Whether it wants to or not, Washington has a role to play in the UK’s EU debate. Eurosceptics and Europhiles constantly wrangle over what the US position is on Brexit, splitting hairs interpreting State Department officials’ carefully worded remarks in order to claim victory for their side.
The latest episode in this running saga sees the sceptics feeling vindicated by Washington’s exasperation with the EU. Assistant Secretary of State (for European Affairs no less) Victoria Nuland appears to have landed herself in some rather hot water – both diplomatic and political. In a reportedly leaked phone call to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Nuland is heard unceremoniously blasting the EU and pushing the UN to take over in mediating the escalating crisis in Kiev.
‘F–k the EU’, she says, adding that what’s needed is ‘help [to] glue this thing and to have the UN glue it’.
Many have been quick to point out that this episode underscores the fact that the unofficial State Department line on Brussels is in practice quite different to the official position in principle, and on some levels this is is true.
When Nuland’s predecessor Philip Gordon opined last January that ‘a strong British voice in the European Union’ was ‘in the American interest’, pro-EU campaigners claimed victory. Critics pointed out that Gordon had a track record of advocating European integration as an academic prior to his appointment, reflecting a more biased personal opinion than the official line from Washington.
The point is that the US does not understand nor is interested in how the EU works. The US attaches great significance in public to the EU’s ‘soft power’ in drawing Eastern European countries away from Russia’s orbit and triggering democratic reforms perceived as necessary to join an influential and very Western club.