Idle Geopolitics

No doubt prompted by the ongoing war scare between Russia and Ukraine, I’ve been idly thinking about geopolitics, alternate histories, possible futures, borderline utopian visions. And about aspects of discourse that have long bugged me, such as how “Europe” as a geopolitical entity is very different from the actual continent of Europe, excluding and marginalizing so many people who share a common heritage with “Europe” and who are indisputably European and Western in every way that matters.

If there is to truly be European integration, if all Europeans are to be united in a spirit of brotherhood, if there is to be a geopolitical entity representing “Europe” worthy of the name, then it really should include all of Europe, or at least the vast majority of it. Yet the project of European integration as we know it excludes huge swaths of the continent’s area and population. Just guess who…

Left image of Europe by Rob984 of Wikimedia Commons,  CC-BY-3.0. Right image of European Union member states by Heraldry of Wikimedia Commons.

Most notably, Russia, that’s who. And the other East Slavic countries: Ukraine and Belarus. Indeed, the East Slavic countries together form an absolute majority of Europe’s land area! About a third of the population to boot. It gets even more galling when one considers that the geographical midpoint of Europe is near or possibly even eastward of the eastern border of the EU, depending on how exactly it’s measured.

Image by Eugene van der Pijll of Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA 3.0.

If the European bloc actually included all of Europe it would be more sensible to locate the bloc’s headquarters in Lviv or even Saint Petersburg than Brussels or Strasbourg. Eastern Europe isn’t some semi-Asiatic fringe outside the Western mainstream, but rather an integral part of it. Why not treat it as such?

There have, in fact, been overtures toward truly pan-European integration. The Council of Europe includes every major state in Europe except Belarus and Kosovo, and even takes in primarily Asian Turkey and North American Greenland. Now that’s more like it!

Council of Europe member states. Image by Rob984 of Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0.

Interestingly, the Council of Europe is a completely separate entity from the European Union, and seemed to be the primary focus of European integration efforts in the earlier years. The European flag and the European anthem were created for the Council of Europe, only later being appropriated by the European Union. The European Communities, the EU’s predecessor, seemed to steal a lot of the Council’s thunder as time went by, and even more of its thunder was stolen by the creation and later flourishing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has an even broader membership, encompassing the United States, Canada, Belarus, ex-Soviet central Asia, and even Mongolia (another former Soviet satellite state).

OSCE member states. Image by Rob984 of Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0.

To my way of thinking something like this area, minus the US and Canada, should be the long-term ambition for any truly pan-European project: all of Europe and Siberia, plus Russia’s near abroad in Asia. Arguably this would be more of a Eurasian Union than a European Union, but due to so much of northern Asia having close ties to the very European Russia it makes perfect sense. Any project that included Russia would most likely take in its near abroad as well.

Whenever the rest of Europe is feeling more cooperative, as in the 1990s and 2000s, Russia has been willing to orient itself westward, so coalescing such an area into some kind of association, achieving some level of integration within it, is realistic. Whether it’s desirable or not I leave as an exercise to the reader.

The Four Freedoms, from Connacht to Kamchatka

Still, it would be really nice for everybody if free movement of goods, services, capital, and people could be guaranteed across such a vast expanse. It wouldn’t be so good for the EU’s lust to usurp the powers of member states and micromanage and regulate the most inane aspects of everyday life to spread over it. I’m not a fan of the EU as it stands today: a continent-wide centralized apparatus threatens the secret of Europe’s success as a civilization since the medieval era, namely the competition promoted by decentralization and secession, providing a powerful incentive for states to free and enrich their people.

So what I’d have in mind is more a series of treaties or even ad-hoc agreements between members guaranteeing certain substantial liberties and privileges for all European citizens. Institutions would exist not to govern so much as to be symbols of unity and the spirit of brotherhood across the continent. Another function would be coordinating projects of continental character, such as large-scale infrastructure networks.

A European Citizens’ Assembly

The primary institution I’d have in mind overseeing European integration would be a European Assembly, selected from the residents of the alliance by lot; echoing ancient Athens’s quorum for their assembly, the European Assembly would have 6000 members. A double majority, i.e. a majority of the representatives plus a majority of state delegations, might be required for any measures to pass, in order to protect the interests of the smaller states.

The headquarters of this alliance should be near the geographic center of Europe; I’m thinking if a city is desired Lviv, Ukraine might be an excellent choice. In addition, I’m a big fan of the idea of assemblies meeting outside, a la the Norse “things”. Even more out-there would be turning the European Assembly into an itinerant court, roaming throughout the alliance’s territory with no fixed headquarters. Considering how vast the territory is, stretching from Gibraltar to Kamchatka, Spitsbergen to the Tian Shan, the last option might be the best one; it would also help to prevent alienation of far-flung territories.

Move over, Fourth Reich: Welcome to the Fourth Rome!

One interesting aspect of this alliance is that it would be dominated by the east; an absolute majority of the population would be from east of the former Iron Curtain, and the former Soviet Union alone would comprise a full third. As such it seems likely that Russia would be the leading member of the alliance, much like Germany is the leading member of today’s EU.

Also as such it seems unlikely that the Americans, at least under their current foreign policy, would approve of any such arrangement; indeed, a similar scenario, where the EU “Finlandized” by detaching from the US, declaring itself neutral, and cozying up to Russia to pursue truly pan-European integration, was a deathly fear of the US government during the Cold War. Maybe they feared it so because having one European bloc makes more sense than having a European Union taking most everything west of Russia, with the remainder of Europe being in a separate and antagonistic Eurasian Union.

Haven’t there been enough cold-war divides in Europe for one lifetime? We should never have accepted the wall in Berlin, and if I had my way we would not be accepting the trenches in Donetsk today either.

Whether it comes about as a result of western European leader exerting more independence and befriending Russia because they believe it in their interests, or a more comprehensive turn in American foreign policy toward countering China and courting Russia into the fold on that basis, or something else altogether, I can’t help but feel we shouldn’t settle for a “European” order that leaves the Russian people out in the cold, consigned to some second-class “not really European” status along with a host of other nations deemed unworthy by the west; even southern European countries who are in the EU get this treatment, most vividly demonstrated by the widespread designation of them as “PIGS” (yes, really: pigs…).

All these dreams are really just idle thoughts from an outside observer, but I guess my point is that the European spirit needs to be both better and bigger than what we’ve seen to date.

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