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Jonathan Power: Europe, The Great (Christian) Republic?

Since the European Union parliamentary elections some two weeks ago, Europeans have been putting themselves through a bout of navel gazing and introspection. People are asking what exactly is the purpose of the European Parliament when every country has its own legislatures, both national and local? Why did a record low number of voters turn out? Why did eastern Europeans—only recently liberated from the yolk of dictatorship which denied them the vote—cast fewer ballots than anyone else (with only a couple exceptions)? Why do the British talk as if membership to the European Union is a yoke around their necks? More broadly, what is Europe? Writing in 1751, Voltaire described Europe as “a kind of great republic, divided into several states, some monarchical, the others mixed but all corresponding with one another. They all have the same religious foundation, even if it is divided into several confessions. They all have the same principals of public law and politics unknown in other parts of the world.” In a way that Charlemagne, Voltaire, William Penn, and William Gladstone—the early advocates of European unity—could only dream, a united Europe has become a reality with half a billion members.

Jonathan Power: Can the European Parliament Help Change Europe?

Welcome to the new era of democracy. Elections for the European Parliament, whose 736 elected members represent the 500 million citizens of the 27 member states of the European Union, take place at the end of the week.

Not since the time of the Roman Empire has there been such an agglomeration of the peoples of the world. This election will be the biggest transnational election in the history of humanity.

But a tower of Babel it is not. The Parliament is the under-reported Cinderella of the European Union. When the Treaty of Lisbon comes into effect, after what seems likely to be a successful Irish referendum in October, a re-ordering of the governance of the EU will give the Parliament more power, and will strengthen the authority of the Council of Ministers with a permanent president. (Finally, as Henry Kissinger wryly observed, he'll only have only one phone number to dial). To some it appears to be a contradictory development, but there is no reason why both should not be able to tolerate each others' new powers.

Jonathan Power:The Man Closest to Medvedev

Talking to Igor Yurgens is probably as close to talking with Dmitri Medvedev as one can get without interviewing the Russian president himself. His influence is regarded by those who follow the inner workings of the Kremlin as immense. By disposition a liberal academic, committed to the rule of law, he runs his own think tank which gives him the research and intellectual firepower to influence his close friend. Yurgens had something to do with clearing the path for the president to give his first on-the-record interview to the remarkably brave and independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, which had four star reporters, including Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down between 2001 and 2009. I recently interviewed Yurgens and we talked about Georgia, where the Russian army defeated Georgian forces that precipitated an unnecessary war last August by invading its neighbor, the pro-Russian mini-state of South Ossetia. I've long maintained that although Russia was acting within its rights in repulsing the unprovoked Georgian attack, it used a sledge hammer to kill a wasp. The Russian military used tactics that not only overwhelmed the Georgian army but created extensive destruction and civilian suffering. They seemed to be unnecessarily brutal. "Yes, maybe the Russian reaction was too heavy," replied Yurgens. "And there was no attempt at public relations before the event to explain what and why the Russians were doing. But then we always make the mistake of being too heavy handed. But if Medvedev hadn't given the order to intervene—and remember the military had worked themselves up—Medvedev would have been a lame duck president for the rest of his term." Within a couple of days of the invasions, Yurgens rushed to Washington for back-channel talks with the U.S. State Department. He told me that he "felt deceived by [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice. The U.S. did know a week before the invasion, because the Russians made sure that the 800 American soldiers stationed in Georgia were not in the way in case we had to intervene. Also both American and Russian intelligence could see and follow the movement of the Georgian army. So the U.S. had the opportunity to intervene and tell the Georgians not to go ahead with their planned attack on South Ossetia." "But by then within the administration, opinion, including that of [President George W.] Bush and Rice, who a month before had publicly warned the Georgian leader [Mikhail] Saakashvili not to initiate a war, had shifted in [Vice President Dick] Cheney's direction. I got this impression from Bill Burns, who I've known for a long time, the number two in the State Department and a very informed ex-ambassador to Moscow." "Cheney, in effect, undermined Bush and Rice. He knew that right-wing academics, ex-American diplomats and others, who journeyed to Georgia in the preceding weeks, had dropped hints to Saakashvili that if it came to a showdown Bush and Rice would be compelled to support the Georgians, despite their earlier warnings. Saakashvili was emboldened to do what he had long planned. He thought he could get away with it. And he thought by poking us in the eye he would strengthen his weakening position at home, where he was becoming less democratic and more ruthless by the day." Back home in Moscow, Yurgens says that Medvedev wants to heal the breach with both the European Union and America. Medvedev "likes" the new U.S. president, Barack Obama, who has assumed power "with new ideas," and thinks that if "our institutions [change] then we won't depend on the subjective," Yurgens said.

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