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New Sanctions against Russia - Merkel on Collision Course with Europe

Soon Germany's leadership will have to choose between defending Europe's vital interests, and catering to Washington's whim

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Originally appeared in German at German Economic News. Translated by Nils Hansen

Four European heads of government have unilaterally decided, together with the USA, to extend the sanctions against Russia. This will accelerate the schism within the EU as the other states no longer accept being bossed around. Merkel is playing with high risk: A single veto is enough to stop the sanctions. Should Merkel, however, no longer be able to cater to the transatlantic wishes, this would also mean her political downfall.

Angela Merkel has a very fine sense for judging how far a government can go in the shadow of a Great Power. She has learned this in the GDR and is now steering the Federal Republic of Germany in the direction approved by the US neocons and NATO. This was the case in the context of the first sanctions against Russia, where US Vice President Joe Biden openly talked about the US government having to force the EU.

Although all EU states followed her lead, the mischief was made. The gap between those EU countries desiring a separate European course and those seeing themselves as a transatlantic junior partner has become apparent in refugee policy: The Eastern Europeans have lived through 40 years as vassals of the Soviet Union and are now no longer willing to bear the burden of the foreign policies of others: It is obvious to all that the displacements are a consequence of the destabilisation in the Middle East, which has been significantly driven by the US and NATO. The Eastern Europeans have battened down the hatches, and have done so in an unexpectedly resolute manner: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia refuse obedience to Merkel.

Thus the EU has arrived at a possibly historic turning point: It could disintegrate because a common policy is no longer possible. Several EU bosses and national politicians have explicitly said this in recent weeks – the latest has been Slovenian premier, who feels omitted and left alone in the refugee policy. But also EU President Donald Tusk has found drastic words.

The alleged ‘resolution’ taken by the four EU countries Germany, Great Britain, Italy and France to extend the sanctions against Russia, together with the USA, will cause upheaval in the capitals of smaller states. Many countries revolted already against the first wave of sanctions: Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Greece and Spain have repeatedly spoken out against a policy where decisions are taken Washington and Berlin is taking orders, which are then to be executed in all other states.
‘Do the other EU countries have no vote?’ asks Folker Hellmeyer of Bremer Landesbank in his Forex report on Monday.

The sentiment within the EU is already tense ad nauseam: Most politicians have lost trust in Angela Merkel. In private, people wonder and shake their head at the refugee policy and the Russia policy. Even in Brussels itself, the European Commission is at a loss: It has been caught cold by Merkel in the refugee question. People are outraged that Merkel has opened the borders only to then burden the EU with the work – as if Brussels was able to enforce anything in the member states.  The same is true for the question of Russia: EU President Jean-Claude Juncker demanded a closer rapprochement with Russia and was apparently not involved when the decision of Antalya was taken.

It is also not yet clear if the French will go along: France has been fighting on the side of Russia against IS and has ever since opposed the sanctions more strongly than Merkel has.

Angela Merkel has a very peculiar relationship to justice, law and power: She regards laws as binding as long as they serve her political goals. When it comes to power, Merkel does not make compromises: Although she preaches a stronger Europe, through her actual policies she has left the EU officials in a dire situation between a rock and a hard place. With respect to the sanctions against Russia, she is nevertheless on a collision course: The EU treaties comprise a veto right for every member state. Never has it been more likely that one of the states makes use of this right. The reason is not of a political, but rather of an existential nature.

A European Union ruled by a remote controlled German government is not an option for many member states.
The refugee crisis and the sanctions against Russia cause tangible harm to member states. This has to be dealt with by the national governments. They do not wish that. Angela Merkel could fail because she underestimates the others’ will for power.
In Germany everyone submits to her – the Bild newspaper, officially committed to NATO, even called her a ‘queen’ on Monday. Yet the other EU states are only a small step away from outright insurrection. The extension of the sanctions against Russia out of the blue could be the famous straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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