In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union

Moscow has chosen its side. A few days before the second round of the French legislative elections, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry published a message that leaves no room for ambiguity: “The people of France demand a sovereign foreign policy that serves their national interests and a break from the diktats of Washington and Brussels.” To add to this profession of “bad” faith, the statement is accompanied by a photo of a triumphant Marine Le Pen following her re-election in the first round in her stronghold of Hénin-Beaumont. The Kremlin has made its choice, unsurprisingly. We declare ours: that of the European Union, a union of freedom and democracy in the face of Russian and Chinese efforts to dismantle an international order based on respect for law and treaties.

Admittedly, the European Union has shown flaws and limitations, but its slow construction has ensured peace on a continent torn apart by war for centuries since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, creating the European Economic Community. The six founding members — France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands — have successfully expanded their union, progressively welcoming Central European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liberation of Central Europe from the yoke of a Soviet Union dominated by Russia, which thereby extended its empire.

We welcome the official opening on June 25th of the accession negotiations of Ukraine to the European Union. It was high time. We know the path will be long, but it already commits us, as Europeans, to support the Ukrainian people in their resistance to Putin’s aggression. Indeed, in recent days, the 27 have validated a fourteenth package of sanctions against Russia. They also agreed to transfer €1.4m from frozen Russian assets in Europe to the European Peace Facility. The funds will be used to purchase ammunition and weapons systems to be sent to the Ukrainian army. The 27 also confirmed a security commitment of the EU to Kyiv. This is in addition to agreements made by Ukraine with some 20 Western countries, including the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. They obtained from Viktor Orbán, before Hungary assumes the rotating presidency of the EU Council for six months, the lifting of Hungary’s veto on all these issues, including the appointment of The Netherlands’ Mark Rutte as Secretary General of NATO.

Volodymyr Zelensky and Kaja Kallas in Brussels, June 27, 2024. // president.gov.ua

Another strong sign of European determination to support Ukraine is the proposal by the Union’s heads of state and government to appoint Kaja Kallas, the uncompromising Estonian Prime Minister, as the EU’s “High Representative” to replace Spain’s Josep Borrell. She will be the face of EU foreign policy. We can count on her, whose mother and grandmother were deported to Siberia by the Soviet occupier in 1949, to yield nothing to Moscow or Beijing. She is also the subject of a Russian Investigative Committee’s wanted notice. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has accused her of “insulting history” and of “hostile actions against the historical memory” of Russia. The Russians, who dislike opposition to Putin’s revisionism, have a grudge against her for moving a T-34 tank erected during the Soviet era as a monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, in Narva. But they mostly resent her for Estonia’s firm support for Ukraine and for her resistance to Russian propaganda and cyber warfare operations. In this field, Tallinn is a model for Europeans.

The heads of state and government also propose to keep Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen at the head of the Commission, known for her firmness toward Russia. This choice, like that of Kaja Kallas, will need to be confirmed by the European Parliament on July 18. Finally, it is Portugal’s Antonio Costa (former Prime Minister of his country) who will chair the European Council (which brings together the heads of state and government of the 27) after Belgium’s Charles Michel. This trio at the head of the Union should be more coherent than the previous one formed by Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, and Josep Borrell, given the difficult relations between the three.

Thus, the EU shows stability and consistency. The populist surge in the European elections of June 8-9 did not upset the continent’s balance, despite Moscow’s wishes. Work can therefore continue and firm up, regardless of the consequences of the dissolution of the French National Assembly.

Admittedly, France’s proactive role, since President Emmanuel Macron understood that no negotiations were possible, with Russia aiming to overthrow the power in Kyiv and subjugate Ukraine, and realized the risk of a military collapse of Ukraine due to weak Western support, will be weaker. But let us not be mistaken: even though France holds an important place in the European Union, it is not the only driving force. Central and Northern Europe now play a significant role, particularly in the confrontation with Russia.

Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, June 27, 2024 // president.gov.ua

Furthermore, perhaps the dissolution of the National Assembly will have the merit of making the French discover a more democratic way of understanding politics, one of compromise between forces that do not hold a majority. This is the general fate of all Union countries, and it is the very principle of European construction. It would be good if our country ceased being an exception.

This is certainly what Putin does not want. He is supremely displeased with this model of democratically shared and discussed power. He signifies this by clearly supporting France’s National Rally a few days before the second round of the legislative elections, not fearing to show that it is indeed the “party with support from abroad.” In the Kremlin, they certainly dream of Jordan Bardella obtaining an absolute majority and Marine Le Pen soon sitting at the Élysée Palace. That would, for once, bring a Trojan horse into the EU, to then collapse its walls.

Let us say it clearly, this must not happen. On the contrary, the structure must be strengthened. We know the axes of this consolidation: perfecting the functioning of democracy in European institutions, resolutely building the means of its cohesion, and, the top priority, those of its defense. The Russian threat —but also the Chinese threat — and the risk of Trump returning to the White House should not paralyze us, as Moscow’s permanent nuclear blackmail attempts to do, but spur us on. In this sense, Europe could adopt the opening words of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect Union….” This must be our goal: to become more aware that we make up, in our diversity, a European people attached to democratic principles, and to perfect our Union to make it stronger and more desirable. This is the precondition for an authentically sovereign Europe in a world that totalitarian powers of all kinds want to dominate, quick to form paradoxical alliances to defeat all those eager to resist them out of love for freedom and justice.

Jean-François Bouthors is a journalist and essayist, contributing to the magazine Esprit and serving as an editorialist for Ouest-France. He is the author of several books, including Comment Poutine change le monde published by Editions Nouvelles François Bourin in 2016.

See also

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