Tuesday 14. July 2020
#169 - March 2014


Relationships re-examined


Switzerland, Scotland, England : 2014 promises to be a year in which a lot of relationships within Europe will be re-negotiated and re-assessed.

The 2011 film of the John le Carré classic, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, previously one of the great BBC TV serials in the late 70’s, inspired by the spy story of the decade which unmasked the Cambridge Apostles as Soviet moles at the heart of the British establishment, was nominated for numerous Academy awards, and yet it was a film which failed to thrill, excite or – above all – frighten. The passage of time and the emergence of a new world order had drained the story of its passion: the Cold War, the double-agent, the mole, the sleeper and the dangerous game of espionage were all somehow buried in the rubble of the Berlin Wall.


Mikhaïl Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan played the last game of super-power poker in Geneva and Reykjavik in the mid-1980’s. We are now back to a more complex, more finely-balanced European chess board of balance of power politics. All very nineteenth century! On the occasion of the November Plenary assembly, a map of Europe 1875 was hung in the entrance lobby of 19 Square de Meeûs, and even the most superficial glance reveals just how much the borders of the European states have changed – many times! – in the intervening years. The best way of learning about the forces at work in the EU and beyond in the early years of the twenty-first century might be to read AJP Taylor’s classic study of our continent in the age of Metternich, Bismarck and Napoleon III, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe.


The European Union is, of course, a new type of super-power: it has in excess of five hundred million citizens. It prides itself on being a family of nations, a union of member states. The visit of the Irish Minister of State at Foreign Affairs to Berlin, and the divergence of views regarding how the family might perceive its future which emerged in the discussions in the German capital, was a reminder that, as in all families, the interests of the junior brother are not always shared by the older sibling. Indeed, 2014 promises to be a year in which a lot of relationships within Europe will be re-negotiated and re-assessed.


The crowns of Scotland and England were united as far back as 1701 but come September the Scots will vote on whether or not they want that relationship to continue. If the referendum outcome leads to Scottish independence, it will have consequences for sterling, North Sea oil revenue, the internal dynamics of the UK and the European Union. All twenty-eight EU member states will have to negotiate a new relationship with Edinburgh.  And what happens in Scotland may also repeat itself in Catalonia.


The referendum result in Switzerland on Sunday 9 February is bound to bring about changes in the relationships between the EU and Bern. The Schengen area and the conveniences it brings for travellers will also be subject to change.


The negotiations on a EU – US free trade, already in their initial stage, raise major questions on the trans-Atlantic relationship. Landing slots for US airlines at Heathrow Airport, the tax arrangements of Starbucks and even NASA’s snooping on Frau Merkel’s handy will pale into insignificance as this new economic constellation takes shape. Even the special relationship between Whitehall and Pennsylvania Avenue will need to be reviewed.


The Soviet Union may have been relegated to the dust bin of history a quarter of a century ago, but even before the Sochi Olympic Games opened, the re-habilitation of Russia as power-broker and – amazing but true – peace-maker opened a new chapter in the balance of power dynamic. The collapse of talks about a new association between the EU and Ukraine at Vilnius in December 2013 was a reminder that the concept of acknowledged sphere of influence has not disappeared from the chancelleries of Europe.


It is natural that in the early part of 2014 much of our attention should focus on the forthcoming EU election. It would be a mistake to navel-gaze too much and neglect the shifting kaleidoscope of international relations, especially between countries in our own backyard.


Patrick H. Daly


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