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Evening event with Manfred Weber, MEP, on the topic: The EU vis-à-vis new foreign affairs and defence tasks: The Ukraine Crisis and IS Terrorism as a central challenge”

Mathias Jopp, Martin Schulze Wessel, Ursula Münch, Martin Weber, Stavros Kostantinidis und Walther Stützle

On 29 January 2015, the Institute for European Politics-Berlin, in cooper­ation with the Akademie für Politische Bildung Tutzing, as well as the Europa-Union München and the Griechische Akademie, organized a podium discussion in the premises of the IHK Akademie München on the topic: “The EU vis-à-vis new foreign affairs and defence tasks: The Ukraine Crisis and IS Terrorism as a central challenge.” Manfred Weber, MEP and Chairman of the European’s People’s Party Group in the European Parliament; Dr. Mathias Jopp, Director of the Institute for European Politics; as well as Dr. Ursula Münch, Director of the Akademie für Politische Bildung Tutzing, intro­duced the event with their keynote addresses. Alongside Manfred Weber and Mathias Jopp, Dr. Walther Stützle, Under­sec­retary of Defense (ret.) and Senior Distin­guished Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, and Dr. Martin Schulze Wessel, Professor of Eastern European History at Ludwig-Maxim­ilians-Univer­sität in München, took part in the following podium discussion, which was moderated by Ursula Münch.

As the most pressing foreign affairs challenge for Europe, the Ukraine Crisis was the predom­inant topic of the event. The podium speakers were of one voice in condemning the annex­ation of Crimea and in the assessment of the Ukraine Crisis as a danger to the European peace framework.  However, disagreement arose as to how that framework might be recon­structed and whether Russia should be considered a partner or a hindrance in this matter.

Manfred Weber stressed that Russia is “no longer a trust­worthy partner” because the current government is not prepared to engage in any dialogue and is conducting a war of “perfidious KGB methods,” which had already been put to the test in the Georgia War. According to Mr. Weber, the EU has nothing to criticize itself for with regard to the outbreak of conflict; after all, the free trade treaty had been negotiated with the Russia-friendly Yanukovych government. He saw the Maidan Protests in the same light as those in Cold War era Budapest and Warsaw and empha­sized that there was no alter­native but to support Ukraine. He ruled out military support for Ukraine and instead spoke in favor of the economic sanctions against Russia. At the same time however, he stressed that this did not mean a conclusive break with Russia.

For Walther Stützle, Russia must remain an import dialogue and negoti­ation partner, as it was during the construction of the Berlin Wall as the Soviet Union. According to Stützle, Russia cannot be “sanctioned to its knees”; only security assur­ances on the part of the EU and NATO and direct negoti­a­tions between the US and Russia can offer a way out of the Ukraine Crisis.

Mathias Jopp also empha­sized that Russia must remain a negoti­ation partner, despite the calling into question of the Paris Charter and disregard for the Budapest Memorandum. According to Jopp, the EU has also made mistakes. For example, it could have led talks with Moscow parallel to the negoti­a­tions in Kiev. All in all, however, the EU’s unified approach to the crisis since its beginning has been positive. The most pressing question is how the lost trust between the Europeans and Russia can be won back. In this sense, the postponed entry into force of the free trade agreement with Ukraine is an advance concession. Now it is up to Russia to act, where a return to the Minsk II agreement is essential.

Martin Schulze Wessel, on the other hand, presented a funda­men­tally different opinion. He disputed Russia’s role in shaping the European continent and recalled the Congress of Vienna in 1814/1815, at which the European states agreed to a new peace arrangement with Russia, but at the cost of nation­alist movements in East Europe. He criti­cized Stützle for his ambivalent position regarding the parties of the conflict, and asked that the human rights abuses in Ukraine and the “imperi­al­istic expansion policies of Russia” clearly be labelled as such. According to Wessel, Putin thinks of himself as Catherine the Great and wants to advance the “New Russia Project,” because Russia is attempting, as before, to counteract its “backwardness” through power politics. Additionally, Russia is pursuing a strategy of splitting up the EU by trying to draw countries like Greece and Hungary closer to itself. According to Wessel, this is a very serious challenge for Europe.

With regard to the threat to Europe posed by the Islamic State (IS), Manfred Weber called for greater sharing between European intel­li­gence agencies, while still ensuring that a balance is struck between freedom and security. According to Weber, it cannot be allowed that the perpe­trators of the Paris terrorist attacks be able to buy their weapons in Brussels, even though they were known to be poten­tially dangerous in France. In the fight against IS, Weber welcomed the delivery of weapons to the Kurds and asked that the EU take on a greater role in the stabi­lization of its neigh­bouring countries. At the same time, one must ask if Europe has not ignored Syria for far too long, he said. Through an early inter­vention, it may have been possible to prevent the radical­ization of an entire gener­ation of Syrians.

In order to effec­tively engage current and future foreign affairs challenges, all of the partic­i­pants were in agreement that a united European answer is necessary. Due precisely to the impact of the US withdrawal from Europe, EU foreign and security policy must develop and become a stabi­lizing factor in Europe, Weber partic­u­larly empha­sized. Although the EU’s foreign policy voice has grown somewhat stronger since the Lisbon Treaty with its European External Action Service, it must still become more ambitious and, by means of its “Soft Power,” act more preven­ta­tively, added Weber.