N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
Angela Merkel said fellow EU leaders’ decision to scupper her idea to hold a summit with Vladimir Putin showed that ‘we don’t trust each other much’. It was a rare flash of frustration by a politician renowned for her self-discipline and sang-froid.
The dispute over a Russia summit cast a pall over the (probably) last EU summit of one of the EU’s longest-serving leaders. Merkel is due to step down this year after 16 years as German chancellor and the heated discussions during the summit were not her smooth send-off everyone expected. Merkel has in her long experience of EU summits shown mastery at reading the room and ensuring arguments go her way. But this time, that approach failed.
After the summit, Merkel spelt out what drove her to push the idea of a Russia summit, chief among them the spectacle of Joe Biden meeting directly with Putin in Geneva after his visit to Brussels. It was not, she insisted, a question of a ‘new start’ in EU-Russian relations but figuring out how best to resolve current conflicts. ‘Even in the cold war we always had channels of communication’, she said. While individual countries like Germany and France continue to talk to the Kremlin, it would make more sense to speak to Moscow with one voice, according to Merkel.
The incident shows once more that in politics, saying you are going to leave means that you are ‘out’ at the same moment even when you are still present. It shows also once more the weakness of the EU, that wants to be seen as a geopolitical force alongside the US.