“A fame, peste et bello liberas us Domine”, said the old medieval ejaculation. And the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, comes to recover it a thousand years later to describe the current moment: “We must be prepared to face a world in which hunger will appear: first we had the plague [el coronavirus]; then, we have the war, and now comes the famine”.
The war, according to Borrell, “has been an awakening for Europeans.” The High Representative for Cooperation and Security of the EU recognizes that Europeans have made an effort to “get the war out” of their “imagination”, but on this occasion he has run into it head-on again: “And this has to become, not an awakening, but a normality, something in which we live permanently: understanding that, in addition to being a soft power, we need to be a hard power. We need to have a certain coercive power, a certain power to respond to the coercion of others. And the most important task is to overcome our weakness in security, cancel our energy dependency and adapt our institutions in the way that is required to really be a power”.
The High Representative for Cooperation and Security participated on Tuesday afternoon in a debate organized by the ECFR and moderated by its director in Madrid, José Ignacio Torreblanca, in which he analyzed the crisis that Europe is experiencing: “We have to be very aware of our weakness from the point of view of security and defense, and increase our capabilities, both within the Member States and within the European Union and within NATO”.
Borrell is also critical of Europe’s increased energy dependence on Russia: “We should have done it since 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea, and since then we have been saying that we have to decrease our energy dependence on Russia but the We have been increasing every year. Now is the time to take this really seriously. Climate policy and security policy have never gone so hand in hand like now. Our security depends on our energy independence.”
The head of European diplomacy also launches existential questions: “Who are we? How we work? What do we want to be? Our decision-making process certainly needs to be rebuilt. What about the enlargement? What about our spheres of influence. And finally, let’s prepare for a global food and energy crisis, and a battle over the narrative around it. We must be prepared to face a world in which famine will appear: first we had the plague; then, we have the war, and now comes the famine, not for us mainly, but for a very important part of the world, highly dependent on food exports, especially wheat, from Russia and the Ukraine. 30% of world exports come from there. And this will create, with energy prices coupled with the food crisis, a perfect storm, a situation where we will have to show that we are really a geopolitical power, mobilizing our financial tools and our influence. And finally, our fiscal rules will have to be revised if we want to increase our military capabilities and our social cohesion, deal with the crisis around the world and subsidize high energy prices”.
In short: “This is an existential crisis for Europe. It is true that Europe is built on the crisis. But this is a specific type of crisis that touches the essence, the substance of who we are, what we are going to do, and what kind of world we would like to build.
“We have to create a defense at the level of our needs”, defends Borrell: “The debate between NATO and the European Union should end. I don’t want to go back to the idea of whether it is alternative or complementary. Let’s stop arguing about the sex of angels. The Americans told us, okay, do you want to be stronger? Do it. Do it. And when I write my memoirs I will tell how this happened, how we broke the taboo and who did it, and who was very much in favor, and who was less in favor. The important thing is that it happened. Suddenly, we realized that we had a fund that we were using to provide weapons to our partners in Africa when we trained their troops. And why not provide weapons to our partners when they are invaded? A taboo has been broken, but from now on we have to build on that. It cannot be an exception and then go back to the old normality, and this is something that we have to make clear for the future because the threat will not go away. I don’t know how this war is going to end. The war will end, but I don’t know how, and the danger will not go away. The danger to our security will not go away. And we have to assume that we need to get rid of dependencies because the military use of interdependence is a reality. The world should try to decrease the amount of money Russia gets from its oil and gas. The whole world, not just Europeans. Russia’s assertiveness, its ability to create havoc, to cause problems, depends on its wealth and financial capacity coming from oil. The best we can do is cut it off, isolate Russia from the oil and gas markets. This is easier said than done, I know. But it is that in recent years, knowing that this was going to be a threat, we have not been doing it.
“If we are not capable of reducing Russia’s gas consumption by 50% in one year, it will be a failure on our part”, maintain Borrell: “In the European Commission we believe that it is possible. But it will depend on the availability of gas from other countries. What we cannot tell people is that we are going to get through this crisis and become more secure at zero cost. It has a cost and you have to pay it because otherwise the cost will be much higher. This is an extraordinary asymmetrical shock. From a refugee point of view, it’s completely lopsided, with 5 million or 4.5 million people pushing our eastern borders, not the western borders. It is also completely asymmetric from the point of view of energy dependency. In Spain and Portugal dependency is almost zero. In Hungary, 100% dependency. So we have to understand that the position of the member states cannot be the same”.
In this conflict, says Borrell, “there is also a struggle of models over who will dominate. My freedom, my ability to understand what is happening, my brain works thanks to the information it receives. If there is a systematic bias in the information I receive, I lose my sense of reality. And it is one of the most important threats to any society, losing control of the quality of information. And when the quality of the information is systematically distorted by a political will using powerful technological means, then democracy, our way of living, the way we understand coexistence, is in danger”.
Regarding the relationship between Moscow and Beijing, Borrell defends: “In the medium term, I don’t think that what is happening is that Russia’s role is going to help China a lot. No, I don’t think China is very happy with what is happening.”
“For us”, Borrell abounds, “globalization was a kind of Westernization, and we still believe in that. And we are completely wrong. We believe that the world is still run by us intellectually, with the ancient influence of our imperial past. And we believe that they will follow us because we are right. But you need others to accept that you are right. Nothing is automatic. You have to win it. And it is not only necessary to convince, but also to influence and give support”.