East-West, reality and relativity of a divide

Jacques Rupnik, Research professor at the Center for International Research of Sciences-Po Paris, analyzes the East-West divide as it stands in 2019, in the light of the European elections.

Thirty years on from the end of the Cold War and the division of the continent, are we witnessing a renewed East-West divide in Europe? Fifteen years following the enlargement of the European Union to Central and Eastern European countries, are simple political differences emerging or is there a break between the “old” and “new” EU Member States on issues as fundamental as democracy and the rule of law, and the rise in nationalism and sovereignism? The triggering of article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland and Hungary for breaches of the rule of law which could, in theory, result in these countries losing their voting rights, suggests the latter. It is also often the interpretation favoured in the media or in declarations of political figures on both sides of a newly restored dividing line. In the West of the continent, this is perceived as a threat to the European project and, in France in particular, a justification in hindsight of the reservations with regard to the very idea of enlarging the EU to the East (considered “premature” to be polite). In the East, there are claims of being treated as second-class members of the EU and there is great resentment of a double standards and interference from Brussels compared to the past control from Moscow.