try to spell out the fact that a retrograde brand of power politics is not being forced upon us, and that European politicians and voters in fact have a choice about their future. Migration policy is my example again. I am aware that the cases of Russia and China are the real ones, and I will come to that. But migration is pertinent because the EU’s geopolitical writers and thinkers are already applying their ideas to issues of border defense and demography. I predict that, in their hands, European borders and migration policy will change in the following ways, with considerable blowback for our “European way of life”—and that no matter what we tell ourselves afterwards, it will be by our choice and conception:
(1) European values will replace European norms. The distinction between values and norms sounds slight, but it is the difference between kinship ties and universal rights, between Huntingtonian families of cultural values and abstract markers like professional qualifications when defining who is given entry to the EU and how they are treated.
In March 2022, Central Europeans pushed the EU to recognize all displaced Ukrainians as deserving of protection, rather than having to process their claims individually. With Poland usually so resistant to deepening EU migration cooperation, Western European governments painted this as a win for the EU’s asylum system: This coordinated new approach would set a precedent that would be applied to arrivals from, say, Eritrea or Afghanistan. In reality it was a repudiation of the EU system. Poles were accepting Ukrainians exceptionally—out of cultural kinship and a desire to show that European values differ from Russian ones.
It also marked a tacit recognition that for decades Poland had been undercutting EU standards, quietly dismantling its capacity to process refugee claims and implement EU procedures. Poland simply had no capacity to treat Ukrainians individually. In a war, unity is at a premium, however, and Poland had helped the EU keep to a single line on the refugee issue. But EU solidarity is now based on ethnic ties, our asylum capacities are full of Ukrainians, and we will openly turn other—other—people away on cultural grounds.
(2) European nation-building will replace exchange and mobility. For the past 20 years, the EU has pursued the concept of mobility—allowing people to work in the EU temporarily, before they move away again, armed with capital for investment and new skills and contacts. This policy largely regularized a pattern of temporary migration that existed anyway, but did so in ways that actively benefited both the EU and other countries.
The euro-geopoliticos want this to end, saying we must retain the migrant population. NGOs had in fact been pushing for a similar shift complaining that “mobility” was just the old Gastarbeiter (“guest worker”) policy relabeled. But if the shift does come, then not in pursuit of “immigrant integration” or “building diversity.” It will be about Europe’s raw demographic potential.
Geopoliticos perceive that demographic health is key to geopolitical competition, making the EU a declining power. Our ageing population apparently puts us at risk of aggression, but also make us a risk-taker: The toxic old narrative about a rising demography encouraging states to go to war (“youth bulge,” “demography wars,” etc.) is now being reversed, and countries with a shrinking demography are painted as the risk-takers—Russia grabbing land while it still can; China afraid of growing old before it grows powerful.
A responsible and competitive EU thus needs a strong demography, and that means retaining migrants who can add to our population stock. We might send the Ukrainians home, but this is the exception: The EU also needs a healthy buffer state to Russia and a healthy buffer needs lots of young people.
(3) “Friend-shoring” will replace international migration partnerships. Friend-shoring is a term from the EU debate about geo-economics, the idea that globalization and economic interdependence have made us vulnerable to coercion by our trading partners, and that we need to decrease our vulnerabilities by building economic blocs with allies. Friend-shoring is the name: We will move supply chains and production to friendly countries, achieving a kind of mutual economic autonomy from rivals.
This thinking is now being applied to labor migration, or rather is emerging as the compromise between two poles. On the one side are the Germans who want to build up our security by diversifying as widely as possible, opening ourselves to migrants from the Asia-Pacific with whom we find new affiliations. The French take the opposite line, i.e., protectionism—better cut off all the EU’s dependencies altogether and move toward “Made in Europe.” They are talking of EU pro-natal policies. The compromise between the two is friend-shoring migration—make labor supply deals with key allies in our mutual interests and take skilled workers in such a way that it does not undermine their stability. Friend-shoring, incidentally, is also conducive to European nation-building, a way of getting simpatico foreigners into your population stock.
It would mean turning away those from suspect countries (Serbs) or those with a different family of values (Turks). But it would also mean taking in migrants from places that you wanted to remain friends with and leveraging their presence in Europe. After all, what happens if you move supply chains and economic production to a place that you think is a friend and turns out not to be? Answer: you leverage the fact that a large number of their nationals work in your country or simply that the children of the elites are educated here.
(4) A military European perimeter will replace a civilian one. Border management has always been a matter of prestige for the EU. Even before the creation of the Schengen passport-free travel area in 1995, Brussels prided itself on getting states to cooperate so closely that they could make borders and barriers disappear, hugely increasing social exchange. The Schengen area was the apotheosis, and key to the success of Schengen was the decision to place borders under civilian rather than military control after the Cold War.
But the lesson that foreign policy specialists take from the Russian invasion is that this apparently naïve faith in “the end of borders” left us vulnerable. We exported this civilian system to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, and states like Ukraine and Georgia were duly invaded. Demilitarization also leaves us unable to cooperate with our Arab neighbors across the sea, because they put their military in charge of their borders. We certainly need to recognize that the military is capable of sophisticated tasks, not just the demeaning logistical support it was forced to provide during the Schengen and COVID-19 crises—tents and transport. But a visible frontline role for soldiers is not out of the question. After all, this cohort believes the rest of the world is laughing at us for our metrosexual values and we should show a strong sign of power at the border.
Typically for this defensive euro-centric mindset, despite pretending to be focused on protecting European interests, nobody appears worried about how Europe’s citizens might be treated if they migrate outside the EU, if this was how we treat others. It does not appear to have occurred to its proponents that our citizens might ever want to leave the EU.
Other States Are Exploiting Germany’s Naivety
It is all very well to say that we Europeans have a choice here, but where does the choice about Europe’s future relations with the rest of the world really lie? Should we contact our local MEP to demand a change? The answer, predictably, is: Berlin, and not just because Germany is the biggest EU state. Geopolitics famously appeals to people with an inferiority complex when it comes to international affairs, offering validation in its pseudo-sophistication. That describes the German policymakers to a tee, and Germany is increasingly susceptible to this mumbo jumbo.
But it is France and its sidekick the Netherlands, two states that understand how to harness German power, that are pulling its strings. They are carefully offering a storyline to trigger the Germans and get them to defend a status quo that suits them, the original EU and Schengen member states. France and the Netherlands are the inspiration for the messaging by Borrell and BIG, with their potent mix of humiliation (the outside world is laughing at German naivety; you are making yourself smaller than you really are) and moral superiority (Germany must protect Europe’s way of life, lead us, be BIG!).
Germany, for its part, does not actively contribute to the substance of euro-geopolitics, and rather swings between inferiority complex (“We behave as if we were Switzerland”) and megalomania (“Germany is ready to lead”). Nevertheless, and almost by default, Germany does give EU power politics some of its form and flavor, its combination of rule-setting and protectionism (France erects barriers around the EU, Germany reinforces Europe’s internal rules, the Dutch force foreign businesses and governments to adopt the rules if they want access to Europe). It was a model tested first against Turkey, when the EU closed its border and obliged Ankara to take on our rules if they wanted continued access to Schengen.
France has its own tradition of civilizational realpolitik, of course—it has always promoted the EU as a Mediterranean civilization; its geopolitics are rooted in a French notion of terroir—savoir vivre supersized to fill the whole Mare Nostrum. But this civilizational element comes to the fore only when Paris feels that Germany is looking more to its eastern neighbor than to France. Poland has no place in the French dreams of the Euro-Med, and Paris is terrified that the Poles will succeed in hooking the Germans on their own brand of civilizational realpolitik, with the EU providing the eastern flank of a Huntingtonian Euro-Atlantic sphere.
Consequently, euro-geopolitics is an unstable compound. At heart, it is about getting the Germans to defend the EU’s status quo rules, but it is becoming increasingly colored by cultural thinking. The Poles have positioned themselves cleverly as a country with no colonial history, and they paint the French as neo-imperialists, pointing out for instance that Russia’s Wagner group grew mighty in former French colonies, feeding off residual resentment against the French. This group is now committing unspeakable crimes in Ukraine.
Macron, before the war, found it expedient to bring the Hungarians into the mix with the Germans—using Hungary as a small and dispensable Ersatz Poland, a country that would give the Germans a sense that they were including the EU’s east, which made Polish-sounding noises when it came to migration, but could readily be dropped. If the Dutch have now got in on the act—BIG—it is because the French have identified them as a far more potent antidote to Warsaw’s influence, the anti-Poles. The Dutch are sticklers for German rules, relish going to eastern member states and lecturing them on corruption and problems with organised crime (a distinctly Dutch disease), and generally strengthen German resolve not to bend eastwards merely because there is a war there.
Geopolitics, an Angst-Inspired Concept
The sad thing is that Germany, in the past, has actually been at the forefront of the best and most sensitive moments of EU statecraft, reimagining the confines of geography and history. When the Poles first joined Schengen, for instance, they enthused about its “geo-politics,” geopolitics with a hyphen—Schengen offered them political choice over their geography.
In the early days of Schengen, the EU was still careful to make its contravention of the rules of statecraft—scaling up its territory, economy, population—acceptable to others. And in large part thanks to the Germans, to a Germany that was acutely aware of how well the EU locked in its interests at the possible expense of others. They understood how careful territorial engineering could resolve political problems.
An EU that pulls up the drawbridge to defend the status quo would mark the death of German self-awareness. And there are signs that it is happening. During the Schengen crisis of 2015, Germany signaled that it was more interested in locking in its advantages than sharing them. Consequently, Berlin has increasingly been forced into the open, obliged to defend the unfair advantages the EU gives it, that huge economy tied up by German trading standards. Call this “rules-based” or “Kantian” if you like, but it is shameless.
And a Germany that used to lead confidently from behind, letting other states take credit, has now proclaimed that it will lead Europe, and other EU states are pulling its strings. Ironically, for all their talk of making Europe BIG again, they are the ones making the Germans behave in small-minded ways. The French and Dutch have watched Germany grow at the expense of the EU since the eurozone crisis, and seen it display the shameless realpolitik of many other rising powers, breaking the accepted norms which it set. But they now encourage Germany to think that it is a declining power, and must use realpolitik to defend EU norms from the outside world.
The duo are, moreover, imposing an entirely alien mode of thinking on Europe in the name of “euro-geopolitics.” There are three things worth knowing about the geopolitics they peddle. First, it was the British who bequeathed us geopolitics in its modern form, Germanic and Nordic variants having been discredited and wiped out in European wars. Second, the British began speaking of geopolitics around 1904-07, a period of extreme angst about the loss of their status quo advantages, following the near loss of a war to a rabble of farmers in South Africa and creeping competition from Germany and Russia. And third, the British used European continental history as inspiration, but cherrypicked isolated examples of realpolitik before twisting this history to suit Britain’s own aims.
The British brand of geopolitics was subsequently trotted out by an angsty US (defending the Pax Americana). And now it is being applied to Europe itself. And yet, the only way this classical geopolitics rhymes in any way with our modern experience is in its pervading fear about the loss of our status quo advantages, in this case the Pax Germanica.
Germany’s Connective Responsibility
If there is a genuine historical form of European geopolitics, then it was a kind of connective territorial statecraft, which recognized that Europe is flat, compact, interlinked by river and plain, and fractured not by geography but by man-made borders. The great moments of European geopolitics were about connecting physically and politically—the Holy Roman Empire, in its early stages, with a mobile court, elected head, and constantly shifting hierarchies amongst its territories, for instance.
The great breakthroughs in Europe have come when political constellations, fragmentary and sclerotic, are suddenly unblocked—such as when the late Holy Roman Empire was swept away in the 19th century and the duties imposed on rivers and roads by statelets and princelings disappeared. This gave Europe its first modern international organization, the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine.
Whenever Europe has been peaceful and resilient, Germany (or the place where modern Germany is) was always part player, part theater—a product of its connective nature. Take the balance of power system that kept the peace in Europe in the 19th century: After the Napoleonic wars, Britain and Russia, the two peripheral great powers, chose to keep the center of Europe connected and fluid. This permitted a system of switching alliances, which prevented dominance of one coalition.
Their mistake was the concession they made to the upstart Prussians to accept this model, the booby-prize of a poor, Catholic, distant Rhine Province. It turned out to be rich in coal, and the rest, as they say, is history—or it was until the EU arrived and picked up all the crazy ideas rejected by the Americans at the Paris Peace conference in 1919, lightened national borders and mutualized the fuels of war in Europe. The EU in so doing marked the latest step in a long tradition of European territorial statecraft.
Europeans Are Gardeners, But Not in Borrell’s Sense
The gardening metaphor is, however, the correct one in describing this tradition of European geopolitics. The genesis of the European brand of territorial statecraft really does draw its inspiration from horticulture. During Europe’s early modern era, rulers had initially thought of their territories as closed fortresses—France, for instance, trying to conquer nearby territories that would give the country the hexagonal shape of a fortress. But as the age of territorial conquest gave way to diplomatic and commercial means of exchange (and the destructive potential of military means grew), heavily defended fortresses lost their function of territorial control, and rulers turned to less martial pursuits to secure their land and subjects. Gardening was the favored pursuit, with landscaping a way of establishing the monarch as a benevolent ruler who took care of his territory.
The shift to gardening coincided, incidentally, with the slow secularization of the state in Europe, as rulers drew their legitimacy not from divine power but from noble earthly pursuits. And this is the conscious inspiration for how the EU applies its territorial statecraft, or geo-politics, as the Poles neatly called it. During the Cold War, as the sheer destructive potential of military means made it absurd for European nations to conceive themselves as mini-fortresses, Europeans started to talk of the “domestication of power politics,” using cross-border territorial management to take matters out of the hands of the gods, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
When the EU established its internal market, for instance, it was not bulking itself up or creating rules to impose upon other states. It was creating cross-border economic incentives for European states with seemingly implacable identities to revisit these (the doctrine of “hot peace”); its goal was to regulate typical issues of inter-state tension such as the control of resources and treat them almost as matters of domestic policy, overseen by a commission and a parliament (“domestication of power politics”); it then exported these tools and expertise abroad, entering the supposedly exclusive geographic spheres of influence of the two superpowers, and trying to thaw conflict (the doctrine of “spheres of expertise”).
Germany Should Have Faith in Low-Key Decentralized Approaches
The patron saint of this cross-border gardening, incidentally, is Hegel not Kant. Hegel, the philosopher the Germans now write off as the inspiration for the “End of History” thesis propagated in the triumphant days of the 1990s, was in fact more interested in guilds and civil society, the old cross-border professional and social networks that crisscrossed Europe. These networks have modern successors, and they are the true gardeners of Europe, coming up with low-key shared solutions to local problems but drawing on a wealth of ideas and expertise from across the whole network—rather as Frontex officials wanted to do with their Turkish counterparts back in 2015. As the Germans now fret about the risks of cross-border connectivity, they seem to have lost sight of this huge resource.
Today, the cross-border economic and infrastructural connections we built up during the Cold War for the purposes of territorial engineering indeed pose a vulnerability, but we have a deep heritage of dealing with them in intelligent, sovereign, and above all decentralized ways. This is inherent in the principle of subsidiarity, the EU legal principle that affairs should be dealt with at the lowest level. These days, this is associated with an attempt by EU member governments to seize back power from the EU and renationalize. In fact, it was a principle used by cities and guilds whenever Europe fragmented, the right to maintain contact across religious and national borders. It was networks and guild structures that made the Holy Roman Empire one of the most resilient and militarily formidable formations to have existed.
A Test Case for German Leadership: Ukraine’s Reconstruction
How does all this apply to the real world? In October, Berlin hosted a large conference on the recovery of Ukraine—on territorial reconstruction, a present-day issue of European geopolitical gardening. Speak with delegations from the EU’s east and south-east, however, and there is genuine disquiet about Germany taking “leadership” in this field. Participants say they fear that a Germany under (sometimes unfair) criticism from abroad about its supply of arms to Ukraine, has identified reconstruction as the field where it wishes to be BIG. And they already see negative signs.
Those in the EU’s south-east, for instance, quietly supporting the Moldovans as they deal with the consequences of the war in Ukraine, see that decentralized and networked solutions work. The Romanians have been responsible for moving huge amounts of grain from Ukraine, without the hullaballoo of the Istanbul deal, and they do so not just because we need food, but because the Ukrainian economy needs cash. They have been taking in large numbers of displaced persons, moreover, and retaining them. And they truly welcomed Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s message the other day that, rather than pulling up the drawbridge, he supported Romania’s accession to Schengen—not least because Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been telling them that their problems with organized crime still make this impossible (the Dutch!)
But the pervasive talk from Berlin is increasingly about a “new Marshall Plan.” This leaves the eastern delegates cold, and not least because “Marshall Plan” does not have the positive connotations for them that it has for the Germans. They worry that by sticking a German flag in this, the Germans will alienate the Americans and Japanese, who have so much to give. And above all they worry that the Germans are making a conceptual error, believing that, when the fighting stops, then is the time for them to shine, with German expertise, norms, and cash. The delegates I spoke with were all insistent that we need to think about reconstruction and military deterrence together, to stop the Russians destroying what the Germans rebuild.
And it is here that they have real fears, and fret about the way German “leadership” in Ukraine and Moldova might sour, not least thanks to the pernicious influence of the French and Dutch, who view Ukraine as non-Mediterranean and corrupt. The French and Dutch know that debates in Germany about solidarity very quickly turn to “moral hazard,” the notion that the Germans cannot support their partners without strings attached because it might encourage them to be irresponsible. The German sense of moral hazard has sharpened during the current war, as Germans balk at giving arms to frontline states with antagonistic relations to Russia, because who knows what fights they might pick?
The delegates were thus worried that Germany will transfer large sums to Ukraine and Moldova for ill-planned projects. The Russians will target these, in the same way as they are now targeting energy infrastructure, likely leading to a renewed migration crisis. And the Germans will be persuaded that they are the real victims here, that they have transferred money in a charitable fashion during a cold winter, only for the Ukrainians to fritter it away with provocative behavior. In short, there is the fear of an EU-Russia migration deal, with Germany giving up on gardening and building a fortress. Ukraine might come within the ambit of this fortress, but only because the Germans have done a deal over their heads.
Roderick Parkes is Research Director at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and heads its Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies.