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BOLOGNA — In a bristling recent statement, the British House of Lords accused Europe of “sleepwalking” into the Ukrainian crisis. This slamming of European foreign policy should come as little surprise for anyone following the crisis. What is surprising however, is the British incredulity and shock that this “sleepwalking” occurred in the first place. Undoubtedly, the House of Lords has hit upon something much deeper than recent European foreign policy, stretching all the way down to the roots of the European Project itself.

Since 1945, Europe has, in fact, been in a relatively constant state of sleepwalking. First, as a fragile and terrified Europe navigated the nightmarish landscape of nuclear threat in the Cold War, and then through the manic years of the 1990s and 2000s when delusions of prosperity and the “End of History” blinded a relatively more sinister reality. In the aftermath of World War II, the founders of what would become the EU envisioned a sort of United States of Europe in which war would be impossible. However, their political vision proved equally impossible. After many failed attempts at various political and military unions in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the founders considered it far simpler to sell a European political union as an economic union.

This compromise empowered the unification of Europe along economic lines, culminating in the Treaty of Lisbon but only at the expense of a common European political narrative. The result was an economic powerhouse with horribly constricted political development. Likewise, continued debate over whether the EU was an economic or political union hampered the creation of a clear vision of a United States of Europe. In this context the EU expanded eastward and southward with only a rough idea of what it might like to look like in the future or who it was in the present. Furthermore, instead of engaging with countries it encountered as sovereign entities (i.e. Russia), the EU viewed all European nations outside its borders as potential members of its amorphous semi-supranational structure. Lacking a clear identity and therefore a clear policy vision, the EU has been unable to create proper diplomatic connoisseurs to pursue its aims in the classical style of European diplomacy. This, more than budgetary cuts or any number of supernumerary Russia experts, led the EU into this crisis and, is, moreover, the reason why it cannot find a way out.

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