Europe tends to be divided between North and South by Rhine, Alps and Danube. There is also the cultural divide between East and West by the historical split of the Roman Empire. Northern Europe tends to be Protestant, Southern Europe Roman-Catholic and in the East we see the Orthodox Church of Constantinople.
The Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs and now candidate EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans (1961) speaks about troubles in the Ukraine at the “European border“, but he means the EU border, since the continent of Europe extends beyond Moscow. There is a price when one doesn’t study some history.
My warning alert on Frans Timmermans consists of the following points.
He is a EU federalist. Given the differences in Europe it is rather silly to be such a federalist, see this mind map for a better perspective. But Timmermans was member of the 2003 EU Convention to create a EU Constitution, wanting to abolish the sovereignty of the Member States. In the Dutch referendum he lobbied for Yes but fortunately the majority said No. He has been uttering words of understanding afterwards but we better be cautious given his background as a diplomat.
Blind to Russian revanchism
He did not warn us for the last 23 years about Russian revanchism. See my text on the Repeat of Versailles. Timmermans had an early training on Russia and in Russian. When in the army in 1986 Timmermans was trained to interrogate simulated Russian captives, and later worked at the Embassy in Moscow in 1990-1993. His command in Russian was remarkably useful in last year’s diplomacy. But why not warn us over the last 23 years ? In a speech in 2008, Timmermans said about Putin:
“For all his faults, he has brought the necessary stability that will allow Russia to develop into a democracy based on giving people the chance to work for their own prosperity.”
Playing with dynamite on Maidan Square
He was at Maidan Square increasing that revanchism. In this Dutch TV broadcast of December 2013 he visited the Maidan Square opposition to Janukovich, claiming that he was impartial, but the reporter indicates that his visit of course was interpreted as a sign of support. In his September 2014 lecture he is aware of the threat: “The fear of Putin is not that protesters wave blue flags with yellow stars on Maidan Square, the fear of Putin is that they wave those blue flags with yellow stars on the Kremlin Red Square.” So explain: why provoke revanchism ?
Double standards on MH17
His MH17 diplomatic success should not distract us. Timmermans’s major diplomatic success is his performance in the EU in July and in the UN on the 2014 MH17 disaster, in which he succeeded in getting the world to stop and consider the loss of 298 lives. He must be complimented for this, and for his soothing role in Dutch society. This success as a diplomat should not be confused with competence as a policy maker.
But, he does not take responsibility. There are also the 2593 local civilian deaths due to the conflict, see the UN estimate for April to August. Timmermans might have explained that almost 2900 deaths were partly his own responsibility for not warning about Russian revanchism since 1991 and stimulating it in 2013 on Maidan.
Blind to the energy trap, blind on sanctions
In that 2008 speech, on energy:
“Another widespread belief, which I disagree with, is the notion that since Russia is a provider of energy and we are its customers, dependency only goes one way. We depend on their energy, and therefore they call the shots. This is simply untrue. Look at the facts. Yes, it is true that they provide the energy; yes, it is true that we are the customers. Yet given the nature of their energy sector and the nature of the energy they provide, customers like the European Union can dictate a lot of the behaviour of the supplier country.”
Now in his September 2 2014 lecture (in Dutch) he simply states that the EU has become too dependent upon Russian energy. Instead of acknowledging that this has been also his own responsibility, for having been so dumb and not seeing the problem of revanchism and dependence.
His answer to the Ukrainean conflict is sanctions for Russia, without explaining that this runs the risk of stimulating revanchism. He now hopes to get natural gas from Iran, when the sanctions there are lifted, but does not mention that Russia would be needed to solve the problems in Iran.
Under the lure of heroism and fighting
His closing statement on September 2 that the borders of Europe are there ‘where there is fighting about them’, sounds like the frustrated child that starts thrashing about.
Deaf to criticism
He apparently neglects crucial criticism. Karel van Wolferen, renowned for his analysis on Japan, wrote on August 15 a remarkable criticism of the US neo-conservatives who meddle with world peace: The Ukraine, Corrupted Journalism, and the Atlanticist Faith (Dutch text here). It is difficult to judge on various points but one would assume that the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs would have had such sources before and would have a clear reply by now: but we find none of this. Instead, Timmermans September 2 lecture claims that the extension of NATO to the East brings stability, instead of showing some understanding that it increases Russian revanchism. Timmermans also presents the George W. Bush and Tony Blair lies, on WMD as the excuse for the invasion of Iraq, as mere incidents. It is actually a quite confused lecture, also with a ritual calling for “realism” but then criticizing Russia for supporting Assad.
Little understanding of economics and its importance
He has little understanding of economics. Timmermans studied languages and EU law and mostly worked in diplomacy. Apparently he has not extended his studies on the key issues that have to do with economics (in a setting of history, culture, world politics). Beware of politicians who think that they do not need to study economics. Yes, he says that much in diplomacy is guided by economics, but that does not mean that he draws the conclusion that he must study it. It only means that he continues doing the same as before but now calls it economics.
He takes a position that Holland originally preferred for Jeroen Dijsselbloem. This is my weakest objection. I just mention it for completeness. The selection of Timmermans might be presented as a success for Holland and the EU, certainly by himself, but it actually means a defeat. There has been some discussion about Dijsselbloem’s remark on Juncker’s drinking. This strange discussion raises eyebrows. The best way for Juncker to show the contrary is to agree to stop drinking when in office and accept Dijsselbloem rather than Timmermans. NB. As economists argue for a bit less austerity in the present economic stagnation, this better be argued by Dijsselbloem rather than Juncker & Timmermans.
A minister in an undemocratic coalition government
He is a member of an undemocratic coalition government. In the 2012 elections, the free market conservative party VVD and social democratic party PvdA strongly opposed each other. This attracted voters who wished to prevent that the other party would be strong enough to form a government. VVD and PvdA managed to jointly collect more than 50% of the seats, and actually formed a joint coalition government, in betrayal of the earlier claims of ‘vote for us so that those others will be blocked’ (no actual quote). It is still somewhat a minority government since they lack seats in the Senate. The betrayal and the political mess make the present Dutch government quite unpopular. The VVD-PvdA coalition now has 45 seats in a Parliament of 150 seats (recent poll). Timmermans joined in that voter betrayal, though he now gained much popularity because of his performance on MH17.
PM. Potentially a victim of revanchism himself
The text above puts much emphasis on Russian revanchism. There is also a source of revanchism in Dutch politics. This weblog reported on the cultural divisions in Holland before, and indicated the inferiority complex and revanchism from the Southern Catholic provinces Brabant and Limburg that had been under Northern Protestant rule. See the entry on the Dutch Taliban, and Geert Wilders from Limburg.
Frans Timmermans comes from a Northern country but is actually from the province of Limburg from below the Rhine too. In an interview, Timmermans says “to miss Wilders as a buddy” (VN December 27 2013), meaning that he disagrees with him politically e.g. on Islamistic Terrorism or the Polish Hotline, but can appreciate him “personally as a very nice guy”.
The latter doesn’t mean that Timmermans himself suffers from an inferiority complex and revanchism or would be at risk of becoming a Dutch Taliban too. There is no need to delve into these deeper psychological questions since the arguments above on his general failure as a policy maker are sufficient to advise to block his appointment as a EU commissioner.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem (1966) isn’t perfect either, of course, see here. He also partook in that voter betrayal, and comes from the other Southern Catholic province of Brabant. His only advantage is having little responsibility w.r.t. policy w.r.t. Russia.