One common argument made in favor of European integration & federalism is that without the EU, how would the European countries ever be able to withstand Russia? Supporters claim that if the European countries weren’t united, it would only be a matter of time until we were all effectively colonies, vassal states controlled by our mighty eastern neighbor.
In this article, I’m going to tell you why this is not the case.
First of all, let’s consider history. Now I know most Europhiles love to pretend that history started in 1945 (it’s a rather extreme secular version of young earth creationism), but the truth is, Europe has been around for quite a while. And so has Russia. For a thousand years or so Russia has been a huge country to the east of Europe.
Have you noticed something lately? We’re still here.
Despite a landmass over ten times as large as any European country (and a population over twice the size), Russia has been remarkably inefficient when it comes to warfare. My own home country Sweden has fought 11 wars with Russia throughout history and achieved a kill ratio of 3-to-1, which unfortunately was not enough to save Finland (which was part of Sweden for 600 years until it was ceded to Russia in 1809). Russia can defend itself very well due to a combination of long, cold winters and the scorched earth-strategy, but they have been largely unimpressive when on the offensive.
Seeing as how for most of history we’ve had the very opposite of European unity, shouldn’t we all be speaking Russian by now? It’s not like this huge country popped up yesterday; they’ve been around for a while and so far we’ve survived just fine.
Then on the other hand, maybe Russia is more dangerous today. While Russia is certainly more dangerous today than it was 10 years ago, it still isn’t nearly as big a threat to Europe as it was in the immediate aftermath of WWII and during the 1950’s when it had just acquired nukes – and back then, the EU was just getting started and wasn’t even a political union yet.
Something else kept Europe safe during those years. That “something else” was NATO – or more specifically the United States and to a lesser extent the UK, since no-one else really had any troops to contribute in the early years. This duo made it clear to the Soviet Union that if a single Red Army soldier entered West Germany, Moscow would become the next Hiroshima. The leaders of the Soviet Union knew they were serious because the UK & US had a long tradition of fighting for the freedom of other peoples. Evil as they were, Stalin & his successors weren’t suicidal.
But then what about non-military measures? Surely we need the EU to be able to apply economic sanctions against Russia? And surely the collapse of the Ruble proves how efficient these sanctions are?
First of all, while the sanctions have definitely helped, the collapse of the Ruble has more to do with Russia’s over-reliance on a certain natural resource – oil – which happens to have a really low price right now.
Second of all, people tend to forget this, but it really took the EU a long time to agree to sanctions in the first place. This is because due to the way the EU functions, it is impossible for one country to sanction another country unless everyone else does it too. That means that if Sweden were willing to apply sanctions against Russian imports, we would be unable to do so unless the rest of the EU also was willing to apply those sanctions against Russian imports. And what that means in practice is that due to Russia’s chokehold (in the form of natural gas reliance) on the most powerful country in the EU – Germany – sanctions will never be as tough as they could and should have been. This of course applies to other countries as well – if one big EU country depends on a non-European country, that country will never face any sanctions. In fact, German politicians are already calling for a lightening of the sanctions, saying they never sought to destroy Russia’s economy – which is sort of interesting seeing as how that’s exactly what economic sanctions are meant to do.
If it weren’t for the EU, Germany could simply give a pass on sanctions and everyone else could go ahead, but because of the legal structure of the EU, that’s not a possibility. Without the EU there would still be sanctions, but each country could design their sanctions in the way that best suited them. Clearly, while the EU has shown itself capable of occasionally applying sanctions against its enemies, the structure of the union makes efficient sanctions less likely to happen, not more.
Thirdly, just to put the final nail in the coffin: There is no need for a political union to apply economic sanctions. To apply economic sanctions, all you need is a union similar to the European Economic Area – a free trade union – that can decide to simply not trade with Russia. Hence, even assuming that the EU makes sanctions more likely to work, this does not justify European federalism.
But if this is the case – if the EU isn’t actually hurting Russia – then why does Russia sponsor Eurosceptic parties in Europe (most notably Front National)? This has to do purely with not wanting the EU to expand. Russia does not want the EU to allow Ukraine to join the union as they view Ukraine as part of their sphere of influence and feel that the EU is encroaching on “their” territory by allowing Ukraine to become a member. Eurosceptics for the most part share Russia’s goal of keeping Ukraine out of the union, but for us, this is mainly for economic reasons: Allowing Ukraine to join would mean free movement with Ukraine, a country with significantly lower salaries and significantly higher crime levels than Western Europe. Basically, Ukrainian membership would be a pretty bad deal for us, putting even further downward pressure on wages and increasing crime and other social problems.
In addition to economics, there is the very basic common sense reason for Eurosceptics to oppose Ukrainian membership: We want to dissolve the European Union, so why would we want to make it any bigger and stronger than it already is?
I would personally not mind a free trade agreement with Ukraine, but if there is one thing we should learn from the EU’s latest expansion, when it allowed Bulgaria and Romania to join, it is that free movement between countries with radically different living standards is not a good idea (we are currently being flooded with beggars from those countries, many of whom belong to organized criminal networks). That being said, Ukraine is more than welcome to join the NATO as far as I’m concerned.
It is true of course that some Eurosceptics have made statements that have been construed (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) as positive towards Russia. Sadly, many people believe that “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, and since the EU is the enemy, and Russia is the enemy of the EU, this makes Russia their friend. This is somewhat similar to how the leftists of the 1960’s embraced the communist countries because they were enemies of the United States. Let’s just say I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most Russian-friendly Eurosceptic party – Front National – is economically left-winged.
This however does not mean that Eurosceptics are “fifth columnists” or “quislings” (it’s always fun to hear such accusations from people who have effectively sold out your country’s independence!) – does anyone seriously believe that Eurosceptics would support Russia if Russia tried to conquer Europe? We are nationalist, we value our independence more than anyone else in the political arena, and I promise you we’ll be the first ones to join the war effort if that ever happens. However, we will not give up on our political goals nor sacrifice our countries’ economic well-being (which is what allowing Ukraine to join would mean) simply to spite Russia. And quite frankly, I cannot see a single good reason why we should.