EU Foreign Policy: A View from the Middle East

April 12, 2016

The war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq damaged Washington’s claim to world’s moral leadership, particularly America’s public discourse on spreading democracy. Russia and China did not entertain such claims. This left the world with the EU for inspiration. Democracy promotion, however, depends on a robust foreign policy as well as consistency.

Official website of the EU says that foreign and security policy, which has developed gradually over many years, enables the EU to speak and act as one in world affairs; that acting together gives the EU’s 28 members far greater clout than they would have if each pursued its own policies. It also states that the 2009 Lisbon Treaty has strengthened this policy area by creating:

  • the post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and,
  • the European External Action Service (EEAS) – the EU’s diplomatic corps.

Actually the office of the High Representative was created in 1997 through the Treaty of Amsterdam which defined the principal objectives of common foreign and security policy as the following:

  • to safeguard the common values, fundamental interests, independence and integrity of the Union in conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter;
  • to strengthen the security of the Union in all ways;
  • to preserve peace and strengthen international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the objectives of the Paris Charter, including those on external borders;
  • to promote international cooperation;
  • to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In Lisbon, these objectives were expanded to include eradication of poverty, progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade, environmental protection and sustainable management of global natural resources.  Consolidation of democracy was moved up to the second place. And, the role of the “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” was expanded by adding new responsibilities.

Since the office of the High Representative was created in 1997, one may perhaps put EU’s poor performance during the Bosnian War aside. Have the members of the EU indeed gained “far greater clout” since then by acting together?

9:11 Witnessed expressions of worldwide sympathy for the US with the exception of some marginal radical groups. NATO and the EU were solidly behind the US in the intervention against al Qaida in Afghanistan. Unfortunately for the West, the Bush administration did not stop there. It adopted the “with us or against us” policy regarding the invasion of Iraq and led to divisions among US allies. In the run-up to the invasion EU was divided. PM Blair became Washington’s principal partner in the invasion whereas France and Germany under the leadership of President Chirac and Chancellor Schroder did their best to prevent it.

As for the conflict in Ukraine, one may say with hindsight that the EU should have foreseen what was to unfold and exert a greater effort to prevent escalation. After all, tensions with Russia and the sanctions have created a greater problem for EU members than the US. Here, EU has tried hard to present a united front but again there appear to be differences. As the recent Dutch referendum reveals, Europe may not remain united in its support for Ukraine’s future membership now that this has become a contentious issue.

EU was also divided on its approach to the Arab Spring. As a matter of fact, Middle East leaders soon toppled were Europe’s good friends or at least people whom EU countries had managed a relationship, though with much disdain, like Qaddafi. France and UK led the intervention in Libya. Yet when Resolution 1973 (2011) was voted at the UN Security Council, Germany abstained together with Russia and China. And when London and Paris later advocated another US intervention in Syria while Germany again preferred to remain cautious. Middle East chaos has now reached Europe creating a serious security challenge.

The threat of terrorism has no doubt contributed to disarray over the refugee problem. Nonetheless, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International and others have been critical of the deal concluded with Turkey. And, the widening gap between EU’s public discourse on democracy and its close relations with some regional countries which stand out as major arms purchasers rather than democratic partners is becoming more and more visible.

In retrospect, one of EU’s foreign and security policy mistakes was blunting whatever momentum Turkey’s accession process had. It goes without saying that this was Turkey’s failure also. Had both sides acted with foresight, even with an open-ended process, Turkey and the EU could have been at a different point in dealing with today’s myriad of Middle East problems.  Turkey would have become the best channel for promoting democracy in the region, leading by example. And, Turkey and the EU would have engaged in more genuine cooperation to deal with Middle East turmoil going beyond a controversial “refugee deal”.










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