Last week the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to approve Ukraine’s candidacy for membership in the European Union. Only days before, the EU- and NATO- member state Lithuania enacted a blockade of Russia’s Eastern European enclave, Kaliningrad. Meantime, Russia’s military gains in eastern Ukraine have been met with ever more promises of Western aid for Ukraine. To discuss these and other developments, on Thursday, June 23rd, I spoke with Clare Daly, a courageous and outspoken member of the European Parliament from Ireland, and a stalwart opponent of the trans-Atlantic militarist consensus that has both Washington and the European Parliament in Brussels firmly in its grip.
—James W. Carden, American Committee for US-Russia Accord
James W. Carden: Clare, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Our timing is, depending on how you look at it, either very good or very bad, as news reaches us here in the US that this afternoon in Brussels the European Parliament voted in favor of Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union. The vote was 529 votes in favor, 45 against, and 14 abstentions. You and your party, the left-wing Independents4Change, abstained. Can you explain why, and what you think of the timing of the vote?
Clare Daly, MEP: Our point of view is if people from Ukraine or anywhere else want to join the European Union, and that’s a free choice decided by the majority, and it’s done on terms that don’t bankrupt its populations, well, then that’s a matter for them. Of course, that’s not what’s on the table at the moment. The vote is being used to ratchet up the tension with Russia.
Everybody knows that there’s no way Ukraine is actually going to join the European Union in the foreseeable future. Now interestingly, there were amendments put down by the Left group in parliament arguing that the normal criteria – that of democratic rights, rule of law, eradication of the influence of oligarchs, fighting corruption, should also apply in this case.
But 423 MEPs thought that in this case the old criteria didn’t matter – the main thing is to get Ukraine into the club. So it’s just a game, but a very dangerous one, really.
JWC: Right. It seems like there’s a growing gap between what the EU is supposed to stand for and what has actually been going on in Ukraine for the past 8 years. Recently, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen had said that, in her view, “Ukrainians ready to die for the European perspective.” It seems to me that this talk of European “perspectives” or values is, particularly with regard to Ukraine, rather hypocritical given the fact that only this past week, the Ukrainian Rada passed a series of laws prohibiting the playing of Russian language music in public and on television and radio, and banned the printing of books written by Russian citizens. So this seems to be a rejection of pluralism, and not necessarily a good reflection of European values…
CD: Well, I’m not a great believer in European values, to be honest. The EU is brilliant at lecturing everybody else how to live and then ignoring it when it comes to themselves. Von der Leyen’s comments were incredible. In the plenary today I called her a deluded narcissist. Many people in Ukraine are fighting to defend their country, and that’s actually legitimate in many ways. But I highly doubt that any of them are fighting or dying for European values – in a sense, because it is not stopping the war, Europe is forcing them to die.
The president of Zambia came in the week and he criticized the war. He said we should be for peace. He spoke about food insecurity in Africa and the global consequences of this war. He obviously was sympathetic with the victims in Ukraine, and said that we need to work together as an international community to end the war and to have a negotiated peace. Yet the overwhelming majority, like 95 percent of the Parliament, sat on its hands and did not applaud that sentiment. These are war mongers. And the tone in the European Parliament, being led mainly by the Baltics, is that they want the war to continue.
They’re deluded. Anybody who argues for peace is being accused of appeasing Russia, of being a Putin puppet, when in actual fact the continuation of the war is killing and damaging Ukrainians more than anyone else. So it’s utter lunacy.
And it’s very clear now that the European Union’s goal seems to be to keep the war going, which actually is the very thing that will prevent Ukraine from joining the European Union, because they certainly can’t join when they’re in the middle of an active war, since that would bring the whole of Europe into conflict. So it’s a game being played with the population of Ukraine. It’s leading them on. It’s pretending that Europe’s their friend, when actually Europe is probably divided on the issue. But it’s a disgusting game that they’re playing, which will only benefit the arms industry and NATO, and probably the US, but no one else.
JWC : What is the state of the opposition to the war in Europe? So I’ve been watching the speeches that you and your colleague in the Parliament Mick Wallace, MEP have made on the floor of the European Parliament. And I can tell you, nothing of the sort is said on the floor of the US Congress. So it’s at once a hopeful thing, but it’s also profoundly depressing because we have nothing like that and we haven’t had anything like that since Tulsi Gabbard left Congress. And of course, the Clinton machine, in conjunction with the media here tried to destroy her reputation and career once she ran for president. And it seems like you and Wallace are becoming the targets of the same kind of smear campaign that tried to ruin Gabbard. This week, a think tank called VoteWatch Europe came out with a report which accused leftists parties like yours of being”soft” on Russia. And they name-checked both you and Wallace so I wanted to get your reaction to that.
CD: When I made comments recently in the chamber along the lines of the points we were just making about Ukraine joining the EU, a German Green responded by shouting “What shit, what shit!,”….which obviously isn’t normal parliamentary language.
The first thing that we should realize is that the gulf between the parties, the political parties across the world and the people, is absolutely enormous. Look at all the propaganda, as you’ve rightly said, demonizing anybody who stands up and argues for peace as a Putin puppet. And yet a survey of Europeans released last week, found the overwhelming majority of those polled believed that it was more important to have peace rather than to punish Russia. The only exception was Poland, but that’s another story. So the gulf is huge. Every day we get people from all over the world, all over Europe, saying what you’ve said, “We wish there were people in our country like that.”
So obviously there are loads of people all over the world, a majority, I would say, who do think like that – who do want peace. The problem is that there isn’t a stage on which they are allowed to give that voice, because most of the political establishment have been cowed into submission. We’ve had people come up to us, other MEPs, who say, “Oh God, I would’ve loved to vote the way you did. I actually agree with what you’re saying, but, oh my God, if I spoke out, I’d be absolutely annihilated at home.”
And what they have to realize is that, actually, this is an orchestrated international campaign to silence the anti-war movement. It’s absolutely on message. Everywhere across the US, UK, all across Europe, the messages were the same. The first ones were, “We need to put arms in, we need to put arms in.” The second one was, “Putin is mad, Putin is mad.” And this hysteria and emotion was not allowing space for rational debate. It was then, for the first time I suppose, I felt and understood that truth is the first casualty of war.
The media vitriol against us has been so intense. I mean, I’ve been in political life a long time, but I’ve never had the abuse and the sort of disgustingly hostile, irrational abuse that I’ve had now.
So it’s had a certain impact. But I still would say the majority of people, even though they might be afraid to express their views, are uncomfortable with what is going on. While they are obviously devastated to see what’s going on in Ukraine, they’re not fully buying into the narrative. They just don’t know how we can get to a situation of bringing around peace.
JWC: It seems hard to escape the feeling that the countries of Eastern Europe and Baltics, with the reckless encouragement of the US and the UK, really seem to be itching for World War III. I’d like to get your thoughts on what Lithuania has just done with regard to the blockade, which in itself is an act of war, of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Their move has, and this won’t surprise anyone, gained enthusiastic support among the most sanguinary elements in Washington. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum asked on Twitter, “Why is Kaliningrad still Russian territory anyway?”
It appears as though they’re ready to have a Berlin blockade-style confrontation over this. So it seems like there’s an insane drive, you recently called it a “death drive,” to expand the war on the part of the Eastern Europeans and their handmaids in the Western media.
Can you talk about how you view the blockade of Kaliningrad?
CD: Poland and Eastern Europe. Well, recall that only a couple of months ago these were the bad boys, the pariahs of Europe, becuase of their discrimination against the LGBTI community, because they were cutting back on abortion access and their attacks on women’s rights. But now they’re the best boys in class. And not only that, they’re actually leading and setting policy, which is really frightening. But the most frightening thing for me has been Lithuania’s action with regard to Kaliningrad.
This is shocking, even for them. This is a really serious ratcheting up of the conflict. It is, as you said, an act of war against Russia. The point is to drag NATO into the conflict and escalate it. That’s what it’s about. These people are crazy. But for me, the most frightening part of it is that this isn’t the front page story on every news outlet in Europe. That there isn’t a single voice in the international community going, “Lads, would you absolutely reign it in now because this is really getting out of hand.”
It’s frightening. The UN, where are they? The international community? I’m really shocked that nobody anywhere is calling a halt to this. It’s total madness. I’ve had, I suppose, discussions, and disagreements in many security and defense meetings with these people since we got elected to the European Parliament, and the former Soviet states are now setting Europe’s foreign policy, probably with the strings being pulled by NATO and the US, which was, let’s face it, the reason why they were joining the EU in the first place.
For them it’s payback time. And it’s frightening. I used to say to them, “Listen lads, what are you all gung-ho? Militarism leads to militarism. You need to deescalate the rhetoric.” They would say to me, “Oh, that’s all right for you. You live on the other side of Europe, far, far away from Russia. You don’t know what it’s like to be occupied by Russia like we are.” And we said, “Well, actually, funnily enough, now that you should mention it, we don’t know what it’s like to be occupied by Russia, but we do know what it’s like to be occupied by a big neighbor beside us for about 800 years. And I don’t see anybody coming out saying we should re-arm the IRA.”
Of course, they’re not. We had a peace agreement and it worked.
And actually the international community, including the US, played a really good role in negotiating that peace agreement. And now we have peace in Ireland. That’s the only alternative. And it’s the same for them. Bury the histrionics, lads. Bury the hatred. They are your neighbors, you can’t change geography, and you’ve got to sit down and hammer out an agreement. There is no other way. We can’t annihilate Russia off the face of the earth. Although some of them obviously want to do that. But it’s scary. I really can’t believe the Lithuanian escalation is disgusting beyond belief.
JWC: I personally believe the EU has quite a lot of responsibility for the crisis between Ukraine. Section 2.3 of the EU-Ukraine Association which Ukrainian president Yanukovych rejected and which, in turn, ultimately led to his ouster in February 2014, would have required the signatories to, “Take measures to foster military cooperation, and cooperation of technical character between the EU and Ukraine, and encourage and facilitate direct cooperation on concrete activities jointly identified by both sides, between relevant Ukrainian institutions and the European Defense Agency” among other EU agencies. In other words, if Ukraine joins the EU, and if Georgia joins the EU, and if Moldova joins the EU, their armed forces are going to have to become interoperable with NATO member states. And Russia sees this, rightly or wrongly, as a threat. So this seems to me part of the reason one might be alarmed by today’s vote in the European Parliament. Do you agree?
CD: I partly do and I partly don’t. I mean, you’re totally right, the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine was definitely a contributing factor – particularly the idea of Ukrainian military cooperation with NATO. We’ve made the point before: If the Canadian government linked up with Russia, the United States wouldn’t be long in sorting that out. But what we would also say is that at the moment, their militaries aren’t interoperable. Look, there are five or six neutral countries in Europe. And one of the points we would make in the EU is, well, if Ukraine is ever to join the European Union, well, then it could only ever be as a neutral country. And that’s why we believe that it’s very important to preserve our neutrality, in Ireland, to keep a space for neutral countries. Because Moldova actually is proudly neutral as well. So the question has to be, are you going to force them to give up their military neutrality in order to join the EU? And clearly that’s the direction in which they’re going. That doesn’t take away from Russia’s responsibility, but to ignore that is to misunderstand the origins of the war, and then to misunderstand how you can sort it out.
JWC: You mentioned the importance of neutrality. Recently there was a really good online discussion hosted by Swords to Ploughshares Ireland, and a gentleman by the name of Eamon Rafter was asking whether Ireland might be able take the lead of a neutral European block, though he voiced concerns that Irish neutrality has been under threat, citing the controversial role Shannon Airport plays in facilitating US military flights to the Middle East. He wondered whether it was possible to be neutral within the current structures of Europe. Is Ireland’s neutrality in jeopardy?
CD: When I was in the Irish parliament the government at the time never wanted to talk about neutrality. But Wallace and I had hundreds of questions on precisely that issue of allowing the US military to use our civilian airport every day on their way to theaters of war in the Middle East. We know they facilitated that in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was absolutely in breach of our neutrality and against the wishes of the majority of the Irish people.
And they [the Irish government] would always pretend and say, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. They’re not actually bringing anything. We have an agreement. And they told us that there are no guns or weapons on it.” They were just playing dumb, which was really disgraceful. And we actually broke into Shannon Airport to search the military aircraft. When we were in the Irish Parliament, there was a court case over that which went on for three days, and we actually put US imperialism on trial in defense of our neutrality. So now they all want to have a conversation about it when they never wanted to have it before. But actually, they want to get rid of it. They’ve never liked it, they’ve always tried to undermine it…Probably you could say the Irish have a romantic attachment to neutrality, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s part of our identity. And it’s something that could be really powerful, because we were a country that was occupied for many years. So we know what it’s like. And it makes me sick, actually, knowing we could be playing this great role, because we’re a country that’s very much identified as a Western democracy. We’re firmly embedded, if you like. We’re US-friendly, everybody used to like the Irish. But we are a former colonized country, whereas most of the powers in the European Union are former colonizers.
JWC: I think that we’re starting to slowly see a movement towards opposing this madness, at least in Western Europe. A new European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) poll found 61 percent of people fear that the war could escalate into a nuclear war, and 61 percent worried that the cost of living, especially energy prices, would continue to rise. The ECFR warned of a growing gap between the stated positions of many European governments and the public moods in their countries. So that is some hopeful news in a time when there hasn’t been a lot. And I’m wondering if you can identify maybe some pathways to peace here. It seems to me that recognition of the stakes, meaning nuclear catastrophe, is one of them. But then on a nuts and bolts level, what do we do? Do we try to resurrect the Normandy format and keep the US and the UK as far away from that format as possible? We’ve been talking a lot about neutral countries and their importance. Who can we identify as a reliable, honest broker between the two sides?
CD: The simple answer is this war will end when the US wants it to end. You might have thought that Europe, because it’s engaging in a sort of a collective suicide, at least economically, with this war, might be pushing for it to end. Right now there’s a whole wave of strikes all across Europe which will only escalate the longer the war continues on. I think turmoil in the global south has to be a cause for concern for all of these actors.
I suppose Italy, France and Germany have been less war-mongering than the others, and are getting enormous abuse for that, by the way, by their European friends. You’d hope that maybe they could take the lead. They obviously tried to do that a little bit by making a visit to Ukraine last week. Obviously, that was followed by Boris [British Prime Minister Boris Johnson] going there after that and saying, in effect, “Don’t be having any talks now, or any peace lads, just ratchet up to conflict.”
So it’s still up in the air. It’s very hard to know. I mean, if you look at it, even the anti-war movement globally, nobody is out on the streets. And people are probably afraid that if you went out on the streets, you would be attacked. But there has been some opposition by the unions, for example, the Italian trade unions are refusing to handle arms to Ukraine and there seems to be some movement on the part of the Greeks to do that as well. But it’s very low-level compared to what was before.
The other side of the debate has not really been fully reflected in the mainstream media. I mean, the Pope was great with his comments on how to bring about peace – and the media couldn’t simply accuse him of being a Putin puppet. So instead they just ignored him. And he has said what we’ve said: NATO contributed to this. Yes, Russia’s responsible, they shouldn’t have done it, but we have to talk to Russia, and we have to sit down and have a negotiated peace.
Maybe it’ll come from outside of the European and the so-called Western powers, maybe the international community outside of that will assert itself. Meanwhile the UN is an absolute disgrace, absolute disgrace, not fit for purpose. They too should be stepping in, but maybe some of the African nations, maybe some of the non-aligned countries, India, and all the ones who haven’t put on the sanctions sort of to say, “Lads, call it off here now.”
Regarding the Normandy Format: Can you keep the US and UK out? Well, I definitely would keep the UK out, and I’m not just saying that for national reasons. But I think the US, because it’s so responsible for this, has to have probably some role in it, at least behind the scenes. But I think those who sat down and negotiated Minsk II, will probably have to negotiate Minsk III.
And we know that Hillary Clinton said, “Oh my God, this could be Russia’s Afghanistan.” And it seems to be turning out in that direction. And what an absolute nightmare that is first and foremost for the people of Ukraine. But the narrative has shifted now away from, “Oh, the Ukrainians are winning, they’re hammering those Russians,” like that nonsense has kind of gone out of kilter now, but now it’s, “It’s going to be a long war. It’s going to go on for ages now. We’ve got to battle down here. Give them the weapons now only so much to keep it going.” And obviously the Lithuanians are valiantly trying to escalate it so we can just annihilate the whole world. But I don’t think that will happen, hopefully. But unfortunately, these things when they start, they can get out of control.
It’s not easy to sort out, but maybe a combination of all of those factors will come together. And one of the things that is preventing that is the lack of an independent media. But you can be guaranteed that in every corner of the globe, people think the way we do. I hear it every single day. From every single continent we’ve had people getting in touch on these issues. All of the people who have been at the receiving end of US imperialism all know the score. So yeah, maybe out of that, reason will emerge, along with the economic devastation that Europeans are experiencing, where they’re going to have to get up and say, “Stop enough.”
Clare Daly has served as a MEP from Ireland since 2019.
James W. Carden is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.