Comment: Cameron’s EU policy plays into Putin’s hands
By Edward McMillan-Scott
Events in Ukraine may still overshadow Thursday's trip to London by Angela Merkel, during which David Cameron will seek her support for EU reform. She will not be pleased that Cameron has allowed his Eurosceptics to continue talks with her rival on the right – the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – in a bid to shore up Cameron's controversial European alliances, which include Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovich.
A few years ago I broadcast from the BBC's cubby-hole radio studio in Kiev. I was struck by the multiple plush work-stations in an adjacent suite, feeding information from around the region to the listening post at Caversham – a reflection of Britain's effective intelligence role in times past.
Whatever the outcome of the EU's latest foreign policy foray, London is now noises-off.
A ruling in Germany's top court today may result in the three per cent threshold needed for a German political party to enter the European parliament being dropped – a move that would strengthen small parties such as the AfD, which is already as popular as the traditional liberal FDP, who were once Merkel's partners.
Most observers know that since his election as leader in 2005, Cameron has been forced by his right wing – the Ukip tendency within the Tory party – to a progressively harder line on Europe. Now, his positioning of the UK towards an exit strategy from the EU is playing into Putin's hands: indeed, it is part of Putin's acknowledged strategy.
However, the major element in Putin's development of a 'Eurasian Union' is the disintegration of the European Union itself. This would be helped if more MEPs from eurosceptic parties were elected to national parliaments – and to the European parliament in May. A recent study by the academic group Votewatch suggests this bloc could number as many as 92 MEPs; a significant number in the 751-member chamber.
Putin's strategy is long-term, but he is assured of continuing in power until 2018. Events like the Sochi Olympics shore up his position at home, where he has almost demolished opposition, but it is his foreign policy which should concern us most.
Putin's guru is Alexander Dugin, whose Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, is a blueprint for the re-creation of the Russian empire through a Eurasian Union – directly rivalling the EU and the USA. Its philosophy is statist, nationalistic and anti-democratic and based on hostility to 'the other' – Muslims, gypsies, homosexuals.
The book states that "the battle for the world rule of the Russians" has not ended and Russia remains "the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution". The Eurasian Union will be constructed "on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism…and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us".
Reflections of the success of this value system, shared and promoted too by Beijing, are seen worldwide. The 'liberal' values of human rights, including LGBT rights, and democracy are under challenge in continents like Africa, where homosexuality is banned in at least 36 countries.
In 2009, as the Lisbon Treaty gave MEPs co-legislative powers with EU governments, Cameron's MEPs were forced into what the Economist described as a "shoddy and shaming alliance", with a former Italian neo-fascist and a ragbag of seven other ill-assorted individuals – mostly nationalists – in the a group initially led by a Pole with a recent neo-Nazi past.
Under pressure from the Better Off Out parliamentarians in his own party to win a handful of votes in the 2005 Conservative leadership election, Cameron had pledged to withdraw his Euro-MPs from the European Peoples' party – constituted of mainstream Conservatives and Christian Democrats from all EU countries.
Merkel was furious when Cameron created his new nationalist European Reformists and Conservatives (ECR) group. The CDU had worked hard alongside myself as leader of the Conservative MEPs at a critical time to keep the Tories on board.
Cameron's was a callow and dangerous move – and led to my leaving the Tory party. It could now have profound consequences for Britain's future. Cameron's fruitless alliance 'with a bunch of nutters, homophobes, anti-Semites and climate-change deniers' (according to Nick Clegg at the time) is already disintegrating. It cannot even find a candidate in this year's contest for the presidency of the European Commission.
Cameron's 2009 split with the centre-right also led to a formal alliance with Putin's United Russia in the parliamentary assembly of the symbolic post-war Council of Europe, (nothing to do with the EU but also confusingly with its official 'seat' in Strasbourg).
The European Democratic Group there sees 17 Tory MPs sit with 24 of Putin's MPs and is actually led by a Russian. It also contains MPs from Yanukovich's party and from the ruling (undemocratic) parties of Azerbaijan and Armenia – key elements of Putin's Eurasian Union. The assembly deliberates on cultural and social issues across its 47-country membership
Putin's international ambitions for Russia reflect the Great Game, the 19th Century strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Eurasia.
David Cameron presides over a Britain sadly shrunken in international fora, made weaker by his own lack of judgment. Putin may have lost this hand, but he has time and territory on his side. This game has already shown that it can be deadly.
Edward McMillan-Scott is Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire & Humber. He is also vice-president of the European parliament for Human Rights & Democracy.
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