A letter by east European luminaries to the American administration has attracted much attention. Here is what they could have said but didn’t.
Dear Mr President:
We are under no illusions about our region’s low standing on your to-do list. We know that the cold war is over and that your administration worries more about Asia than about Europe. We are grateful for what America has done in the past but we are not presumptuous about the future.
But we want to highlight our mutual interests more clearly, for both our sakes. Like you, we want an open, dynamic Europe, not a greying, inward-looking theme park. Like you (we hope) we want the European Union to be America's partner, not its rival. We also want our own countries to be beacons of good government, with high-quality public services, respect for citizens and with high standards of integrity in public life. That is good for us, good for the rest of the EU, and good for our eastern neighbours. If they see that the rule of law and political freedom bring results, the temptation to follow Russia’s authoritarian crony capitalism is less and the likelihood of them following our euro-atlantic orientation is greater. The biggest headache for the Kremlin would be success in Ukraine. Our soft power can help you with that.
We are aware of our shortcomings. Our countries have been complacent, particularly since joining the EU. Our political class has lost the public’s confidence. We have allowed the EU’s expansion to falter; it obsesses about tedious and irrelevant constitutional reforms, rather than dealing with big questions such as energy security and competitiveness. It is not surprising that you don’t take the EU as seriously as it takes itself.
So this is the first and last letter we are writing to you from “new Europe”, to use Donald Rumsfeld’s ill-starred phrase. Our priority is to broaden our support out of the ex-communist ghetto: it doesn’t help you if Atlanticism is seen as the weakest EU members’ refuge. Some say that the real divide in Europe is north-south, not east-west. But that is unfair. Plenty of southern Europeans share our views. For our next letter, we aim to have signatories from every EU country.
We’d be delighted if you beefed up NATO and relaxed your pestilential visa regime in Poland. But we are not writing to whinge. We want to suggest practical issues where we can best succeed if we cooperate better. For starters: make it harder for corrupt businesses to do business anywhere in the civilised world. We would like to see the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development attack asset laundering with the same zeal that it has fought against money laundering.
Another idea is a more confident and united stance from the countries that believe in freedom and the rule of law. “Democracy promotion” lost its shine under your cack-handed, tin-eared predecessor. Your huge personal popularity gives it a second chance. We’d glad if the Warsaw-based Community of Democracies could help promote your ideas in countries where the people like them but the rulers don’t. We could start by mounting a challenge to the United Nations’ shamefully biased human rights committee.
We won’t bother you often. But we’re here when you need us.