The trip has risks, yes, and I assumed them. Before the March European Council, I wanted to see first-hand if Russia wanted to seize the opportunity to reverse the deterioration of relations and engage in a deeper dialogue: the answer has been clear, no, they do not want. I will continue to defend the need to talk and have open channels. To look at each other in the eye, especially in matters where there is conflict. Foreign policy is not just sending communications from my office in Brussels. This is how Josep Borrell defended this Tuesday, before the plenary session of the European Parliament, his controversial trip to Moscow last week, a mission that led to a fiasco, a new diplomatic shock, and a serious blow to his reputation and scope for action.
In what has been his worst week since he acceded to the post of High Representative for EU Foreign Policy, Borrell has tried the impossible before the MEPs: correct course, mark position, appease the ‘hawks’ of the East, convince those who doubt and reinforce the arguments of their supporters, those who in recent days have tried to contextualize, relativize and defend their management, pointing to the limitations of work, the inability of the 27 to decide on sanctions at the highest level Kremlin.
The appearance before the European Parliament, not strange in the plenary week but dedicated exclusively to the trip to Moscow, looked bad. More than 70 MEPs (especially conservatives and from the East) wanted to settle accounts, with him and with the line defended by the Commission and the External Action Service. And many governments are taking advantage of the trip, and the chaos that followed, to try to clip the wings of the Spaniard, whose agenda, methods, and interventions are much more ambitious than that of their predecessors. But the bad drink lasted barely an hour and a half and barely had its depth, with dozens of deputies waging war on their own, selling their messages and ignoring the substance of the matter. With piques between parties, between families, and between nationals. With Puigdemont taking advantage of his 60 seconds to align himself again with Lavrov’s criticism and say that “there are not three political prisoners in Catalonia, there are nine.
There have been two Borrell this Tuesday in Brussels. The one with the initial intervention cautious, softer. Who has defended his journey and the need to speak to everyone face to face? That he has argued that “we need a coexistence without clashes with our largest neighbor” and that he recalled that “a significant part of Russians want strong ties with the EU and have genuinely democratic aspirations. We cannot turn our backs on them. Perhaps power he wants to disconnect from us, but we must not disconnect from civil society, from the Russians, “he explained.
In the end, after two hours listening to attacks, criticisms, and all kinds of mixed topics, from the situation of Pablo Hasél to how to tame a bear with a long stick and honey, the other Borrell came out, the one we all know. In Spanish, and much more comfortable, he has been assertive, confident, blunt at times. He has not apologized but has called out many of his critics, recalling that in recent times up to “19 ministerial missions” have gone to Moscow. Is it that my colleagues can go and I cannot? It will not be so forbidden if they have gone 19 times, he insisted.
The conservatives, the popular, the liberals, the Baltics, or the Poles attacked the high representative during the session, with particular harshness. Accusing him of being irresponsible, of not being prepared, of not listening to his warnings. “Going for wool and getting shorn”, in the words of Hermann Tertsch, from Vox. They have defended Borrell, as far as possible, the Socialists, who agreed on the need to speak, to keep the channels open. And that they criticized the 27 capitals for being unable to agree on a common position or on a new round of sanctions against the Kremlin for what happened with Navalny.
Then, from the extremes, from the ranks of Marine Le Pen or The Left, came the defenses of Russia and the trip, criticism of “Russophobia”, “those who want a new Cold War” or the “military complex” In the words of the Irish Clare Daly, which were replicated from the seats with cries of “go to Russia.”The Spaniard closed his speech by assuring that “if the defense of human rights and freedoms is in our DNA,” as many deputies reproached him during the session, “there are times when you have to stand up and say in person what we put in the releases. ” Was he soft on Lavrov? According to his version, not at all. There was a “tense exchange” during the closed-door meeting and, prudently, at the press conference. “Don’t you think that I too would have wanted to get into close combat with Lavrov? Especially in the face of absurd comparisons such as Navalny and the deputies who are now campaigning Held.